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Wednesday, Aug 4, 2004, 11:10 am

Gay marriage? Not in Ashcroft country

By Jim Rinnert
The voters of Missouri yesterday threw overwhelming support behind a state constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriages and define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Seems like overkill, since the "Show Me state" already has a state law that so defines marriage, as well as forbdiding recognition of same-sex marriages even if they are performed in a state where they are legal.

As one citizen put it, "Praise God for the people of Missouri and especially of Jasper county. About 81 percent of us agreed that marriage is between a man and a woman. At least we are keeping that in the schools."

The idea of gay marriage as a civil rights issue, as a way of ensuring same-sex couples the same rights as married couples, was almost lost in the debate, buried under rhetoric containing words like "sanctity" and "protect," "activist judges" and multiple references to God. Occasional voices, however, rose to question the pervasive self-righteousness of those urging the ban. In a St. Louis Post-Dispatch opinion piece, Susan Frelich Appleton lays out a case that the ban is discriminatory by its very wording.

It is expected that 12 other states will be considering constitutional action to ban gay marriage this year. When all the yelling is over and all the votes are in, the push to give same-sex partners the same rights as married couples will have taken a beating. And all because of semantics: The phrase "gay marriage" is a divisive, hot-button term that fills most of the heterosexual citizenry with fear and foreboding. It's constitutes a threat to what they see as the "family." They feel they're being backed up against the wall on this one. But when the objective is re-branded as a civil contract for same-sex couples to provide equal rights, the "sanctity" factor will drop away, and equal protection under the law for same-sex unions can, at last, be an attainable objective.

Jim Rinnert is the art director at In These Times.

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