Sunday, December 21, 2008

Arkansas (V) Congressman John Boozman

Today I continue with Congressman John Boozman, Republican, representative of Arkansas' 3rd Congressional District:

Dear Congressman Boozman,

I write to you as a concerned citizen to urge you to change your stance on the issue of same-sex marriage. On your website you post this declaration about so-called "Values Legislation":

"I firmly believe that traditional marriage, a union between a man and woman, is the backbone of our society. Studies have shown that marriage between a man and a woman makes for strong families, which in turn, makes for a strong nation. Unfortunately, many activist judges across America are trying to change the definition of marriage to fit their own agenda.

In an effort to end this, I have cosponsored and voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment, a bill that would define marriage in the Constitution and protect it from being radically redefined by judges who overstep their constitutional boundaries. This bill will hold judges accountable and prevent them from redefining marriage. It also allows for state voters and legislatures to determine if they wish to grant civil unions, without imposing on the rights of other states."

I frankly, Congressman, can not see any values expressed here except those rooted in bigotry. Your language is so imprecise that I suspect a tone of disingenuous cynicism. You must know that most of the credible "studies" to which you refer do indeed find that children thrive in two-parent households, thus it would be accurate to characterize them as asserting that "marriage between a man and a woman makes for strong families." However, almost no credible research has shown that the gender of both parents makes any difference to a child's welfare, thus the fact that "marriage between a man and a woman" can strengthen a family does not prove that marriage between "a man and a man" or between "a woman and a woman" will not. Indeed, many thousands of healthy, happy children are in the care of single-sex couples today, and are undoubtedly better off than they would be in the care of a single parent or in a group home. The only thing that would make their lives a bit easier is if their parents could enjoy the rights and benefits that flow from marriage.

Your allusion to the sinister-sounding "agenda" of "activist judges" is quite typical of the rhetoric deployed to oppose marriage equality, but what does it mean? If you insist that "traditional marriage" is defined as "between a man and a woman," I must ask- where and by whom? In human history there have been almost as many definitions of "traditional marriage" as there have been cultures and societies, and in each of these the institution of marriage has evolved over time. In imperial China a man could marry as many wives as he could afford to support. Among the Igbo people of Nigeria an older woman can take a younger one as her wife (the relationship is non-sexual, but as "husband" the older woman acquires rights of property and adoption that are reserved to men). In ancient Greece, where male same-sex love was a norm, marriage was only restricted to couples of opposite gender because it was defined as a relationship of master to subordinate, thus requiring that a male "superior" wed a female "inferior."

Here in the U.S. we have already instituted many facets of civil marriage that fly in the face of the traditions of numerous societies. The fact that American couples can only be wed if both partners are willing, that they may choose to employ contraception, and that they may dissolve the marital bond through mutual consent are three examples of marital custom that, from the perspective of certain cultures or religious groups, serve as the hallmarks of a nefarious "agenda." Americans have established these changes in the civil institution of marriage because they reflect our shared commitment to the protection of individual autonomy, dignity, and freedom. The extension of these guarantees of the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is the sole "agenda" at the heart of the movement for marriage equality.

I can only hope that you are unaware of the offense you cause with your "concession" that states may grant "civil unions" so long as they do not impose on the rights of other states. What other case can you think of, Congressman, in which the rights of states trump those of individual citizens? Two first cousins who have been married in California will not fail to have their marriage recognized in any of the 26 states in which first-cousin marriage is illegal, because it is understood that the state's right to regulate marriage can not fairly be preserved at the expense of rights and privileges those citizens already enjoy. Why should that principle be different in the case of same-sex couples? Is their personhood any less valid, that the same legal reasoning should not apply to them?

If what you object to is same-sex love, Congressman, I can only wish that you had the courage to come out and declare it. Your religious beliefs might compel you to find same-sex love immoral, and if so that is your prerogative. Seeking to conceal this prejudice under the cover of rhetorical half-truths and logically flawed plausibilities shows a lack of integrity, however.

Even if you object to the morality of same-sex love, moreover, that is not a cogent principle on which to oppose the legality of same-sex marriage. Many aspects of civil marriage that are deeply offensive to the religious sensibilities of particular faith groups (the ease of divorce, the equality of men and women in the marital bond, etc.) remain fundamental to U.S. family law. The basic principles of our Republic compel us to legally and socially tolerate in our fellow citizens customs and practices that are proscribed within the confessional communities in which we conduct our private spiritual lives. In this respect the right of same-sex couples to marry is no different than the right of a butcher to sell pork on the same street which holds a synagogue or a liquor store to open shop in a community that houses a mosque.

The right to marry the partner of one's choice is basic and inalienable, it can not be taken away by the whims of the majority or the deliberations of the individual states.
The current state of our laws and institutions is thus unjust and discriminatory. The situation will only be redressed 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 the basis of sex or sexual orientation." You may disagree with the principles underlying such a reform, but please know that millions of citizens believe passionately that it is necessary, and will not rest until marriage rights are fairly guaranteed to all citizens.

Thank you for your attention on this matter. I hope this message finds you well.


Andrew Meyer

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