As one of the original sponsors of the Defense of Suffrage Act, passed these nine years ago, I still believe it to be an essential defense for our institution of democracy. I hoped at the time that the law would provide a clear path forward for our nation and let us move on. Unfortunately this has not been the case, and we must continue to fight to protect our democracy.
The institution of voting, suffrage, is in danger. If suffrage crumbles, so to does the foundation of democracy. How our society responds to the demands of women's groups to permit women to vote will determine whether the United States continues to make voters the basis of our government.
Institutions in our country are defined in law. We must consider this issue in that light; we are a nation of laws. Laws are based, and indeed must be based, on reason and common sense. Posing the debate in this matter will detach us from emotions attached to any discussion of gender.
Suffrage has, since time immemorial, meant in common usage and legally the "right of a man to vote." That women's right advocates must use the phrase "woman's suffrage" to clarify their meaning simply reinforces this point. If we bow to political pressure and "redefine" suffrage to mean the "right of a human being to vote," we will have "redefined" suffrage out of existence. It would be meaningless. This is exactly what advocates for woman's suffrage desire. This might seem like a small step, but it is a slippery slope; pointless redefining of terms presents the real danger to suffrage. We might as well suddenly decide to redefine "Indian" to mean something other than those people who originally inhabited the Americas, instead using it to describe people from south central Asia. You could do that, they're just words, but obviously this new "Indian" wouldn't be an Indian as generally understood.
It is the real goal of women's rights advocates to receive the rights and privileges similar to those our society grants to men. If that is the case, then debate that and work on state or local government level. But to fit the female vote into a long recognized and historically sound male vote would unnecessarily create a mountain over a mole hill. Society has not yet conclusively decided if it wants or needs women to have a political voice. To destroy any meaning for the "suffrage" to advance the agenda of a minority is foolish.
Former U.S. Representative Barry Robertson, R-Smyrna, was chief sponsor of the "Defense of Suffrage Act," which allows states to refuse to recognize the right of women to vote granted elsewhere. For those not familiar with his historic work, a copy of the act as signed into law, follows.
One Hundred Fourth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION
Begun and held at the City of Washington on Wednesday, the third day of January, one thousand nine hundred and ninety-six
An Act To define and protect the institution of suffrage.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
This Act may be cited as the 'Defense of Suffrage Act'.
(a) IN GENERAL- Chapter 115 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by adding after section 1738B the following:
'Sec. 1738C. Certain acts, records, and proceedings and the effect thereof
'No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a right right of women to vote under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.'.
(b) CLERICAL AMENDMENT- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 115 of title 28, United States Code, is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 1738B the following new item:
'1738C. Certain acts, records, and proceedings and the effect thereof.'.
(a) IN GENERAL- Chapter 1 of title 1, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
'Sec. 7. Definition of 'suffrage' and 'voter'
'In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'suffrage' means only a legal voting right of a man, and the word 'voter' refers only to a male person who has the right to vote.'.
(b) CLERICAL AMENDMENT- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 1 of title 1, United States Code, is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 6 the following new item:
'7. Definition of 'suffrage' and 'voter'.'.
Naturally this is a parody of the arguments for the Defense of Marriage Act, (DOMA) passed with overwhelming support (including unanimous Republican support) and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.
If you've read Douglas Hofstadter's "A Person Paper on Purity in Language," it's probably pretty obvious that this was inspired by that work. If you haven't read Hofstadter's piece then by all means go read it now; it's an inspired work and my little effort pales in comparison.
I must thank the DOMA's chief sponsor, ex-representative Bob Barr. His recent article "How in the world could gays and lesbians really threaten the institution of marriage?" was an invaluable source to work with while writing this. (The maintainer of bobbarr.org apparently has no idea how to run a web site and keeps breaking links into it. If the previous link to Bob's article is broken, this Google search will probably help you find it.) This article manages to be both eloquent and completely devoid of thought. Clearly this is based on Barr's article.
Barr was truly the right man to lead the effort to pass the DOMA, he clearly wants to defend marriage and will get married as many times as necessary (or possible?) to do so. His third marriage is to the women he cheated on his second wife with. For more on Bob's legacy of hypocrisy (and some others), you might find this page interesting
The text to the DOMA is available online in many places, I happened to grab a copy from this page at the Human Rights Campaign.
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