Monday, December 15, 2008

Arkansas (I) Senator Blanche Lincoln

Today I begin my correspondence with Arkansas' congressional delegation with Senator Blanche Lincoln, Democrat, Arkansas' senior senator:

Dear Senator Lincoln:

I write you as a concerned citizen to beg your support for a Marriage Equality Amendment protecting the right of same-sex couples to marry. In 2006 you took a politically brave stand by opposing the so-called "Federal Marriage Amendment" that would have banned same-sex marriage across the Union. Your courage was underscored by the fact that a state ban on same-sex marriage had passed in Arkansas with 75% of the vote. Nor was your action taken without inviting consequences; you came under harsh criticism from many of your constituents.

However, your public statements at the time could not help but disappoint those concerned for the rights of same-sex couples. As the Arkansas Times reports:

“I oppose same-sex marriage,” Lincoln said. “Throughout my life, my religious faith has guided my strong belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman. I support the current federal law that grants states the right not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.”

Much as I admire the integrity exemplified by your independent stand, I regret that you have used your public platform to perpetuate misconceptions about the issue of same-sex marriage. Your statement misconstrues, in a way that is unfortunately all too common in our public discourse, the nature of marriage as a social institution. The definition of marriage dictated by one's faith is not germane to the issue of same-sex marriage's legality. Civil and religious marriage are two separate institutions that, though they coincidentally share a name, are wholly distinct in form and substance, even for couples that choose to enter into both. A couple joined by an exclusively civil ceremony are still living in sin from the perspective of most religious authorities, and a couple married by a priest or minister in the absence of a legal license is not genuinely married in the eyes of most state governments.

Since the religious and civil definitions of marriage are mutually incommensurate questions, contemplation of one should not be allowed to confuse deliberation about the other. If matters of faith do not bear upon the issue of same-sex marriage, then what factors do? The answer is provided among the issues statements on your website, Senator. There you include this statement pertaining to civil rights:

"As the youngest woman ever to serve in the U.S. Senate, I understand how important it is that the principles of equality and opportunity apply to all Americans. I feel Congress has a duty to ensure that discrimination does not prevent anyone from realizing their full potential. Throughout my public service, I have supported anti-discrimination policies and will continue to support such policies in the Senate."

Is not the exclusion of millions of devoted couples from the marital bond an attack upon their enjoyment of "equality and opportunity?" By being denied the guarantees and legal protections (1,138 of them, according to the estimate of the Government Accountability Office) of marriage, are they not being denied the chance to "realize their full potential?" Any amount of reflection on this matter leads inexorably to the same conclusion: marriage to the partner of one's choice is an inalienable civil right, recognition of which can not be left to the whims of the electorate or the deliberations of the individual states. Our laws and institutions will only be brought into alignment with the basic rights of our citizens when the U.S. Constitution is amended to read: "The right to marry shall not be abridged or denied by the United States or any state on account of sex or sexual orientation."

I realize that your stand on this issue has probably already taken you to and beyond the limits of what is politically expedient in your home state, Senator. Real change requires real leadership, however, and at times no leadership is more powerful than to confront one's fellow citizens with ideas that challenge their misconceptions, especially those that they take most for granted. I appeal to you to search your conscience and give due consideration to what action would be right and just in this instance. In any case, I trust you to conduct yourself with the same mindfulness and integrity you have demonstrated throughout your legislative career.

Thank you for your service to our Nation and for your attention on this matter. I hope this message finds you well.


Andrew Meyer

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