Messin’ with marriage

Fading Bride and Groom

Are marriages in Texas threatened?

Texas is now in the middle of a debate over the wording of a 2005 amendment to Article I of the Texas Constitution:

Sec. 32.  MARRIAGE. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b)  This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

The dispute starts with the phrase that forbids the creation of a legal status “identical or similar to marriage.” Democratic Attorney General candidate Barbara Radnofsky is so bold as to suggest that it would not be unreasonable to say that marriage is identical or similar to marriage. After the Fort Worth Star Telegraph reported the story, it was picked up by CBS, Politics Daily, and media outlets all over the US. Here we are again, in the national spotlight.

A representative of the incumbent Texas Attorney General cleverly replied: “The Texas Constitution and the marriage statute are entirely constitutional.” Apparently, the AG’s office thinks that simply asserting that the Constitution is constitutional (being identical or similar to the Constitution) resolves any dispute. Unfortunately, the AG’s office seems unaware that the point is that the Texas Constitution is now at best fuzzy on the subject of marriage.

A couple of Republicans seem to feel that they can win the debate over the wording here by drawing all kinds of linguistic and philosophical distinctions about the self and being identical. Do conservatives really want to turn the institution of marriage over to linguists and philosophers?  Engaging in this kind of intellectual tail-chasing is an admission that the amendment was poorly worded and created ambiguity.

ElvisThe Liberty Legal Institute (LLI) that helped draft the language is partly correct that this is a diversion on the issue of gay marriage and that this may have begun a word game in the Attorney General’s race. Texas marriages will likely be upheld. It’s also true that I’m regretting not reviewing wedding vows in front of an Elvis impersonator in Vegas last year. It’s a sad commentary when a Texan looks to a phony Elvis in on the Vegas strip for legitimacy in marriage.

The real issue here is that the system failed Texans.

Attorney General Greg Abbott is Radnofsky’s target here. However, many, many people took part in this process and you have to wonder why none of them could not come up with better language for our Constitution. Those words become pretty important when you put them in a constitution. Spell-checking isn’t enough.  Yes, Abbot is the state’s lawyer and he played a role in reviewing the language. However, the Legislature that approved the amendment is full of lawyers and other people pretending to be smart. Surely, someone there could have suggested better wording.

The effort failed conservatives who wanted to ban gay marriage by undermining that effort. Ironically, the groups and politicians who did such a miserable job will simply use this as an opportunity to raise more money. This is like a roofer blaming the rain for leaks in a new roof. Shoddy workmanship left a hole in the Texas Constitution that Radnofsky could drive a truck through. Don’t blame her for their mistake.

Once again Texas pays a price for a state constitution that tries to govern every detail of life in Texas. Amendments breed amendments and no leader in the state is brave enough to address the need for a new Texas Constitution. Amending the Constitution is a growth industry and the 2005 marriage amendment was Texas’ own stimulus package for special interests.


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