National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Davis:

More than once, I’ve told Congressman Tom Davis of Northern Virginia that my only real problem with him is that he’s a member of the wrong political party. His energetic opponent in this November’s election assails him for voting with Bush 90% of the time, but he’s at heart a moderate, well liked by most and reasonable.

Still, there’s no getting around this party thing, and when it comes down to it in elections, it’s all about counting noses once the dust has cleared. If there are more Republicans than Democrats, then the Republicans control everything. They chair every committee and sub-committee and set the agendas for them all. So, looking at it from that very real standpoint, at election time there’s simply no good Republican or no good Democrat, depending on your party preference.

Unfortunately, this can count not only for current, but future elections, as well, whenever it involves a politician with aspirations for bigger and better things. In the case of Mr. Davis, that is the only possible explanation for his seemingly tortured logic supporting Virginia’s Marshall-Newman Amendment on the ballot in November. Davis aspires to a U.S. Senate post himself and that presents him with the challenge of winning a primary in a state where its southern end-dominated Republican Party is notoriously right wing.

If passed, the Marshall-Newman constitutional amendment would be the first in the history of Virginia, the home of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, to actually take away rights to a whole class of persons. It bans gay marriage and in a second, even more contentious, paragraph extends the same prohibition to just about any contract between two non-married persons. Republican state legislators who authored the provision wanted to make the wording sufficiently broad that it would withstand a potential Supreme Court challenge on grounds it singles out a single group.

This week, Davis apparently didn’t know when he walked in to address a meeting of the Greater Falls Church, Virginia, Chamber of Commerce that the organization’s board of directors had previously taken an official stand against the amendment on grounds both of general social fairness and because it could negatively impact small businesses, in particular, that involve partnerships.

In stating emphatically at the meeting that he plans to vote for the amendment, Davis was compelled to add that he could not say if the amendment is “overreaching or not.” He added, “Will it interfere with (non-marriage—ed.) contracts? I hope not.”

 “Can’t say?” “Hope not?” That’s a heck of a basis for such a solid stand on the amendment. Later, Davis qualified his stand further by saying that he doesn’t make an issue of the matter on any of his campaign literature and that he’d personally prefer different language.

Even more revealing was what Davis had to say when he approached me after the meeting adjourned, seeking to clarify his stand still more.

 I pressed him on why he supported the amendment. “I just feel that marriage should be between a man and a woman,” he replied.

“But why?,” I asked. “If it’s because you have firm religious belief based on what the Bible says, or something like that, then that’s one thing…”

“No, that has nothing to do with it,” Davis came back. “It’s just that it’s been that way for thousands of years.”

 “Well, so was slavery around for thousands of years. That doesn’t make it right,” I rejoined. I reminded him that the Supreme Court had ruled for equal rights for persons regardless of sexual orientation in 2003, and that measures like the one on the ballot in Virginia are attempts by states to forestall the implementation of that ruling. Some states did the same thing trying to block Supreme Court rulings on integration and voting rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

When all Davis could then do was restate his personal preference for male-female marriage, I asked him again, “But why? It’s simply a matter of equality under the law.” He then grumbled, “Maybe it’s just because I’m old fashioned.”

That would have been a heck of an excuse to justify slavery or segregation in the not too distant past, too, and don’t think it wasn’t used a lot. Davis is not a prejudiced person, and therefore it’s especially telling that he was left with no sound arguments.

Tom Davis is too smart to think that what he said could pass any kind of justice or fairness test. The problem for him is that his answers will not satisfy his right wing southern Virginia Republican constituents-to-be, either. Frankly, he’d stand a better chance of winning a statewide election in Virginia by repudiating any shreds of right wing bigotry and joining the other party.