Tuesday, February 24, 2004


Bush Throws In The Towel, Says States May Enact Civil Unions

Here's the text of the President's endorsement of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage.

Note carefully the following passage:

The amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.

My friend Mark Tushnet who teaches at Georgetown University, remarked to me the other day that what is most remarkable about the debate over same sex marriage is that within a few year's time the moderate conservative position has now shifted from opposing all recognition of same sex partnerships to conceding that states may pass civil unions, as long as these are not called marriages.

Bush's statement confirms this. He is attempting to shape the issue in terms of what states may officially term "marriage," as opposed to preventing states from effectively giving same sex couples the bundle of rights enjoyed by married couples. This means that he cannot endorse the proposed FMA in its current form, because, as I have noted previously, it would also prevent states from passing civil unions or domestic partnership legislation. His strategy is to make the fight about semantics and symbolism rather than substance.

Because Bush wants to appeal both to his base and to moderate voters, this semantic strategy makes perfect sense. But it is well worth considering what he and other conservatives have given up in the process. The fact that Bush appears to have given up trying to prevent states from passing civil unions laws signals that the fight over same sex marriage has shifted ground decisively in favor of civil rights advocates and against the Christian right. The best that the Christian right can hope for now is a world in which some states have civil unions and others do not.

I suspect that some pundits will declare this to be a major offensive in culture wars. To me it looks like an admission of defeat.


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