As mentioned yesterday, in addition to my letter to Bush, I also sent letters to my Senators, George Allen and John Warner. To my surprise I
received a prompt reply from Allen. It has the feel of being a canned response, but at least it was a response. What follows is his response,
followed by my followup. His response is unaltered other than to fix text formatting so it is readable here.
Dear Ms. Thomas:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the issue of marriage and a Marriage Amendment to the Constitution. I appreciate your concerns and want my position to be very clear.
On July 14, 2004, I voted with 47 other Senators to bring a Marriage Amendment to the Constitution up for a vote on the Senate Floor but, the majority of Senators did not support bringing this Amendment to a vote. Sadly, this kind of obstructionism has prevented confirmation of judges and recorded votes on many of our nation’s most important issues. I believe the people have a right to know exactly where their elected officials stand.
I do support a Marriage Amendment to the Constitution because I believe that recent events and future court decisions indicate that a constitutional amendment is needed to protect the traditional definition of marriage.
While I respect your position on this controversial issue, I’d like to point out that this Amendment did not seek to define or deny any power held by state legislatures to create civil union statutes and any benefits that may apply. It was specific only to the definition of traditional marriage and therefore State legislators would remain free to define civil unions without the courts forcing definitions upon them.
On a personal note, I have always believed that individuals should be treated with dignity and it is my heartfelt hope that everyone associated with the discussion of this issue will show each other that respect.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. If you would like to receive an e-mail newsletter about my initiatives to improve America, please sign up on my website (http://allen.senate.gov). It is an honor to serve you in the United States Senate, and I look forward to working with you to make Virginia and America a better place to live, learn, work and raise a family.
With warm regards, I remain
Senator George Allen
Thank you for your prompt response. Though I disagree with your position and fervently hope to convince you to change your mind, I am glad to learn that you are listening.
Please carefully consider my argument. I believe it has real merit. I am not a lawyer and I don’t pretend to understand the minutiae of its details, but I do believe I understand the principles upon which America was founded.
What you referred to as “obstructionism” I viewed as a victory. This clearly puts us on different sides in this issue. And it makes it very difficult to have a meaningful discourse when there appears to be so little possibility of common ground. However, I believe it is important to try.
As a constituent it concerns me that you feel we need an amendment to “protect the traditional definition of marriage”. Which is more
important? The perceived definition of a word or the rights and families of millions of Americans?
There was a theme that was central to my original letter. Unfortunately, you didn’t address it in your response yet it is fundamental to why your position should be reconsidered.
That’s a strong word and one that is perhaps too freely used. But, in this circumstance, it is the proper word.
Since the beginning of human history men and women have been living together as couples. So have men and men as well as women and women. While few churches sanctioned same-sex relationships, they were marriages to those who were committed to them.
In the last century, both the federal government and the states began granting rights to those who were married. There are over a thousand of them. Yet no gay or lesbian couple was able to take advantage of them because neither the states nor the federal government would sanction their marriages. Indeed, in many states, gays and lesbians were actively persecuted and told their
very relationships were illegal. Despite that persecution, many couples persisted in long term committed relationships lasting decades. That the state would not call them married does not lessen the fact that they were. They lacked only the marriage license and, sadly, the protections to their families that this license would grant.
You speak of “traditional marriage”. Yet, what defines tradition? Consider that less than 40 years ago, our own Virginia prohibited interracial marriage. Until 1967 was it tradition that whites only married whites and blacks only married blacks? Or was it simply the only thing allowed by law? This is exactly the same. The Supreme Court ruled that Virginia’s law was unconstitutional and this situation is a clear parallel. If lesbians and gays had been allowed to marry they would have. The fact that thousands have chosen to do so in places where it has been permitted shows this. This is a case where people have mistaken a historically exclusionary process for tradition.
The case that the “traditional definition of marriage” is being protected when considered in this light really comes down to “we wouldn’t let you do it before and we still won’t let you do it now”. That is why passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment would be writing discrimination into our Constitution.
Let’s consider the argument from a second angle.
Marriage has existed in this country since its inception though government only recognized it for heterosexual couples.
You said, “this Amendment did not seek to define or deny any power held by state legislatures to create civil union statutes and any benefits that may apply”. Yet, the purpose of a civil union would be to create the benefits granted by marriage without actually being marriage. Aside from the fact that civil unions are not generally available in America – and some states including Virginia have prohibited them – this strikes me as the same argument of “separate but equal”. First, civil unions are not equal because they don’t exist for the most part, particularly at the federal level. A parallel set of legislation would be required to achieve what already exists. Having two sets of laws for what is the same thing in all but name strikes me as a bad idea. It would create extra bureaucracy when, with only minor changes, the existing infrastructure would suffice. Fundamentally, “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, well, it’s a duck”. Civil unions are marriages in all but name and we don’t need two processes for the same thing, particularly when one already exists an the other would require creation from the ground up.
Let’s now consider it from a third angle.
Marriage, as it is implemented today is really a two-headed beast. There is marriage as defined and administered by religious institutions and there is marriage as defined and administered by the states and federal government.
I am not arguing that any religious organization should be forced to marry any one it does not want to marry. The fundamental principle of separation of church and state makes that clear. I would not want the state telling me how to practice my religion, but similarly I would not want a religion telling my state who should be allowed to marry.
If the sticking point for same-sex marriage is the word “marriage” then perhaps we need to formally separate what the state does from what religions do. In this view, religions are free to marry whomever they choose, but the states perform civil unions. This creates a consistent view of the world that is fair to all Americans. All it would take is a simple law defining a civil union as the union between two people and granting it the rights and responsibilities of what had previously been civil marriage.
Finally let me return to your statement of “a constitutional amendment is needed to protect the traditional definition of marriage”. I am still unclear on exactly what marriage is being defended from. The only purpose of an amendment would be to prevent the courts from striking down what would otherwise be unconstitutional behavior on the part of the states and federal government. Our Constitution is the document that grants Americans the rights and freedoms we enjoy today. We should not use it to discriminate against our population.
Please consider these issues before you vote on this when it next comes before the Senate as it seems it likely will. I believe that if you carefully consider this issue you will find that the Federal Marriage Amendment is both not needed and fundamentally bad for America.
I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and follow this up with a discussion on this issue at your convenience. America is a diverse culture and claims to be an inclusive society. We should work towards creating harmony and understanding rather than trying to create second class Americans.
Again, thank you for your time and consideration.