The Marriage Vow(s)
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN, Editor
Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
The Queer community has won some impressive victories in the last few weeks — notably the passage of a marriage equality bill in New York state on June 25, a federal appeals court ruling on July 6 halting enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring Queer people from serving openly in the U.S. military, and the California legislature’s passage of a bill (now before Governor Jerry Brown, awaiting his decision to sign or veto it) requiring that social-studies classes in California middle and high schools include “a study of the role and contributions of … Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Americans … to the development of California and the United States.” But not surprisingly, given that virtually from day one our struggle for equality has faced a determined opposition whose members literally think they’re doing the will of God by fighting our equality at every turn, each pro-Queer advance has given rise to an anti-Queer attack.
AB 48, the California bill requiring that schools acknowledge our existence and importance, has been attacked not only on the grounds you’d expect — Right-wing talk-radio host and blogger Douglas V. Gibbs said if it passed, “California’s schoolchildren would be subject to homosexual textbooks and curriculum indefinitely” — but on the rather quirky one offered by Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, on KPCC radio April 19. Dolejsi said that it should be historians, not state legislators, who decide who’s historically important — which seemed to attack not only the bill’s new requirement that Queers be acknowledged in the classroom but the mandates in existing law to acknowledge the contributions of women, Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders “and other ethnic and cultural groups.”
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal has also been attacked. You may wonder, since Congress voted to get rid of this policy last December, why not only is this an issue but Queers in the U.S. military are still in danger of being discharged for violating it. It’s because the bill to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” delayed its implementation until the Secretary of Defense “certified” that the officers running the military had been properly “trained” to carry out the new policy — and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives has sought to block repeal by eliminating all funding for the “training.” Also, Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense who supported repeal, recently left his post — and though Leon Panetta was unanimously confirmed as his replacement, it’s unclear whether he either intends to junk “don’t ask, don’t tell” or can withstand pressure from Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress to keep it.
But perhaps the farthest-out reaction from the radical Right to a recent Queer advance came in the form of “The Marriage Vow: A Declaration of Dependence upon Marriage and Family,” a remarkable four-page document from an Iowa-based organization called THE FAMiLY LEADER. (That weird typography, with the lower-case “i” in “family” sticking out from all-capitals otherwise, is the way it appears on their logo.) Consisting of a one-page preamble, a one-page list of bullet points constituting “The Candidate Vow,” and a page and a half of “Endnotes and Sources,” “The Marriage Vow” begins with the declaration, “Faithful monogamy is at the very heart of a designed and purposeful order — as conveyed by Jewish and Christian Scripture, by Classical Philosophers, by Natural Law, and by the American Founders — upon which our concepts of Creator-endowed human rights, racial justice and gender equality all depend.”
Not surprisingly, the rest of the preamble shows how little the members of THE FAMiLY LEADER care about racial justice and gender equality. Not only do they target the African-American community as ground zero for the breakdown of marriage and all morality — they claim that the out-of-wedlock birthrate for African-American babies was 26 percent in 1965 and now “over 70 percent of African-American babies are born to single parents” — they make the astonishing statement that “slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the U.S.A.’s first African-American president.”
They also argue that “social protections, especially for women and children, have been evaporating as we have collectively ‘debased the currency’ of marriage.” While the authors of this document, Chuck Hurley and Bob Vander Plaats, acknowledge that they wrote it in response to New York’s legal recognition of same-sex marriage, their forward-to-the-past agenda goes far beyond the Queer community. They also target “adultery, ‘quickie divorce’ … non-committal co-habitation; pervasive infidelity and ‘unwed cheating’ among celebrities, sports figures and politicians; [and] anti-scientific bias which holds … that non-heterosexual inclinations are genetically determined, irresistible and akin to innate traits like race, gender and eye color, and sexual promiscuity in general optimizes individual or public health.”
What Hurley and Vander Plaats are asking candidates for public office in general, and the presidency in particular, to do is swear “personal fidelity to my spouse [and] respect for the marital bonds of others” — contrary to the behavior of quite a lot of modern-day politicians of both major parties. They’re also demanding that they appoint “none but faithful constitutionalists” to the judiciary, mount “vigorous opposition to any redefinition of the Institution of Marriage” to include “intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, same-sex, etc.”; support the Federal Marriage Amendment banning same-sex marriage nationwide; and “reject … Sharia Islam and all other anti-woman, anti-human rights forms of totalitarian control.” The people who are fighting and dying for human rights in countries like Libya, Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Tunisia will no doubt be surprised to learn that their religion is a “form of totalitarian control.”
