- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

Separate but equal

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s response to the Massachusetts legislature is not as groundbreaking as people are making it out to be. It’s just the logicalconclusionofthe Goodridge decision, a ruling the legislature decided to try and sidestep. The Justices in the majority home in on the central meaning behind so-called “civil unions” — the only defense of them is that they are a device to maintain exclusion, especially when they are substantively identical to civil marriage. In that sense — same thing, different department — they’re a textbook case of “separate but equal.”

If you’re going to give homosexual couples the same rights as straight couples, why are you calling it something different? If both can drink the same water, why a different water fountain? The only answer can be: to keep the stigma in place.

But stigma surely has no role under a Constitution that affirms equal rights for all citizens. It’s not the court’s role to rule otherwise. The only judicial activism in this case would have been if the court had decided that, in spite of the state constitution, the public’s own discomfort with homosexuals would be justification for keeping homosexuals’ second-class status. Legislatures are entitled to legislate stigma. Courts are supposed to interpret the Constitution.

If the Constitution guarantees equal rights for all, and marriage is one of the most basic civil rights there is, and homosexual couples can and do fulfill every requirement that many straight couples can, what leeway does any court have? I’m constantly amazed by these claims of judicial “tyranny.” Was Brown vs. Board of Education tyranny? It’s exactly the same principle as operates here: Separate but equal won’t do.

A new dynamic

But there is a new dynamic at work. First, the White House is smart enough to know that this issue is dangerous for all involved. If the president makes marriage equality an issue in this election, he must know that Sen. John Kerry will not allow him to be more against homosexual marriage than Mr. Kerry is. Mr. Kerry is strongly opposed to allowing homosexuals to enjoy the same civil institution he has used twice himself, and Wednesday he reiterated that.

So the issue for the voters becomes: Do you support Mr. Bush, who wants to amend the Constitution to strip homosexual couples of marriage rights, civil unions, domestic partnerships and any civil recognition at all; or do you support a man who opposes homosexual marriage but backs civil unions for homosexuals, a state-by-state solution, and no constitutional amendment? Not such a slam dunk for Mr. Bush. In fact: advantage Mr. Kerry. But before anything can happen, we will have real, living marriages in America that are between two people of the same sex. So, the debate will then become how these people’s marriages can be undone, revoked, retroactively extinguished. The religious right and the Catholic bishops will be on a mission to expand … divorce!

Botox watch

“John Kerry’s long, angular face has something of the abstraction of a tribal mask. The features are at once stark and exaggerated, and, with the exception of his mouth, none of the parts appear to move.” — Philip Gourevitch, the New Yorker. My italics. The evidence mounts …

Hajj spin

I’m still amazed at how the deaths of 244 pilgrims at the Hajj in Saudi Arabia is such a one-day story. If, say, 244 people had been killed at the Vatican in Holy Week, do you think that we would have moved on by now? People would have been held accountable; journalists would have gone over the catastrophe in excruciating detail; relatives of the dead would be interviewed; and on and on. But in Saudi Arabia? It’s just God’s will. May happen next year as well. Next subject. In 1990, almost 1,500 people were killed in a similar mishap. Writing in the London Guardian, Andrew Anthony explains Western indifference this way:

“The main reason for this, I suspect, is that the west is in no way responsible for these deaths — which in the past 25 years of the Haj run into the thousands. Thus, unlike, say, the victims of the war in Iraq, they are without political significance and therefore moral weight. At the same time, no one else is interested in bringing attention to this recurring carnage because western governments — some of whose citizens are part of the pilgrimage — are afraid of offending the Saudis.”

Amen. It seems to me that this kind of indifference to human life is part of the problem we are dealing with in fanatical Islam — and Saudi Arabia is a central part of that “cult of death.” The Saudis handed over the Hajj to the extremists decades ago, the same extremists who train generations to kill Jews and Westerners. Until and unless we challenge these people, nothing will change over there. And if we don’t challenge them when their victims are Muslims in the Middle East, we will have much less credibility when the victims are us.

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