We all agree that amending the country’s Constitution is a course of last resort reserved for only the most extreme cases. Yet the Republican candidate for president not only never outlines his case for an amendment, he’s rarely asked to defend the idea.
When millions of Americans tune in to the first presidential debate tonight, with PBS newsman Jim Lehrer as moderator, Mitt Romney could get a chance to explain why he believes the Constitution needs a few edits. But recent history of this general election has me doubting we’ll finally hear substance.
Romney has signed a pledge — a contract with the social conservatives — that couldn’t make his intention to amend the United States Constitution any clearer. He believes same-sex couples should be banned from getting married in all 50 states, including those where it’s already legal.
The reasons for this big change are detailed in what the Republicans wrote in their own platform, claiming the United States faces "an assault on the foundations of our society." And this danger is "a serious threat to our country's constitutional order." Whether we stop it, the GOP says, "will determine our success as a nation."
It sounds quite serious. You'd think that when the GOP got its first chance to talk directly to an audience of millions, during the Republican National Convention in August, it would have made whatever it's so concerned about a starring issue. The convention could have been a chance to explain the supposed connection between same-sex weddings and total collapse of democracy. Plus, because the danger allegedly "directly impacts the economic well-being of individuals," it fits as part of the economic argument being made against President Obama's reelection. But whatever Republicans are so worried about, it must be a truly unspeakable problem, because it was hardly mentioned from stage.
Instead, vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan's soaring speech devoted a mere three words to this plague on our country when he praised Mitt Romney as a "defender of marriage." Then Romney himself spent five words on the problem, adding to a list of promises that he will "protect the institution of marriage."
The Republican Party of 2012 believes the very existence of our nation rests on whether LGBT people can get married, and the Romney-Ryan ticket concurs, but none are willing to decipher the conspiracy theory. Ryan himself has twice voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment while in Congress. Still, all anyone offers to explain this extreme position are dog whistles heard during the RNC. All we get are code words meant to wink at the likes of the National Organization for Marriage (to which Romney made his promise). Romney so far doesn’t dare alienate independents by reiterating the convoluted logic used by groups like the Family Research Council to link same-sex marriage to the demise of society as we know it.
The implications of a Federal Marriage Amendment are vast. By amending the U.S. Constitution to ban marriage equality, for example, failed presidential candidate Rick Santorum has argued it would invalidate the marriages of people like me. I was married to my husband in 2010 in the District of Columbia after it became legal. Santorum said the amendment would effectively divorce us. Is that Romney’s plan? My husband and I — and our family and friends — deserve to know the answer to that question before casting ballots.
Santorum has also said the amendment effectively ends adoptions by gay couples. When Romney tried to insinuate earlier this year that his opposition to gays getting married didn’t preclude him from supporting our ability to adopt or foster children, his campaign quickly backtracked. Now no one is sure whether Romney favors same-sex couples being allowed to adopt. In my household, with our two foster daughters, that’s a question we’d like asked during the debates.
But I’m not sure there will be time for two gay questions. With all of the issues the country faces, the moderator of any of the debates faces a time crunch. We’re at war. Perhaps another war, with Iran, is threatening. The economy is troubled, as is the housing market in particular, and people need jobs to put food on the table.
I expect that during one of the three presidential debates, Romney will get the gay question. But it’s hard to imagine he’ll make the case for a constitutional amendment in his answer, and it’s hard to imagine the straight world clamoring for a follow-up question, even though that’s what has been missing from the campaign trail.
An astonishing number of related unanswered questions linger for Romney. He claimed no one in his party opposes equal hospital visitation rights, and yet he defends the Catholic Church in its decision not to include contraception in health insurance plans as its exercise of religious freedom. Would he allow an exemption for Catholic hospitals on visitation rights for same-sex couples, who the church doesn’t recognize?
Where does it stop? Should any private business owner be allowed to refuse service to a gay couple on religious principles? Romney has said many times that he opposes discrimination, but what happens when discrimination is a religious cause?
And remind us, governor, why were you opposed to repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy? Because our military leaders should be told what danger has supposedly subsided that would now allow their potential commander-in-chief to change his position. (Romney now says he’s against reinstating DADT. Ryan said the same despite voting against DADT repeal while in Congress.)
LGBT Americans have a lot of questions. But Romney paints our concerns as sideshows while simultaneously demanding an amendment to the Constitution. Romney once chided a Colorado reporter who dared ask about same-sex relationships, dismissing it as a state issue. At most, his answer to the inevitable gay question might include calling himself a believer in “traditional marriage” — as if that explains it all.
LUCAS GRINDLEY is the editor for Advocate.com and news director for The Advocate. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband and two foster daughters.