Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Georgia (XIII) Congressman Phil Gingrey

Today I continue with Congressman Phil Gingrey, Republican, representative of Georgia's 11th Congressional District:

Dear Congressman Gingrey:

I write in protest of your opposition to marriage equality. In 2006 you were very vocal in your support of the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment." In your remarks on the floor of the House during that debate, you declared:

"This Amendment has nothing whatsoever to do with exclusion but has everything to do with protecting the traditional and historical definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. And, contrary to what the opponents of this resolution will say today, this Amendment will simply PRESERVE the traditional definition of marriage as it has existed for millennia."

Your argument begins with a fallacy. If one searches the records of history, one of course finds that there has never been one historical and enduring definition of marriage, certainly not one limiting it to a "union between one man and one woman." Polygamy was widely practiced for many centuries, and same-sex unions have been commonplace in certain cultures and eras, extending up to the present day. Even if one limits "real marriage" to some notion of a "Judaeo-Christian" tradition (though why one should in a system dedicated to the separation of church and state is dubious at best), one must acknowledge that marriage has changed radically over the course of recent years, to accommodate society's evolving understanding of the nature of individual rights and personal autonomy. If the public voted to restore certain "historical" dimensions of marriage, such as the power of families to force their members into arranged marriage or the lack of protection against spousal rape, would that serve the interest of justice?

Beyond your appeal to a fictional "millenia-old" definition of marriage, you posited other specious arguments in support of discrimination:

"[T]his Amendment is in response to a few activist judges are trying to throw out the definition of marriage along with over 200 years of American judicial precedent. These judges and these judges alone made this matter an issue, and they did so without one vote cast in either a legislature or at the ballot box. These activist judges substituted legal precedent and the will of the American people with their own personal desires and political beliefs. Their decision to scrap the traditional definition of marriage has forced us to now consider enshrining the definition of marriage into our Constitution.

Mr. Speaker, like most of my colleagues, I would prefer to not have to address this issue in this manner. Unfortunately, I know my constituents and a strong majority of the American people want us to defend the traditional definition of marriage. A poll by the New York Times, not exactly a bastion of right wing conservatism, found that 59%, I repeat, 59% of Americans favor an amendment to the Constitution stating that marriage is a union between one man and one woman."

The decisions of courts in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Iowa can only be deemed "judicial activism" if one ignores their philosophical and jurisprudential bases. The Founders established the powers of the independent judiciary as a safeguard for the rights of individual citizens against the tyrrany of the majority, and that is precisely the role that the courts have played in upholding the principle of marriage equality. This is not a recent move by the courts, moreover, but a precedent that extends back decades. At the time that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down so-called "anti-miscegenation" laws back in 1967, such laws had broad popular support in much of the United States, and would have passed any referendum test. The Supreme Court held that two people could not be kept apart simply because their neighbors deemed them to be of a different "race," that such meddling by the community was a breach of each citizen's right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." By your reckoning, Loving v. Virginia was no less an instance of "judicial activism" than the more recent decisions upholding marriage equality handed down by state courts.

Call it what you like, Loving v. Virginia was justice, and an expression of the best principles at the heart of our system of laws. I would hazard to guess that you share my admiration of the court's actions in Loving v. Virginia, Congressman. If so, the difference you perceive between that movement toward marriage equality and what transpires today does not reflect your opposition to judicial activism, but your embrace of one form of discrimination even as you reject others.

Marriage equality is the great civil rights struggle of our generation. Posterity will look back and judge harshly those who stand against it today, just as we look back in shock and disgust at those who supported the "anti-miscegenation" laws struck down in 1967. Unfortunately, many share your views. Progress has been slow and difficult, and powerful forces are gathered to hinder it or roll it back. For that reason, I and others propose that the U.S. constitution be 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." Such a Marriage Equality Amendment is the surest means to establishing fairness and justice within our society and laws.

I have set out to write every member of Congress seeking support fo this change to our basic law. Perhaps on reflection you will recant your discriminatory policies and redeem your place in the future history of our Republic. In any case I thank you for your attention on this matter and hope this message finds you well.


Andrew Meyer

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