Erasing the “I” from Marriage

Conservative candidates pledge to uphold the Christian version of Shariah.

Every few years, the stars misalign and some social conservative comes out and does the political equivalent of baying at the moon. In the wake of 9/11, Dinesh D’Souza penned a whole book explaining that Osama bin Laden attacked the United States because Hollywood makes movies depicting America as a decadent, promiscuous country instead of a modest, God-fearing one.

And last week, an Iowa-based religious outfit, FAMiLY LEADER, asked presidential candidates to sign a pledge to defend traditional marriage and fight Islamic law, or Shariah. The trouble is that the steps that the four-page document lists to defend traditional marriage are tantamount to imposing Shariah.

Incredibly enough, only one candidate, Gary Johnson, has issued a statement condemning the pledge as “offensive” and “intolerant.” Two candidates, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, actually signed it, and Tim Pawlenty mulled it over long and hard and then released a video saying that he likes the principles in the pledge, but he wants to talk about them in his own words. (Nicely triangulated, Mr. Pawlenty! Positively Cintonesque.)

The pledge triggered an uproar because its preamble included a statement-now withdrawn-implying that black kids were better off under slavery, when they had a better chance of growing up in a two-parent family. But that is far from the only wacky thing in the document, whose author, Vander Platt, is regarded as a kingmaker in Iowa’s conservative circles despite being a three-time failed gubernatorial candidate.

Pledges can be useful devices to pin down politicians congenitally wired to evade and equivocate. They commit candidates to firm positions on specific issues-“no tax increases,” “no voting against a woman’s right to choose”-making it harder for them to sell out once in office. But the marriage vow is not really a pledge. It is a manifesto to turn back the clock to medieval times and remake America around “Christian and Jewish scriptures,” just as the Taliban seek to remake Muslim societies around Koranic scriptures.

Even its more innocuous elements betray a disturbing megalomania. It proclaims that “faithful monogamy is at the heart of a designed and purposeful order” and asks candidates to vow personal fidelity to their spouses. But that’s something the candidates are likely to have already done before priest and God at their nuptials, right? Making them re-pledge must mean that the group thinks it has powers beyond the divine. Talk about holier-than-thou.

But the personal vow is the least Talibanesque aspect of the document. It doesn’t recommend the stoning of gays and fornicators, but it lays out a multilayered plan to ensure their social and political marginalization.

It denies that “non-heterosexual inclinations” are genetically determined, which implies they are a matter of choice and therefore a sin. It requires candidates to “vigorously” oppose any effort at any level, statutory, bureaucratic or court-imposed, to redefine marriage as anything other than the union of one man and one woman. No same-sex marriage, bigamy, polygamy, or polyandry-just in case, you know, Lady Gaga decides to acquire a harem of boy toys.

It also requires candidates to engage in “earnest, bona-fide” advocacy of the Defense of Marriage Act so that states that don’t want to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states don’t have to. But since that would still leave room for gays to legally marry somewhere in the United States, it demands that candidates push for a constitutional amendment protecting the traditional definition of marriage. In short, it launches an all-out jihad against gay rights-to hell with niceties like state’s rights.

Moreover, since traditional marriage requires traditional gender roles, the pledge has many nifty ways to keep women in the kitchen, barefoot, and pregnant. It calls for a ban on women in combat-for their own protection, of course-and asks the candidates to recognize that “robust childbearing and reproduction” is good for the country. Meanwhile, it also wants to protect women and children from pornography, something that will require a ban, although the pledge, showing admirable restraint, only hints at one.

More fundamentally, the pledge shares not just an animus toward gays and a retrograde puritanism with Shariah. As under Islamic law, the individual is persona non grata. Just as Shariah elevates the religious community over the individual, the FAMiLY LEADER elevates the family over the individual. Notice the cute lowercasing of the “i” in its otherwise uppercased name. What’s more, it proudly calls its marriage vow “A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family,” implying that free, independent individuals are an impediment to healthy marriages and families, not their essential building block. As if to drive home just how inconsequential an individual is, it uses the term only once in the main text, leading to some rather awkward linguistic constructions.

The pledge asks candidates to “support the elevation of none but faithful constitutionalists as judges or justices.” But a faithful constitutionalist who doesn’t uphold the rights of individuals would be an oxymoron. The U.S. Constitution, after all, seeks to protect the life, liberty, and happiness of the individual-not the fecundity of the nuclear family. It says that all men-meaning individuals and not families-are endowed with rights.

FAMiLY FIRST would take the individual out of the Constitution-or perhaps, it would prefer, the CONSTiTUTiON.

Shikha Dalmia is a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation and a columnist at The Daily. This article originally appeared at The Daily.