It seems that discussion of the proposed “Defense of Marriage” amendment makes Andrew Sullivan take leave of his senses. He spends a lot of time ranting about “celibacy,” a term that appears nowhere in the amendment’s text. Here’s the text, as presented by Sullivan:
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. Neither the federal government nor any state shall predicate benefits, privileges, rights, or immunities on the existence, recognition, or presumption of sexual conduct or relationships.
Now, let’s deconstruct that paragraph. Sentence one is plain English, so that’s easy. Let’s take a looksee at #2:
Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups. [emphasis mine]
Note the “shall” clause. This, in a nutshell, means that anything that doesn’t explicitly say “gay people may marry each other” cannot be construed to mean, well, “gay people may marry each other.” Sounds simple enough. Now onto #3:
Neither the federal government nor any state shall predicate benefits, privileges, rights, or immunities on the existence, recognition, or presumption of sexual conduct or relationships.
This is apparently where Sullivan goes off on his bizarro rant about celibacy. To put it crudely, this sentence—in English—means, “you aren’t entitled to anything just because you’re fucking someone else.” How on earth Sullivan makes the leap to this sentence creating the precedent for some sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” police force just boggles the mind; if anything, it would seem to preclude it, because having a sexual relationship cannot have any effect on your “benefits, privileges, rights, or immunities.” This sentence says, whether Sully’s fucking his boyfriend or sleeping down the hall in the spare bedroom, it makes absolutely no difference.
Frankly, I agree that this amendment is fundamentally silly, although, unlike Sullivan, I’d rather have the state out of the business of marriage as completely as possible, leaving it to contract law and civil society—hence why he’s a conservative, while I’m a libertarian. And if Sullivan wants to marry his boyfriend, or the hypothetical lesbian commune down the street wants to organize a group marital arrangement, it’s nothing that’s going to cause the end of the universe; even if God cares, I suspect He has more important things to worry about. But I’d expect someone who, you know, writes for a living might actually be capable of reading what’s in front of his face. And, in this case, I think Sullivan’s dislike for the proposal has blinded him to what the actual text says.
And Sullivan’s still obsessing; apparently, what’s important to him aren’t the benefits of marriage; it’s the societal imprimateur that government recognition of gay marriage would convey. The conservative’s complete, and misguided, faith in government as a qualified social engineer emerges yet again.