Boston Globe columnist Sam Allis says he’s a “process liberal.”
This is the dismissive term used by Arline Isaacson, the fiery co chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, to describe those whose support of a lefty cause is tempered by their commitment to play by the rules.
It is, in this case, aimed at people like me who support gay marriage but oppose the legislative dodge, all but killing a constitutional ballot initiative barring gay marriage, exercised earlier this month by the House and Senate, sitting together as a Constitutional Convention.
“It’s not a dodge at all,” Isaacson maintains about the Nov. 9 vote to recess rather than vote on the amendment. “What we stand to lose is so significant, and it’s so unfair for our supporters to expect that we should just lie down and say, ‘It’s OK, the process is more important than our rights.’ “
I can understand the pretzel-twisting logic Isaacson is using. It must be excruciating to think that you have to follow the rules in order to get rights to which you are entitled by judicial fiat. That you might lose those rights through legislative initiative must be painful. And from Isaacson’s statement, it is more painful than homosexuals should be expected to bear.
Process liberals get tagged in torrid single-issue causes whose advocates like Isaacson conclude that the end justifies the means. That the goal is so important, they can ignore due process, in this case the state constitution.
“It’s not a matter of following the constitution,” says John Reinstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “It’s following the constitution down the drain.”
Great line, but, of course, once you start choosing which parts of the constitution to obey, you’re practicing cafeteria constitutionalism, which invites cynicism.
Allis is right, of course, because once we start deciding we will follow the constitution here but not there, we get into the kinds of legal, ethical, moral, and political knots that destroy the institution we ostensibly vow to live in.
For me, that is the point in allowing the anti-gay marriage initiative to be voted on by the people. According to Allis, the Article allowing for initiatives to be placed on the ballot in Massachusetts was added to the state constitution in 1918 “to provide citizens a means to thwart an obstructionist legislature.” If the state’s judges can find a right to homosexual marriage in the state constitution, why can’t the legislature allow citizens to exercise another right found in that document?
The reason, of course, is that same-sex marriage advocates are pretty damn sure that such a measure would pass, and probably pass overwhelmingly. Most other states that have put marriage definition amendments on their ballots have had them pass. Simply put, while most Americans favor some legal recognition of gay relationships (for next-of-kin or inheritance purposes, for example), they don’t want to call that marriage.
I’ve seen arguments made comparing gay marriage to the civil rights movement. But the civil rights of all Americans wasn’t guaranteed by a court decision. Equal rights were guaranteed through legislative action including the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (possibly the most important piece of legislation ever passed), and the Voting Rights Act. In other words, in order to gain equality, black people had to convince enough non-black people that it was a good idea. It was only then that such legislation was passed and those legal rights secured.
If homosexual rights advocates want gay marriage to be more like the civil rights movement and less like the abortion wars, they need to spend more time convincing enough Americans that gay marriage is a good idea, rather than blocking legal initiatives they don’t like. Because otherwise, they might win in the court but they won’t win in the people’s hearts and minds.