3 min

Vicious & clever

Bush ups the ante

Credit: Xtra files

America: land of the free, home of the brave.

But not if George W Bush has anything to do with it. In the wake of the increasing recognition of same-sex marriage in the US, Bush has announced his support for an amendment to the Constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. That would make him the first president ever to amend the Constitution to actually take rights away from people.

Social conservatives are apoplectic about same-sex marriage. First it was civil unions in Vermont after a 1999 court decision.

In the last few months, all hell broke loose. The Massachusetts Supreme Court decided that the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage violated their state constitution, too. And to boot, civil unions just won’t do. The legislature convened a special session to consider passing its own constitutional amendment, but each proposal so far has been voted down. So effective Mon, May 17, same-sex couples will be getting married in Massachusetts.

Then, out of the blue, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to start issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples. In the last two weeks, more than 3,300 same-sex couples, including celebrity Rosie O’Donnell and Kelli Carpenter, have tied the knot.

Smaller municipalities have followed. First there was New Mexico (it was crushed). Now there’s New Paltz (mayor arrested) and Ithaca, New York.

Social conservatives in the US have a special place in their hate-filled hearts for same-sex marriage. It will, apparently, destroy not only marriage and the American family, but the nation itself. In an attempt to stop the madness, Bush has declared his support for a constitutional amendment, an idea that’s been kicking around Congress for some time now.

Last May, Rep Marilyn Musgrove introduced the Federal Marriage Amendment, which declared, “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and woman. Neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any state under state or federal law shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”

This is a pretty stunning proposal. As it’s currently drafted, it not only stops states from recognizing same-sex marriage, but would also prevent states from extending any of the “legal incidents” of marriage. That means that states could not pass civil unions laws. In fact, states could not extend any of the rights or responsibilities, like insurance benefits, hospital visits and adoption, traditionally associated with marriage.

In American politics, conservatives have always favoured the rights of states (they hate the federal government), whereas liberals do the opposite. This amendment would mean a highly conservative federal government taking away the rights of states to govern themselves in an area that belongs to them. It’s a kind of conservative treason.

For almost a year, Bush has hinted that he might support the amendment. As gay men and lesbians flocked to San Francisco last month to wed, Bush finally said it: he supports something like Musgrove’s amendment.

Luckily, it ain’t easy passing a constitutional amendment. First, it has to be passed by a two-thirds majority in both the House Of Representatives and the Senate. Then, it has to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. That means it needs 291 votes in the House, 67 votes in the Senate and ratification by 38 states.

Those votes will be hard to come by. While social conservatives are wetting themselves with excitement, the amendment makes many Republicans a bit queasy. Some Republicans are fiscally conservative and libertarian rather than socially conservative. They support less government and more freedom. Though they may not be in favour of same-sex marriage, they are uncomfortable with an amendment that takes away freedom from both individuals and states.

The Democrats are left in a total, discombobulated tizzy. Very few Democrats will actually come out in support of gay and lesbian marriage. Some socially conservative Democrats (not an oxymoron in the US) actually support the amendment. Most are scrambling for middle ground, trying to both oppose the amendment and same-sex marriage – and still sound like nice people. Hand-wringing aside, most of it should translate into votes against the amendment.

Even those Republicans who support the amendment recognize that it’s an uphill battle they are likely to lose. John Feehery, spokesman for Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, has said that it would be very difficult to get the votes they need. But he added, “Sometimes you win for losing.” The issue would draw a bright line between Democrats and Republicans, and between President Bush and Senator John Kerry in the presidential election campaign.

While the amendment is not likely to pass, it’s going to be front and centre in American electoral politics. Bush is hoping to cash in on voter antipathy for gay and lesbian people, and on the Democrats’ inability to take a position. It doesn’t matter to him that some of his Republicans won’t come with him. He’s rolling the dice that the American people will.

American politics are often a depressing, ultra-reactionary affair. This issue takes it to new heights. Bush is not only running on homophobia, he’s actually prepared to write it into their sacred Constitution. In the words of O’Donnell on her wedding day, Bush’s comments are “vile and vicious and hateful.”

What’s worse is that it may actually get him re-elected.