Wednesday, December 24, 2008

California (I) Senator Dianne Feinstein

Today I begin a correspondence with California's congressional delegation with the senior senator for that state, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat:

Dear Senator Feinstein:

I write you as a fellow Democrat and concerned American to plead your support for a Marriage Equality Amendment recognizing the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Your own stance on the issue of same-sex marriage has evolved over time. Initially you withheld support for the legalization of same-sex marriage but favored the granting of civil unions at the state level. In the wake of California's full legalization of same-sex marriage and in the fight over Proposition 8, however, you expressed a change of heart, declaring, "As a state, I believe we should uphold the ability of our friends, neighbors and co-workers who are gay and lesbian to enter into the contract of marriage."

Though regrettably Proposition 8 passed by a narrow margin in the most recent election, your unequivocal support for the rights of same-sex couples helped shift the terms of our discourse, both in your home state and in the nation as a whole. Would you not contemplate exerting that leadership yet again? In the past you have expressed disapproval of a federal Constitutional amendment regarding marriage, rising on the floor of the Senate on June 6, 2006 to voice your opposition to the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" urged by President Bush. In those extensive and eloquent remarks, you grounded your opposition to such an amendment in three principles: 1)family law was the traditional and proper purview of the states, not the federal government; 2) a Constitutional amendment is too difficult to pass and lacks the required support in either the Congress or the individual states; 3)the nation has far more urgent concerns, and can not afford to spend time debating the particulars of same-sex marriage.

Though I admire your principled opposition to the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment," I hope that the convictions you voiced in opposing it will not dissuade you from lending your support to a Marriage Equality Amendment. Though you are unimpeachably correct that family law has been the traditional purview of the states, the protection of civil rights is the rightful domain of the federal government, and the U.S. has intervened in the states' legislation and adjudication of family law where it has violated the natural rights of our citizens. Such was so in the case of Loving vs. Virginia, and such is the case now with respect to the situation of same-sex couples across the Union. The 2000 U.S. Census estimated that more than 600,000 same-sex couples are living in committed relationships that conform to the parameters of marriage in every way but legal status, and most experts would agree that that number is underestimated by several orders of magnitude. The welfare of these couples is not the only concern at stake moreover, as thousands of children are in the care of same-sex parents and left vulnerable by their lack of the protections and guarantees that marital status affords.

The situation, in short, is a crisis of epic proportions. The current state of our laws and institutions systematically violates the basic civil rights of millions of our citizens on a daily basis, many of them children who are being arbitrarily punished for the gender of their parents. You were undoubtedly right in underscoring the difficulty of passing a Constitutional amendment, but even that consideration can not undermine the urgency and magnitude of the injustice faced by same-sex couples and their children. Even if it took many years to accomplish (indeed, even if such efforts never ultimately bore fruit), advocacy of a national Constitutional amendment is the best way to reorient the debate about same-sex marriage in this country in ways that will inspire maximum regard and respect for the rights and concerns of same-sex couples and their children. Moreover, whatever may be said about its practical chances, it is in principle nothing more than what is ultimately fair and just.

The laws of our nation will never be brought fully into alignment with the rights of our citizens until 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." Would you consider, in cooperation with your colleagues in the House and Senate, championing such a reform to our basic law? I appeal to your proven sense of fairness, patriotism, and civic engagement. In any case, I trust you to give this matter due consideration and to act with the conscientious integrity that you have displayed throughout your career.

Thank you for your attention in this matter and your many years of dedicated public service. I hope this message finds you well and enjoying the holiday season.


Andrew Meyer

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