- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

At last count, at least eight states were in line to amend their constitutions to define marriage the traditional way — a union of one man and one woman. What was once understood now has to be legislated.

Gosh, remember when weddings were happy events all could celebrate — instead of having to define?

Oh, what has Massachusetts wrought. To be more specific, what have four justices of that state’s highest court wrought. Because it has taken only one mischievous 4-3 decision in one state to open this whole continental can of worms.

Now marriage is a nationwide political issue, and concerned voters — not to say enraged ones — are marching to the polls to shore up their marriage laws.

How did this happen? It seems the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution makes the legal acts, records and judicial proceedings of one state legal in all the others, too. That is a good idea if we’re to have one country instead of 50.

But that sensible provision of the Constitution also raises the specter of one state, Massachusetts, being able to change the definition of marriage in every other state, too. Result: Cries, alarums and elections across the Union.

Missouri voters have just inserted the traditional definition of marriage into their state constitution — by a landslide 71 to 29 percent, after emotional and well-financed campaigns on both sides of the issue.

Other states prepare to follow suit come November. Similar constitutional amendments are on the November ballot in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah.

Michigan, North Dakota and Ohio aren’t far behind. Their proposed constitutional amendments are still being prepared.

Four states — Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska and Nevada — amended their state constitutions along the same lines some time ago.

But will all these amendments hold up in the federal courts? The possibility they won’t explains the move to put a marriage amendment in the U.S. Constitution and resolve all doubts.

Amid the general hysteria, the other part of that Full Faith and Credit clause may get overlooked: “And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records, and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”

Translated from the 18th century lawyerese, that means the Defense of Marriage Act Congress passed a while back may be sufficient to keep Massachusetts’ new definition of marriage happily confined to Massachusetts. (Where, if they ever get the chance, voters may reject it, too.)

Perspective is hard to come by just now, but it’s assuring to note that each state has long been the judge of its own laws where variations on the usual definition of marriage — like bigamy and polygamy — are concerned. But the constitutional lawyers can’t agree (do they ever?) about whether that precedent will prevent nationalization of same-sex “marriage.”

For voters here in Arkansas, the more immediate question is whether to include a definition of marriage in our already wordy state constitution. The reason for the change is clear: Many of us here in Arkansas (like 7 in 10 Missouri voters) don’t want to get caught in the same political storm Massachusetts finds itself in thanks to a runaway state court.

A fair amendment — like Missouri’s — would simply spell out what has long been understood, and is already part of the Arkansas statutes: Marriage is a union of one man, one woman. No more, no less. Enough said.

But enough is never enough for some people. The folks who drew up Arkansas’ proposed marriage amendment just had to go too far. Their amendment would not only define marriage but bars recognition of any “legal status for unmarried persons which is identical or substantially similar to marital status. … ”

Whatever that language means — and only the courts can decide — it could bar not only same-sex “marriage” but civil unions, a compromise that allows homosexual couples to share their property, assign their pension benefits to each other, assure their inheritance rights, and so fairly on. Such a compromise would protect homosexual couples’ economic interests yet preserve the dictionary definition (and sacred aura) of marriage. And everybody could live happily ever after.

Nor need civil unions be confined to homosexual couples. Elderly sisters who want to look after each other — or a father and son who want to share their property — might want to enter a civil union, too.

But the opposition to the idea of homosexual “marriage” is so strong that, at least here in Arkansas, the voters could rule out civil unions, too. Like any overreaction to a provocation, this kind of sweeping language goes too far.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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