One of the fascinating aspects of “The Marriage Vow” is that, like much of the rhetoric of the radical Right, it shows an absolute tone-deafness to its own hypocrisy. People who, in the face of massive scientific evidence supporting evolution and human-made global warming, deny both are denouncing others as “anti-scientific.” People who openly state that American law should be determined by “Jewish and Christian Scripture” are attacking people in Muslim-majority countries who believe that their religion should determine their laws. And after outlining a moral agenda that can only be put into effect by a squad of “virtue enforcers” as intrusive as those in Puritan Massachusetts or Taliban Afghanistan, the authors have the gall to say they’re in favor of “limited government”! (Of course, to the modern-day Right “limited government” doesn’t actually mean limited government; it means cutting taxes for the rich, getting rid of the social welfare state, privatizing education and eliminating all business regulations so corporations can do whatever they want — while expanding the reach of government into people’s private lives.)
Whatever you think of “The Marriage Vow,” don’t write it off as an example of fringe nuttiness. Voters in THE FAMiLY LEADER’s home state, Iowa, recently removed three judges from the state supreme court for having voted for a decision allowing same-sex couples to marry there. Bob Vander Plaats was chair of Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign and engineered his victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, and at least two current Republican Presidential candidates, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, have already taken the “vows.” Despite polls showing growing support for same-sex marriage equality among Americans overall, the fact remains that in every state where voters have had a chance to weigh in on the issue, we have lost. In California, an aggressive campaign by Proposition 8’s supporters and a milquetoast, namby-pamby campaign by its opponents helped turn it around from a 15-point deficit in early polls to a 5-percent victory — despite the presence of Barack Obama (as a progressive-seeming candidate, not a moderate-conservative incumbent defending a piss-poor economic record) on top of the ticket and an unusually high turnout of young voters, which gave us the most favorable voter mix for marriage equality we are likely to see in this state in our lifetimes.
Barring a robust economic recovery and millions of new jobs created in the next few months, the 2012 election is shaping up to be a Republican mega-sweep. By insisting, in the face of persistent non-growth in the job and housing markets, on devastating cutbacks in government employment and services, the Republicans are not only fulfilling their ideological commitment to destroy public education, the welfare state and anything else that redistributes wealth and income from corporations and rich individuals to anybody else, they are also drying up demand in the economy and thereby contributing to a second recession — or even a downright depression — that will increase their chances of winning the presidency and the Senate next year. And the aggressive anti-union, anti-education, anti-environment, anti-welfare programs Republican governors and legislators have pursued in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and other states they won control of in 2010 unmistakably shows both the agenda they have for the entire country and their fierce determination to make it happen.
The Republicans and the radical Right in general — largely through the popular media outlets they control, like talk radio and Fox News — have almost totally succeeded in reshaping the debate over the economy and persuading a majority of American voters that the way to create an economic recovery is to slash government to the bone, destroy what’s left of a labor movement in this country and “unleash the private sector.” (The fact that the private sector in the U.S. today is sitting on trillions of dollars in cash they refuse to invest — largely because so few people are working there’s no point in producing products not many people have the money to buy — doesn’t enter into it.) What’s more, while younger Americans are more likely to support marriage equality than older ones, they’re also more likely to align with the radical Right on the other great culture-war issue, abortion. The younger you are, the less likely you are to support a woman’s right to reproductive choice — and, ironically, young women are less likely to be pro-choice than young men.
It’s unlikely that a sweeping program of family regulation like “The Marriage Vow” would ever attract enough public support to pass on its own. Many voters resolutely opposed to legal recognition of same-sex marriage would blanch at the re-enactment of criminal adultery laws, the repeal of no-fault divorce and the mandate for “extended ‘second chance’ or ‘cooling-off’ periods” for divorcing couples. But if the Republican party gains control of the federal government in 2012 and extends its reach over more states, it’s likely all or part of “The Marriage Vow” and the public policies needed to implement it will become law through stealth — and all of a sudden straight and Queer Americans alike will awake to a portrait of Big Brother steadfastly watching over them in their bedrooms.
NOTE: An earlier version of this post stated that Republican Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty had signed “The Marriage Vow.” He has not. Zenger’s regrets the error.