A decade later, still no justification for discrimination


CARSON CITY

I listened very closely Tuesday — really listened — for a legitimate argument against repealing Article 1, Section 21 of the Nevada Constitution.

That section reads, simply: “Only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state.”

It was proposed as Question 2 in 2000, when it passed overwhelmingly with 69 percent of the vote. Two years later, it passed with 67 percent of the vote, a greater-than-two-thirds supermajority.

But now, a decade later, polls suggest people have changed their minds, even here in Nevada. The president of the United States says he’s “evolved” on the issue. Former President Bill Clinton — who signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act banning same-gender marriage in 1996 — now urges its repeal. Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. Younger people, especially, tell pollsters they believe gays should have equal marriage rights.

I remember writing columns denouncing Question 2 in the early part of the last decade, believing it represented legalized discrimination. So I’m well familiar with the arguments against the idea.

Did opponents have anything that might persuade lawmakers to retain it?

Richard Ziser, the man who led the effort to pass Question 2 back in the day, first appealed to tradition.

“Marriage existed before government did,” Ziser said. “Now we think we have the ability or the smarts … that we think we can change the definition of something that has existed for thousands of years.”

Ah, but that definition hasn’t been consistent for those thousands of years. Polygamy was sanctioned in ancient times. Marriage was variously a civil concept, a business concept and a political concept in centuries past.

Ziser — and several others who testified on the subject — said marriage exists for the propagation of children, which enables society to sustain itself. “We want to protect marriage and we want to assure our society moves forward,” he said. “We are creating families where we’re deliberately eliminating a father and we’re deliberately eliminating a mother, and we’re saying there’s no difference between those two.”

Ah, but senior citizens — well beyond child-bearing years — also have the right to marriage, don’t they? So do infertile couples, or couples who simply choose not to have children. And since gay couples can — and do — adopt children, and since straight couples are probably not going to stop having children even if gay people are allowed to marry, the future of society is not imperiled.

And, of course, there are the religious objections. “It is so very clear what the Bible says,” Ziser said. “This issue will never go away as long as there are people of faith who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Some of those in favor of repealing Article 1, Section 21 tried gamely to argue the Bible doesn’t condemn gay people, but that’s disingenuous. It’s clear in Old and New Testaments that certain authors of biblical passages condemn — at the very least — gay conduct. To argue otherwise is fallacy.

But that fact is not proof that the Nevada Constitution should not be amended. To reach that conclusion, one must first prove a handful of Bible passages should form the basis of a sweeping civil policy in the United States, a country that has specifically declared no state religion shall be established. This is far from proven.

Meanwhile, proponents — from an 11-year-old girl to a woman who’s been with her partner for more than 40 years — repeated the same simple message: We just want equal treatment under the law.

I listened — really listened — to the testimony Tuesday to see if I could find a good reason against deleting Article 1, Section 21 from the Nevada Constitution. I didn’t hear one.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.