Former U.S. Representative Bob Barr of Georgia, the principal sponsor of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, has contributed $1,000 to the Commonwealth Coalition, the grassroots organization that has been leading the charge to defeat the proposed Marshall/Newman amendment, which will appears on the November election ballot in Virginia as "Ballot Question No. 1."
Barr's contribution was reported in this morning's Norfolk Virginian-Pilot and I confirmed the accuracy of the news report in an email exchange with the Commonwealth Coalition's executive director, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga.
Barr's support for the "vote no" effort is significant because he is on the record as an opponent of both same-sex marriage and the proposed (and twice-failed) Federal Marriage Amendment.
In a widely quoted opinion piece he contributed to the Washington Post and Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2003, Congressman Barr wrote:
The political right and left in America share one unfortunate habit. When they don't get their way in courts of law or state legislatures they immediately seek to undercut all opposition by proposing an amendment to the Constitution....I hate to attribute views to Congressman Barr that he has not stated explicitly, but it is easy to infer a conclusion from his publicly expressed opinions combined with his support for the Commonwealth Coalition's efforts.
Make no mistake, I do not support same-sex marriages. But I also am a firm believer that the Constitution is no place for forcing social policies on states, especially in this case, where states must have the latitude to do as their citizens see fit.
No less a leftist radical than Vice President Dick Cheney recognized this when he publicly said, "The fact of the matter is we live in a free society, and freedom means freedom for everybody. . . . And I think that means that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It's really no one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard. . . . I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area."
The vice president is right. There shouldn't be a constitutional definition of marriage. As an institution, and as a word, marriage has very specific meanings, which must be left up to states and churches to decide. The federal government can set down a baseline -- already in place with the Defense of Marriage Act -- but states' rights demand that the specific boundaries of marriage, in terms of who can participate in it, be left up to the states.
The inference I make is that, since Bob Barr believes that states have the authority to define marriage, his objection to the Marshall/Newman amendment is the same as that of distinguished conservatives like federal Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, former Congressman M. Caldwell Butler, former Governor Linwood Holton, and others, who believe that the second and third sentences of the amendment are too expansive. Those sentences carry the amendment much further than simply "defining marriage" and in fact create a recipe for litigious mischief.
In October 2001, I was at a national convention of the Republican Liberty Caucus in Las Vegas. At the business meeting, a motion was made that we endorse a candidate in an upcoming Republican primary that pitted two incumbents against each other: Bob Barr and John Linder (sponsor of the Fair Tax in Congress).
It was a hard decision to make. Both candidates were solid, liberty-loving conservatives. Both were effective representatives for their constituents. The discussion went on for several minutes when a prominent conservative activist who was attending the meeting spoke up. (I won't give his name but just mention that he runs a weekly Wednesday morning meeting in Washington.) He said that "John Linder is a good friend, but Bob Barr is a hero."
And he was right. Bob Barr, in retirement from Congress, has been an outspoken proponent of personal liberties and privacy. Like his former colleague, Dick Armey of Texas, Barr has argued, using conservative principles, against the government's encroachment of civil liberties through ill-advised legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act. Working with groups like the American Conservative Union, Bob Barr has been an authentic hero, relentlessly striving to preserve the principles found in the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
Virginians owe Bob Barr strong thanks for his principled, conservative opposition to the Marshall/Newman Amendment. Not only does he talk about what he believes, he literally puts his money where his mouth is. The best way to thank him for his consistent philosophy of liberty and human autonomy is to vote "no" on Ballot Question No. 1 on November 7.