A substantial majority of Americans appears to be firmly opposed to changing the definition of marriage, arguably society's most important institution. But an initiative drive launched on Tuesday across Arizona that would prohibit civil-union type legal protections and work-related benefits to domestic partners gives pause.
Marriage, rooted far back in prehistory, ought not be tinkered with to satisfy a minority that wants to do away with its fundamental “one man, one woman” application. But the Constitution does not turn its back on even a minority of one when that individual's civil liberties are threatened. That is what is meant by equal protection of the laws.
It has been argued credibly that the civil rights of gays and unmarried adult members of a household can be protected without changing the legal definition of marriage. The best way, it seems to us, is by recognizing civil unions in the manner that Vermont pioneered several years ago.
But the Protect Marriage in Arizona initiative would have none of that. No gay marriage, no civil unions. In fact, it would ban protections of any kind offered by local governments to their employees for domestic partners, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual.
That not only is unnecessary to “protect marriage,” it is a mean-spirited attempt to punish a minority of citizens for a way of life deemed sinful by accusers whose own lives are affected not a whit by it.
Like most other states, Arizona has reaffirmed the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. But Arizona also has a long and honored tradition of libertarian-style conservatism that aims to keep government out of our personal lives.
Arizona's conservatism was most eloquently articulated and championed by Barry Goldwater, who was as suspicious of the religious right as he was of the bleeding-heart left. Even after his long, influential career in the U.S. Senate, when the rest of his Republican party was grousing about then-President Clinton's “don't ask, don't tell” policy on gays in the military, Goldwater offered with characteristic wit that he didn't care who served in the military, “as long as they can shoot straight.”
As the staggering divorce rate shows, the institution of marriage could use some strengthening. This initiative won't do that. Nor will it force gay people to go straight. What it will do is impose a needless and onerous hardship on domestic partners, regardless of sexual preference, who had begun to win some support for legal protections that can make a household a bit more secure and stable.
That's just plain wrong and it should be stopped.