Thursday, May 31, 2012

Is decade-old West Wing 'reality' TV?

I can’t help but remember a decade-old episode of “The West Wing,” that television drama starring Martin Sheen as an idealistic take on who at least some of us wish were our nation’s president.

SHEEN (as Bartlet): 'Reality' TV?
In this particular episode, there was a subplot about how the president’s staff was dealing with a member of Congress who (they thought) had a reputation for being flaky.

WHAT WACKO IDEA did he come up with this time? It was an amendment to the Constitution that would completely take government out of the equation when it came to the recognition of marriage.

The Bartlet administration didn’t want to be bothered with the issue. They wanted it to go away. And they didn’t want this member of Congress to get all hissy-fittish, because that might get the gay rights activists all worked up against them.

Yet letting this member of Congress proceed with his rhetoric surely would stir up the religious right.

Yes, all of this came back to my mind when I learned Wednesday of the lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal. The two groups represent 25 gay couples across Illinois who are upset that all they can do is get their match recognized with a civil union – and not something that bears the name “marriage.”

THEY CLAIM THAT the due process and equality clauses of the Illinois state Constitution can be interpreted to mean that these couples have every right to be “married” as any heterosexual couple does.

Which, I’m sure, on a certain level is giving the Barack Obama White House staff the same headaches that the fictional Bartlet administration acted out all those years ago – and for the very same reason.

OBAMA: Seeking advice from TV?
Fiction predicting reality? It’s kind of eerie, to tell you the truth.

Because the arguments made by that wacky congressman character a decade ago on television are literally the ones being heard Wednesday in Illinois.

GOVERNMENT SHOULDN’T BE getting involved in deciding whose “union” is legitimate and whose isn’t.

Let religions have the claim to the phrase marriage, and turn everybody’s matchup into a civil union. The people who want to go the additional step of being “married” in their church can do so.

Those who don’t have strong religious convictions could get that same City Hall wedding service, or can seek out those people who manage to get themselves certified to perform marriages by filling out a couple of forms.

And before it seems like I’m making fun of those people, I must confess to having a sister-in-law who performs wedding services as a sideline. If that kind of service makes one happy, who am I to mock it?

THE REAL BOTTOM line is that it takes away any legal distinction between a “marriage” and a “civil union,” which is a distinction that ought to be erased.

For the only people who really want to have any distinction exist are the ones who are looking for a reason to be able to look down upon other people for whatever reason. That is something we should go out of our way to discourage.

Because I think for many couples, the religious rites (a few seconds of holiness) are far less significant than the legal rights and benefits that couples gain from being “legally bound” to each other.

The real negative of a couple just “living together” isn’t so much that they’re in sin, but that they’re putting up with each others annoying moments without getting the benefits come Income Tax Day.

IN FACT, IF you think of it objectively, the only people who ought to be “opposed” to this idea are the ones who will be upset that they can’t denigrate other couples for not having the same service they had.

Which isn’t much of an excuse, to me, to keep the status quo.

It also makes me wonder if I should start scouring those DVDs of “The West Wing” episodes that I have tucked in a drawer. Maybe we’ll get a sense of where we’re headed in the next few years. Particularly since the past decade’s television joke may have a strain of legitimate policy to it.

Let’s only hope we never get a real-life take on that one episode where Big Bird and Elmo turned up at the White House!


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