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President Bush and gay marriage

03/03/04 12:00AM By Jay Parini
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(Host) Commentator Jay Parini reflects on the philosophy of government non-intervention and how it should be applied.


(Parini) President Bush has called for a constitutional ammendment to ban same-sex marriages. He has also, to his credit, asked for the debate on this issue to begin in earnest, and urged that it remain civil.

Okay, let's debate. My view is that religious groups have every right to define marriage as they see fit. Yet in this country, the separation of church and state has a long, and constitutionally grounded, history. In theory, the civil and religious aspects of marriage should remain separate. The idea here, of course, is to protect us from other peoples' religions, and to insure that we get to practice our own without government interference.

There is, I think, something terribly contradictory about an administration that campaigns loudly for a reduction in government, yet argues for federal regulation of one of the most intimate aspects of our lives -- our personal choice of a life-partner.

Ronald Reagan - who provided an obvious role model for our current chief of state - famously said: "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem." He argued for tax cuts with a fervor only exceeded by George W. Bush, who makes Reagan sound like a moderate on this issue. The Reagan-Bush philosophy of government nonintervention extends to public corporations, which - in their judgement - should be allowed to set their own pollution control standards, and to pursue free trade without the inconveniences of strict government regulation. In virtually every aspect of commerce, the current president seems to favor government nonintervention.

Contradictions abound here, of course. Mr. Bush has, while lessening taxes, greatly increased public spending, creating a deficit that has now reached historic heights. In this, he also resembles Mr. Reagan, under whose glad hand federal spending rose from 678 billion per year in 1981 to well over one one trillion dollars a year in 1987. Tax cuts led, then as now, to a soaring deficit.

But unlike Mr. Reagan, who stayed relatively neutral on the subject of gay rights, Mr. Bush is determined to get the congress involved in amending the constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. He's doing this, he claims, to "protect marriage."

Let me suggest, civilly, that marriage will be better defended by allowing all who choose to enter into serious, committed relations the opportunity to do so. I fear that the president is taking up this highly inflammatory issue right now, in an election year, for political reasons: to secure his base on the Christian right, where the phrase itself - "same-sex marriage" - summons a vision of hellfire and brimstone.

I wish that Mr. Bush would not confuse the bully pulpit of the presidency with the pulpit of his particular church. I also wish he would transfer some of that affection for government nonintervention to the personal lives of American citizens, who should feel at liberty to marry the person they happen to love, regardless of his or her gender.

This is Jay Parini, in Weybridge.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer, teaches at Middlebury College.
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