Monday, February 05, 2007

Activism Ad Absurdium

Meet I-957, also known as the Washington State Defense of Marriage Initiative. Washington, like many states, will put voter-sponsored Initiatives on the ballot. These initiatives are for all kinds of different things: banning smoking in public places, pull tab casinos, and so forth. The Defense of Marriage Initiative, sponsored by the Washington State Defense of Marriage Alliance, wants to expand on the Anderson v. King County court ruling that defined marriage in Washington State as something specific to a man and a woman. Here's WA-DOMA's goals, from their website (bold mine):

  • add the phrase, "who are capable of having children with one another" to the legal definition of marriage;
  • require that couples married in Washington file proof of procreation within three years of the date of marriage or have their marriage automatically annulled;
  • require that couples married out of state file proof of procreation within three years of the date of marriage or have their marriage classed as "unrecognized;"
  • establish a process for filing proof of procreation; and
  • make it a criminal act for people in an unrecognized marriage to receive marriage benefits.

  • Good golly Miss Molly but that is a kick in the pants! I've been happily married for more than five years, and my house has yet to see the pitter-patter of little feet (unless you count the romper-stomper of kitten paws.) And what about couples who are impotent? Or choose to adopt? Or couples past the point of menopause? True, conservative Christians feel that marriage is about procreation but mother of God, we didn't actually expect to have this thrown in our face this much!

    Are your panties in a wad yet? Because here's the punchline. Scroll down to the bottom of the site I linked above you you'll find WA-DOMA's mission statement:

    The Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance seeks to defend equal marriage in this state by challenging the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling on Andersen v. King County. This decision, given in July 2006, declared that a "legitimate state interest" allows the Legislature to limit marriage to those couples able to have and raise children together. Because of this "legitimate state interest," it is permissible to bar same-sex couples from legal marriage.

    The way we are challenging Andersen is unusual: using the initiative, we are working to put the Court’s ruling into law. We will do this through three initiatives. The first would make procreation a requirement for legal marriage. The second would prohibit divorce or legal separation when there are children. The third would make the act of having a child together the legal equivalent of a marriage ceremony.

    Absurd? Very. But there is a rational basis for this absurdity. By floating the initiatives, we hope to prompt discussion about the many misguided assumptions which make up the Andersen ruling. By getting the initiatives passed, we hope the Supreme Court will strike them down as unconstitional [sic] and thus weaken Andersen itself. And at the very least, it should be good fun to see the social conservatives who have long screamed that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation be forced to choke on their own rhetoric.

    So there you go - it's activism ad absurdium, attempting to weaken an existing law or decision by introducing one that takes the reasoning behind the existing law or decision and inflating it to the point where its absurdity - and thus invalidity - is revealed.

    Frankly, I'm not sure what to think about this. It reminds me of the town of Dayton, Tennessee, who put a teacher named Scopes on trial for teaching evolution - not out of some principle that banning the teaching of evolution was bad, but that Tennessee state law contradicted itself (the textbook teachers were required to use taught evolution, but the Butler Act prohibited them from teaching it.) That, and it was good for the local economy and would put the town on the map.

    It also seems as if it's a little out of place in this context. I used to think "well, the voters are smart enough not to pass anything that seems too absurd," if the last six years have taught me nothing if not that the American voters probably shouldn't be trusted too far.

    This will certainly be an interesting local politics story, and I'll be keeping an eye on it closely.

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