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Archive for Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Amendment a cruel mistake

March 16, 2005

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This past Sunday, The New York Times ran an article pointing out that Kansas had been in the national news more than usual during the past several weeks. There was Steve Fossett's round-the-world flight from Salina, the capture of the BTK killer, the attorney general's attempt to get abortion patient records and the upcoming vote on the anti-gay marriage amendment.

In the view of the Times, this coverage was a mixed blessing; certainly there would be those who would view some of these events as being undesirable. Not surprisingly, to those of you who read this column regularly, some of these things are not what I would have wished for.

I have already written about the proposed anti-gay marriage amendment from a legal perspective, but I feel it is necessary to write about it again, not solely in legal terms but in human terms. I have several things to say, with which some readers will disagree. But I hope that even those of you who disagree with me will at least think about what I say.

First, I continue to believe that amending the Kansas Constitution for an issue like this is a mistake, particularly since, as I understand it, the current state law does not permit gay marriage. But I also think that there is a greater, nonlegal, nonconstitutional issue involved: kindness and tolerance.

I really don't see the point to adopting such an amendment unless it is to send a clear message to gay people that we don't want them here in Kansas. And I think that sending that message would be a terrible and cruel mistake. I'm not gay and I've never been tempted to be gay. It is not something in my genetic make-up. But I do believe passionately in tolerance and in kindness to others so long as the actions of others do not hurt anyone else.

In the case of gay marriage I simply do not understand how civil recognition of gay partnerships would hurt anyone else. I cannot fathom how such recognition would weaken heterosexual marriage. I have been married for nearly 20 years. Recognition of gay marriage would have absolutely no effect upon how I think about or conduct my marriage. I do believe that, if anything, gay marriage would have the effect of stabilizing many gay relationships, something I would consider to be a positive social development.

For me, it all comes down to a simple perspective on life and on the world. Existence is hard and often painful. Life is fragile and can be snatched away at any time. I believe that it is every person's duty to make the lives of others better. Sometimes it may be impossible not to hurt others in order to do something that is necessary, but hurting others should be the last resort. We should only undertake such actions when there is no other choice.

I take it as a first principle that kindness is better than cruelty and that if people don't hurt others, I should not hurt them. I suppose this may well smack of what some would call moral relativism. Perhaps, that is true. But it is a principle for living that I believe in. I simply fail to see how amending the state constitution either helps other Kansans or, as some proponents of the proposed amendment argue, protects heterosexual Kansans or the institution of marriage.

I believe that this amendment is unnecessary and intolerant and cruel. My great fear is that, if Kansans approve the anti-gay marriage amendment in April, a large number of gay people will be hurt by this vote. They will feel excluded and unwanted and will leave our communities as a result. These people are our neighbors, our co-workers, our fellow Kansans. Is this really what we want to do? I hope not.

-- Mike Hoeflich, a professor in the Kansas University School of Law, writes a regular column for the

Journal-World.

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