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January 15, 2000
Column #959


     In a case that could be as important and ominous as Roe v. Wade, the Vermont Supreme Court announced a decision before Christmas that was no gift to the fragile institution of marriage, nor to children who the court permits to be tossed aside by the selfishness of parents.

     The court held a gun to the head of Vermont's legislature, ordering it to pick the barrel it will be shot from. Pick Barrel A and pass America's first law creating ''same-sex marriage.'' Or pick Barrel B to confer on homosexual and lesbian couples, all the rights of marriage without the name, calling same-sex unions, ''domestic partnerships.''

     Why? In a nonsensical ruling, the court concluded that the historic meaning of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, violated Vermont's 1793 constitution! There is no language in the constitution giving same-sex unions special status. When it was adopted, the homosexual act of sodomy, was proscribed by law. In fact, sodomy was a crime until 1977.

     But the constitution states that ''all the people should be afforded all the benefits and protections bestowed by government.'' The court read into those two century-old words, the right of same-sex couples to be married, though they cannot procreate.

     A global Wirthlin survey found that 84 percent agree that ''The definition of marriage is one man and one woman.'' It is a mysterious relationship, melding two people of different genders who create a union of unique potential strength of inimitable value to society. The essence of marriage is the integration of a universe of different genders which are profound and subtle, biological and cultural, psychological and genetic, spiritual and physical.

     Marriage is also the natural and wholesome environment in which children are conceived, born, nurtured patiently for decades by a mother and father who love them selflessly and sacrificially. It is particularly for these vulnerable children, that society has passed laws to protect and cherish the small civilization called marriage.

     Sadly, heterosexual couples have become increasingly cavalier about marriage. Since 1960, divorces tripled and marriage rates have fallen by a third, while the number of cohabiting couples has soared ten-fold. The consequences have been devastating. A third of babies are born out-of-wedlock, and half of those born in wedlock will see their parents divorce.

     Half of children living with a single parent are in poverty. They are three times more likely to fail a grade or become pregnant as teens as those from intact two-parent homes, and are four times more likely to be expelled or suspended from school.

     These failures do not call for legalizing same-sex marriages, but for reforms in the way couples are prepared for a lifelong marriage, strengthened in existing ones, and helped to restore marriages headed for divorce. The clergy of 119 cities have adopted such reforms in Community Marriage Policies slashing divorce rates in dozens of cities.

     Should two lesbians or two homosexuals be allowed to adopt children? I don't think so, because a child deserves to be nurtured by both a mother and father. Sadly, Vermont agreed to gay adoption five years ago, which was cited by Vermont's Supreme Court as a reason to permit gay marriage or its equivalent ''domestic partnership.''

     Each step away from traditional marriage creates a slippery slope with no standards. If two homosexuals can parent a child, how about menage a trois, or two couples who bed swap?

     Homosexual sex puts men at high risk of contracting AIDS and many other sexually transmitted diseases. People must be allowed to choose their sex partners. But the law should not elevate same-sex couples to the same status as a married couple, when the result is that it will literally condemn many to early, agonizing death.

     In giving same-sex partners health benefits or tax advantages, taxpayers would be forced to subsidize what many abhor. When Hawaii and Alaska courts ruled same-sex marriages were legal, they were overturned by referenda in both states by 2-1 margins.

     What's the solution?

     Vermont's legislature should ignore orders of its Supreme Court to create either same-sex marriages or equivalent domestic partnerships. It can dig in its heels. After all, the court didn't strike down any law; it only commanded twisted remedies.

     ''There is something inherently overweening, non-adjudicative and political about such a decision. The legislature should resist this seizure of power,'' writes David Coolidge, director of the Marriage Law Project in ''The Weekly Standard.''

     The U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1888 case, Maynard v. Hill, concluded marriage is ''the foundation of the family and society, without which there would be neither civilization nor progress.''

     The institution of marriage needs no revision.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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