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Frist and the marriage amendment

By Jeff Emanuel

Jun 8, 2006

The timing of the Marriage Amendment's introduction to the nation by President Bush, and in the Senate by Majority Leader Frist, was vigorously attacked from several sides. Some said it was being used to take the public's eyes off of Iraq, gas prices, global warming, the 6/6/06 coming out of President Bush as the antichrist, and any conceivable combination of these and countless other ludicrous ideas. Leftist website Democrat Underground opined that the President brought up this amendment now for the misguided purpose of “pander[ing] do his bigoted, extremist base…that hates gays, women and Mexicans…when there are so many far more pressing issues to address.” Even notable individuals who often back the implementation of conservative thought and policy, such as rare pro-national-security libertarian and Atlanta-based talk show host Neal Boortz, not only criticized the timing of the issue, citing the need to address far more critical matters like tax reform, earmark reform, and the increasing size of government, but also decried the perceived intrusiveness and discrimination on the part of the federal government that the proposed legislation represents.

With all the furor surrounding both the timing and the content of this proposal and its recent introduction, there is a serious need for some history, respect, and—believe it or not—congratulations to be injected into the conversation.

In February, I was among the thousands of attendees at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC. The three-day conference featured several conservative and Republican (a distinction which, unfortunately, is not redundant) speakers, including Vice President Cheney, Ann Coulter, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and, interestingly, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist—a man who is hardly known for being an uncompromising voice for American conservatism. As a former resident of Tennessee—specifically, Fort Campbell, Kentucky (which anybody familiar with the area will know straddles the border between the two states; thus, with a mailing address in Kentucky, one of my senators was in fact Bill Frist)—I had been a supporter of Frist when he first became Majority Leader; however, like many conservatives, I had become increasingly disillusioned with him as a congressional leader in the past few years.

From the stage at CPAC, Frist spoke on several issues, from the war on terror to illegal immigration. While the audience was respectful of the senator, and listened intently to what he had to say, we were also sure to temper our enthusiasm for his words; like many of the "moderate" Republicans who came there to speak, Frist was careful only to tout conservative issues and ideals, understandably preferring to avoid any more centrist stances and issues in his speech. Thus, when he said on that Friday evening in February that he had already set a date to introduce into the Senate a Constitutional amendment protecting marriage, I, like many around me, gave the statement a passing wink and a nod, and promptly returned to wondering when—or whether—Frist would ever begin to govern like the conservative he was carefully impersonating. I did, however, in a fit of desire for accountability, put the date—June 5, 2006—into my PDA, intending to check on the progress of this supposed legislation at that time.

Not long after the conference, I stopped thinking about Frist’s speech and his promise to introduce such legislation in the Senate. This habit of moving on to other issues so quickly is a failing which I and too many other conservatives have, and an unfortunate reason that moderate Republicans are rarely held accountable for their all-too-rarely kept conservative promises. In the months since then, the need to protect traditional marriage has been widely discussed, and progress has been made on the issue in some areas; in many cases, though, the movement for marriage protection has been fought tooth-and-nail. In my own state, Georgia, an amendment to our Constitution which would have protected marriage—which was approved by 74% of the voters in 2004—was thrown out on a technicality by an activist Superior Court judge. The case for a national amendment, though, passed out of mind almost completely for all too many of us.

I must admit that I had my own doubts about the timing of this Amendment’s introduction. After all, illegal immigration has become a hot-button issue, and the Senate has responded by proposing a thinly-veiled amnesty; the Global War on Terror is raging on, and the left is doing all it can to subvert America’s effort to spread liberty and secure our nation; the economy is roaring back from recession, but the President seems allergic to proclaiming such truth from the Bully Pulpit. Surely these and many other issues are far more pressing than stopping everything to propose a (needed) Constitutional Amendment on marriage. Surely the reason for this was a desperate attempt to resuscitate the President’s approval rating. Surely Senator Frist was going along with it in an attempt to reach out to America’s conservatives in preparation for a run at the White House in 2008.

While watching the follow-up to the president’s Rose Garden press conference and contemplating this and other issues—including why politicians couldn’t just address the issues they were elected to lead on, and why they couldn’t ever just say what they mean, and do what they say—my reverie was disturbed by a poignant chime from the scheduling alarm on my PDA. Thinking I had forgotten a deadline, a meeting, or some other imposition on my day, I considered ignoring it completely, but instead decided to give it a quick look. Amazingly, with timing which by chance was truer than I could possibly have planned it, the screen showed these words, input back in February of this year: Marriage Amendment to Senate Floor. It was not until then that I recalled the promise of months before, made by a Senate Majority Leader whom we all thought to be feigning concern for conservative issues—a promise which, it turned out in the end, had been kept.

The Marriage Amendment was defeated Wednesday in the Senate, falling 18 votes short of the 67 necessary for passage. Bearing that fact in mind, this becomes true: whether or not you agree with the idea of amending the United States Constitution—and, by default, the Constitution of each of the fifty states—to protect marriage as being between one man and one woman (or to deny the “right” of same-sex couples to marry, if you prefer to think of it that way) is irrelevant. Likewise, whether or not you may think that this is an intrusive, inopportune time for the introduction of such an amendment into the Senate for debate, what with the day-to-day issues of the War on Terror, illegal immigration, the need for tax reform, et cetera, is also irrelevant.

What is relevant, not only for this issue but for the peace of mind so desperately needed not just by conservative citizens, but by all citizens, is this: a politician, having made a promise to constituents, voters, and the public at large, followed through and kept that promise, in spite of changing sentiment or intervening circumstances. It may be a sad indictment of our government that a single instance of a politician keeping their word stands out so greatly, and thus becomes deserving of such recognition. However, these facts remain: Senator Bill Frist did, in fact, make a promise to America one Friday evening in February and, when the time came to keep his end of the bargain, he did just that. True, it is only one man; beyond that, it is only one issue. However, it is an instance of an American politician doing exactly what he said he would—and that, at the very least, is a start.

Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran, studies Classics at the University of Georgia. He is also a contributing editor for conservative web log, and is a columnist for the Athens, GA Banner-Herald newspaper.

Copyright © 2006

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