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William Fisher: Calling Mr. Smith

Calling Mr. Smith

By William Fisher
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 05 June 2006

For those gentle readers who've been frittering their time away worrying about gas prices or Iraq or government snooping or the levees in New Orleans, I have good news: It's OK to stop worrying about these minor issues and instead focus your attentions on the transformational event of our century - The Federal Marriage Amendment.

A reminder for those who have been preoccupied with trivial issues: The Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) mandates that marriage "shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman."

We're not talking about a plain vanilla amendment to some pork-barrel spending bill. The FMA is an amendment to our Constitution. And it happens to be the first amendment ever that takes a freedom away from us.

So this is no community theater performance or second-tier Summer Stock. This is Broadway!

And there's a big incentive to pay attention to this passion play. Aside from its profound importance to the future of our democracy, the FMA has all the elements of great political theater. So you can take a break from your hand-wringing and have some fun while battling the sinister forces of evil.

For one thing, the main players are directly out of Central Casting.

Center stage you'll find Senator Bill Frist, or Dr. Frist to you. He's the Republican leader in the Senate, and you'll remember him as the heart transplant guy who diagnosed Terry Schiavo's neurological symptoms by long-distance and expressed his doubts that she was brain-dead. I should remind you he's running for president in 2008, and really needs the support of all those wonderful religious fundamentalists who brought us the Cirque Schiavo last year.

Then there's the author of the amendment, Senator Wayne Allard, who tries his best to look and sound like that guy you'd like to have a beer with. This stalwart champion of Federalism is worried that our Constitution is being amended to reflect a new definition of marriage - not by democratically elected members of Congress, but by unaccountable and unelected judges. He's concerned that, "If we in Congress fail to define marriage, the courts ultimately will not hesitate to define it for us." He'd rather see these kinds of decisions made by each state, where legislatures are far more easily manipulated and where there are elected judges. Because if they engage in "judicial activism," the voters in their infinite wisdom (and with tons of money from the religious right) can get them un-elected.

Then there's the chorus, led by groups like the Religious Coalition for Marriage which believes that "the world's great monotheistic religious traditions" and "impeccable social science research" agree that when marriage is "radically redefined" or is "no longer the boundary of sexual activity," the result is damaging to individuals, family life and social justice. Well, it's good to know they're putting impeccable social science research to good use. Research probably done by a federal grant to Bob Jones University.

The chorus in this extravaganza is really big and well trained to sing in perfect unison. It includes such Athenian democrats as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer and James Dobson, as well as the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations and the Roman Catholic cardinals.

This is the same cast that forced the president to throw Harriett Myers overboard after he nominated her as the "best qualified" to sit on our Supreme Court. The chorus felt she would somehow morph into a kind of flame-throwing liberal and force us all to marry gays and lesbians.

On Saturday, the FMA gala had a little preview in the president's weekly radio address, where he told us, "Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society." This performance by The Great Sociologist was so totally boffo that he got held over for another gig in the White House Rose Garden on Monday.

The FMA will get a vote on the Senate floor sometime this week. And while only 31 senators currently support it, Senator Allard says he intends to introduce it every year until he can get the majority he needs to have it pass to the states for ratification. So if you miss this year's performance, you can buy the soon-to-be-released DVD or simply wait until next year.

I suppose there are two ways of looking at this theater of the absurd. One way says that Congress is so ineffectual, clueless and wasteful that every minute it spends on trivia is a net gain for the nation. The other way wonders how, at a time when our country faces so many existential challenges, we could possibly be spending time debating who should marry whom.

Mr. Smith, where the hell are you when we need you?


William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and in many other parts of the world for the US State Department and USAID for the past thirty years. He began his work life as a journalist for newspapers and for the Associated Press in Florida. Go to The World According to Bill Fisher for more.

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