The constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman has passed in Texas by a 3-to-1 ratio.
Proposition 2 also prohibits the state legislature or local governments from creating or recognizing “any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” That is, any legal recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships is now prohibited. Some critics are saying that the amendment is worded so sloppily that it could be construed to invalidate all marriages (the irony would be delightful, but unlikely). More realistically, there are worries that the new law could be used to challenge gay couples’ legal arrangements on property and end-of-life decisions. Meanwhile, according to The Dallas Morning News:
Conservative activist Kelly Shackelford, who helped write the amendment and led the campaign for it, called such worries “nonsense.”
Well, that’s reassuring. A quick history lesson: last year in Michigan, backers of the state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage made repeated assurances that the measure would not deprive anyone of benefits and was only about protecting the special cultural status of traditional male-female marriage. Then, after the amendment had passed, those same conserative politicians and activists turned around and successfully pressured Gov. Jennifer Granholm to drop same-sex domestic partner benefits from an already negotiated contract for public employees. Republican state Senator Alan Cropsey, who had proposed the marriage amendment and then joined in the demand to revoke the benefits, told The Flint Journal he and his fellow activists had meant to say only that “existing” benefits would not be affected by the amendment, while future benefit packages — or even renewals of existing benefit packages after current contracts expired — were a different matter. In other words, a classic bait-and-switch. (Excerpts from a Flint Journal article which is no longer online can be found here; see also my column on the subject.)
So I wouldn’t put too much stock by Mr. Shackleford’s reassurances. Clearly, the Texas amendment is not just an acknowledgment of the special status of male/female marriage; it is an attack on any legal recognition of the relationships of same-sex couples. It is worth noting that President Bush has spoken out in favor of civil unions, and that only 37% of voters nationwide in 2004 took the position that there should be no legal recognition of same-sex unions.
Many conservatives claim that they do not oppose legal rights for gay couples, they simply want to protect the stature of the male/female union as society’s most fundamental building block. While I support full legal rights for gay couples, I can (as I have written before) see the merits of this argument. But when will those conservatives go beyond paying lip service to legal rights for gay couples? When will they, at the very least, come out against measures that negate such rights completely?