February 01, 2006

The Level of Debate

An online chat at WashingtonPost.com today featured two members of the Maryland state legislature who took questions regarding the constitutional amendment up for consideration that would make same-sex marriage against the law.

Favoring the amendment was Republican delegate Adelaide C. Eckardt. Opposing it was Democratic delegate Richard S. Madaleno Jr. The difference in the depth these two delegates brought to this issue was striking. I'll link to both chats below, but here are some of what I consider the most interesting comments.

Delegate Eckardt:

Q: One of the primary justifications I have heard for this amendment is the maintenance of the traditional institution of marriage. Slavery and women being unable to vote, both also historic examples of rights being denied to a section of our population, were also tradition at one time. What makes this issue different? (that question was my contribution)

A: Marriage between a man and a woman has been at the very foundation of our society - and essentially was for procreation.

Q: I want to know what Del. Eckardt recommends gay couples do to protect themselves in retirement. My partner and I are approaching retirement, and I am worried that if my partner dies before I do (he is 10 years my senior and has been the breadwinner in our family the past couple of years) that I will be in big trouble due to the lack of Social Security and health benefits that I can't enjoy because I am unable to marry. What would Del. Eckardt do if he were in my situation?

A: When individuals choose their lifestyle there may be implications.

Q: You state that there has been an "erosion" to our society by the courts. What is that erosion? Can you please explain? This a much-used talking point, but no one explains what the erosion is. Your thoughts?

A: A gradual chipping away of this country's most basic institutions.

Delegate Madaleno:

He had an opening statement, unlike his colleague

Thank you for allowing me to answer your questions concerning legislation to amend the Maryland constitution, House Bill 48. I do not support the call for a referendum on the issue of marriage equality. A constitution provides a blueprint for the structure of government and guarantees certain rights to protect its citizens from government interference. The Maryland Constitution provides its citizens the right to turn to both their elected representatives and to the judiciary to secure their liberties. This bill, if adopted, would deny this fundamental American right to all those who support marriage equality. I will not support this assault on our fundamental liberties. In my opinion, our country's great innovation was to develop a system of governance that checks majority rule with certain guaranteed rights for the minority no matter how despised. To deny a group of citizens access to their courts and to their legislature due to the decision of a single trail court judge is unwarranted.

I would encourage the readers to review carefully the language of HB 48. Section (B) of the amendment would prohibit the legal recognition of any relationship between two people of the same gender. Not only would it prohibit civil unions, it is so broad that it would prohibit any public agency from providing health care benefits to domestic partners. It is so vague that we cannot begin to know all of its consequences. For example, the language could prohibit a mother from designating a daughter in a power of attorney since they are both of the same gender and medical decision making is a benefit of marriage. Others say it could prohibit divorce. Therefore, I believe that this proposal is unworkable and unwieldy.

Again, the difference in the level of dialogue between these two legislators was very striking. From debates I have heard and comments I have read, it is representative of how each side approaches this issue. Opponents of same-sex marriage that I have seen tend to rely on tradition, religion, and fear of change, while proponents often approach it as a civil rights issue.

In my last post, I said I felt it was important for someone to be educated on the issues. I fear that a substantial portion of the majority of people same-sex marriage opponents often point to are not terribly well versed on the implications of these issues. In the Washington Post debate, delegate Eckardt clearly was not sure of the far reaching implications of the Maryland amendment. Conversely, Delegate Madaleno has clearly done his homework.

Tradition is no basis for deciding this issue. Over time in the bible, traditions changed. God's will for mankind has been a gradual revealation. The days of concubines are long gone. The procreation agruement also falls short, since there are plenty of hetrosexual couples that can't have children.

Since I've taken away the easy answers for the opponents of same-sex marriage, maybe THEY need to do some homework. I'm confident if they do, some opinions will change.

Links for the Washington Post chat:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2006/01/31/DI2006013101199.html (Rep. Eckardt)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/discussion/2006/01/31/DI2006013101209.html (Rep. Madaleno)


  1. Jim, you and I both have heterosexual marriages. What is there about your or my so-called traditional marriage which will be altered, tainted, or weakened if same-sex people are also allowed to marry?

    But even Gov. Kaine who opposes same-sex marriage had this to say about the proposed amendment...

    “I do support the notion that marriage is between a man and a woman,” Kaine told listeners during a radio program. “That’s current Virginia law, and I would support it in the constitution. The problem with the amendment, though, is it does much, much more than that. … It just has consequences far beyond marriage.”

    He said the wording is so vague that it could outlaw many types of contracts between unmarried people.

    “There’s just no reason we need to do that,” Kaine said. “I just think we’ll be buying problems if we go down that road.”

    ...That whould be a major red flag to voters if the gov. who opposes s.s. marriage also opposes this bill. Will enough people read the fine print, or will they just vote with their fear like usual?

  2. That was a great debate, Jim. Thanks for linking to it. I have to agree with one of the participants, teh anti-gay marriage delegate did seem very cold and short with the answers.
    I was particularly unimpressed with the question about eroding the institution of marriage. To answer the delegate just re-worded the term erode as chipping away.

    Thanks for the post and link.