If you're going to Arlen Specter,* be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. If the born-again Democratic senator from Pennsylvania drifts any further to the left, his political raft may wash up on American Samoa -- or at least Haight-Ashbury -- in a few weeks. This is what he said back in 1996, when he was one of 85 senators who supported something called the Defense of Marriage Act (via Nexis: States News Service, Sept. 11, 1996):
The vote on gay marriages was not nearly as close, as Santorum and Specter joined an overwhelming majority -- 85-14 -- to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
States will still be allowed to pass laws recognizing same-sex marriages, but the bill, which President Clinton has said he will sign, denies federal recognition those marriages. And other states can ignore those marriages if the couple was to move into their state. Gay partners will not be eligible for federal and state benefits, such as Social Security and Medicaid.
"Our societal values are so thoroughly engrained in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, that (the bill) just goes too far," Specter said.
But times have changed. By that, I don't mean times have changed for American society...but for Arlen Specter. In 1996, he was a Republican while in 2009 he's a Democrat facing a fierce primary battle from a candidate -- Rep. Joe Sestak -- who's attacking Specter's left flank. So now Specter says he is against the law known as DOMA after he was for it. And in case you doubt his liberal bona fides, he announces it on his new favorite Web site, the Huffington Post:
The time has come to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Enacted 13 years ago when the idea of same sex marriage was struggling for acceptance, the Act is a relic of a more tradition-bound time and culture.
Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts have already passed laws recognizing same sex marriage and other states are moving in that direction. The states are the proper forum to address this divisive social and moral issue, not the Federal Government with a law that attempts to set one national standard for marriage.
Prohibition showed just how difficult it is to enforce law establishing standards of personal behavior or morality. Coercion, whether civic or legal, in matters of this kind rarely works. It certainly won't halt public controversy surrounding the issue.
Now you might ask yourself, was Specter playing politics in 1996...or 2009? Unfortunately, the answer may be both. If he'd joined the 14 other senators who opposed DOMA in 1996, Specter surely would have lost the 2004 GOP primary to the more conservative Pat Toomey, whom he just barely defeated. Had Specter stayed in the GOP to fight Toomey in a primary re-match next year -- which seems to have been his plan as recently as February -- it's unfathomable that he would have taken this new position in 2009.
This is the huge problem with Arlen Specter. The Philadelphian has tied himself into such a soft pretzel of logic that the only way the world will ever know what he really believes in his heart would be for him to tell us all in a press conference -- the morning after he resigned from politics for good.
* Jeez, I can't believe Attytood readers don't know the ultimate hippie song.
UPDATE: Amazing -- Chris Bowers reveals that Specter told a constituent that he still supported DOMA...just five weeks ago!
In 1996, the Congress passed and the President signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I supported the passage of this legislation. This law has two important facets. First, the law defines marriage for the purpose of the Federal government as a union between one man and one woman. Second, it provides that no state or local jurisdiction may be forced to recognize a legal union created in another state or jurisdiction, if the definition of that union is contradictory to their own.
The legalization of same sex marriage in states such as Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts has led many citizens to believe it is necessary to amend the United States Constitution in order to protect traditional marriage. Although I support traditional marriage as defined in DOMA, and although I appreciate the goal of the proposed amendment, I do not believe it is necessary to amend the Constitution at this time.
Right after that, Sestak began pushing to repeal DOMA -- and Specter changed his mind. Profiles in courage.