THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION MIGHT AS WELL HEAR it straight, and hear it fast: Don't you dare make a single tiny concession on homosexual marriage.
The position the president stakes out over the next few weeks on this critical issue, and the forthrightness with which he does it, will prove a key test of his largely happy alliance so far with the so-called religious right.
The world (and especially the religious world) is full of people who are quick to draw lines in the sand. The world also includes an even greater number of people who will die of old age before they draw their first line in the sand.
Most of us, when it comes to selecting our national political leaders, tend to rock on a pendulum between those two extremes. Sometimes, we get so attached to a particular principle or cause or truth that we can't imagine working hand-in-hand with someone who doesn't agree with us. But then, a little later, we typically learn to swallow our pride, fold up our flag, and vote for "the lesser of two evils." A little compromise, we finally say, is better than having no voice at all.
I listened in Washington a few days ago to a group of folks who have decided (correctly, I think) that the homosexual marriage issue puts them in the "line-in-the-sand" category. On a dozen or even a hundred other issues, there might be room to fudge a bit, to take what you can get now and hope for more later, to hold hands with some allies with whom we have big disagreements. That's the nature of politics. But the homosexual-marriage issue, these folks say, will be a test of political fellowship. In bluntest terms, they are saying to their friend George Bush: "Get this one right, or we will not support you in November of 2004."
Two distinctions are important.
The late June Supreme Court decision nullifying a Texas anti-sodomy law both terrorized and energized this group of pro-family Bush supporters, but no one should conclude that the line in the sand lies between those who would tolerate homosexual behavior and those who would outlaw it. Not a single one of the score of people who gathered has ever made a big point of arguing that the few remaining laws prohibiting homosexual acts should be expanded to all states-any more than they argue for public laws prohibiting adultery between heterosexuals. Not every behavior God says is sinful is necessarily something the state should make it its business to sanction. I believe the Fourth Commandment calls for observing the Lord's Day, and that the Tenth Commandment forbids coveting; but I don't want either the state or federal government to enforce those laws.
What does frighten us pro-family folks is the all-too-clear platform that the recent Supreme Court decision laid for future rulings not only endorsing homosexual marriage, but perhaps requiring us all to recognize it. Our experience over the last three or four decades with a court that invents willy-nilly rights fully justifies at least three demands: (1) a clear statement by the president that he opposes the whole concept of homosexual marriage (his lukewarm July 2 statement on the subject was a start, but he needs to repeat it in more emphatic terms); (2) his endorsement of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution clarifying that marriage will always in this society be only between one man and one woman; and (3) his commitment that he will appoint no future justices to the Supreme Court who have not assured him of their allegiance to traditional marriage.
The second important distinction is yet to be drawn. It is the distinction between noisy ultimatums, on the one hand, and quiet resolve on the other. It is the difference between storming the White House with threats of draining next year's voter base of perhaps 3 to 10 million voters, or on the other hand quietly serving notice that here is a group of people for whom this may be the biggest public issue of their lifetimes. We are telling you, Mr. President, that you have the great opportunity to do what is right on this matter. The very character of human existence is at stake. It is not a murky matter, and you should neither equivocate nor delay.
And if you will not hear us, Mr. President? We are not here, sir, to talk about consequences. This is not about political results. If you cannot hear us on this issue, sir, there is no future at all for our society and nation. There is no other value worth trading for. Freedom itself has begun to have little meaning.
That is why we are drawing this line in the sand.