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Fighting indecent acts
Contact your state reps and senators before next week’s legislative vote on an anti-gay-marriage amendment to the Constitution. Plus, FCC chair Michael Powell is offensive.

THE MASSACHUSETTS Supreme Judicial Court has emphatically stated that a separate-but-equal standard of marriage rights for same-sex couples will not meet the bar set by its history-making ruling last November that lesbian and gay couples have a constitutional right to wed. This puts the constitutional convention to be held next Wednesday, February 11 under an even harsher spotlight. The full legislature will meet to consider an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman, thereby excluding same-sex couples. The outcome of this convention is critical for those who support civil-marriage rights for same-sex couples.

In lobbying for passage of the amendment, civil-marriage-rights opponents are making an appealing — if deeply flawed — argument: let the people decide. During his State of the Union speech, President Bush declared: "Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people’s voice must be heard." Put aside the irony that the Supreme Court–installed and popular-vote-losing Bush would complain about "activist judges" who don’t listen to the "people’s voice," and consider what he’s asking us to do: put people’s rights up for popular vote.

This is nothing if not anti-American. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison warned against the dangers of letting an "over-bearing majority" trample the "rights of a minor party." This is why we are governed by elected representatives who are kept in check not just by the voters but also by the courts. Can you imagine if all our laws were enacted by popular vote? Many states would still have segregated water fountains, let alone bans on interracial marriages. Don’t believe it? Well, consider this: the state of Alabama didn’t strike its anti-miscegenation laws from its books until 2000.

If the anti-gay-marriage amendment is passed by the legislature next week, it must go before the full body during the next legislative session and pass a second time. If this happens, the question of whether the state constitution should be amended to define marriage as a heterosexual institution will be put before voters. In other words, a straight majority would ultimately decide on the rights of a gay minority. This particular issue may not have been what Madison had in mind, but it’s just the sort of scenario against which he warned.

Even the complaints of those who disagree with the SJC’s ruling and believe this is a matter that should be decided by the legislature (Attorney General Tom Reilly comes to mind) ring hollow. The first time any branch of the legislature considered legislation that would grant lesbian and gay couples rights and protections comparable with those conferred by marriage took place after the SJC made its ruling. That was when the Senate crafted a civil-union bill and asked the SJC to rule on whether such a bill would satisfy the court’s ruling that gay couples must be allowed to wed. Now we have our answer: it does not meet the standard. Meanwhile, we still don’t understand what anti-gay-marriage advocates are so afraid of.

What Wednesday morning’s courageous ruling by the SJC means is that gay and lesbian couples will be able to get married in the Commonwealth as of May 17. The court has sent a very strong message to the legislature in both the timing of this ruling and its substance. To give those rights and then take them away would be wrong. On an issue like this, it is crucial that you contact your state representative and senator to let them know you support the rights of same-sex couples to marry. Contact House Speaker Tom Finneran’s office at (617) 727-3600. Contact Senate president Robert Travaglini’s office at (617) 722-1500. You can find complete listings of state representatives and senators, with contact information, on the Web at www.state.ma.us/legis/legis.htm.

WHAT WAS more offensive about CBS’s Super Bowl broadcast Sunday night? The flash of Janet Jackson’s naked right breast after Justin Timberlake grabbed at her bodice? Or the fact that MoveOn.org’s 30-second ad criticizing the Bush administration’s record budget deficits didn’t air?

CBS rejected the ad on the grounds that it was too advocacy-oriented. (The network also refused to air an ad from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that links eating meat with male impotence.) But what about the game’s inane anti-drug ads? They weren’t advocacy-oriented? Please.

Actually, the most offensive element of all this is the "indecency" probe launched by FCC chair Michael Powell against CBS, not just of Boobgate but of the entire salacious CBS/Viacom-owned, MTV-produced halftime show. Especially in contrast to Powell’s silence when CBS practiced blatant censorship and refused MoveOn.org’s attempts to buy time on the public airwaves for an ad that simply points out that the people who will be paying for the Bush budget deficits are now in preschool. It’s an honest portrayal of the country’s current fiscal situation, and it was neither violent nor offensive — unlike many of the ads, with their bathroom humor and insipid calls to bedroom triumphs, that aired during the broadcast.

The only gratifying element of this debacle is that CBS, which self-censored in embarrassing fashion last year when it deep-sixed a docudrama about the Reagan presidency that cultural and political conservatives didn’t like, is now in so much trouble with that very same group.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters@phx.com

Issue Date: February 6 - 12, 2004
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