The only amendment that was designed to let the federal government meddle in the personal lives of the American people was the 18th amendment, which banned the sale of alcohol. It didn’t work. After fourteen years, Prohibition was repealed by the 21st amendment. While it was a clear political failure, what’s more interesting to note is the place of Prohibition in social history.
The temperance movement has a long history, going back to the late 1700’s. By the mid 1800’s, it had become a powerful political force. There were temeprance unions in almost every city and town. Many counties and states banned alcohol totally during the late 19th and early 20th century. By that time, the temperance movement had focused mainly on the total prohibition of alcohol. By 1918, it was a very strong movement.
Then something disasterous happened: Prohibition. It was the worst possible thing. The temperance movement lost all its strength, its huge following, and its credibility because of the 18th amendment. After the disaster and the repeal of Prohibition, it became impossible for anyone to take anti-alcohol beliefs seriously, The movement withered away.
Now consider the Republicans and their gay marriage amendment. Public support for gay marriage is steadily increasing. Everyone knows that we will have government recognition of gay marriage in the United States sooner or later. The amendment is at best a delay tactic. If it somehow passed, it would eventually be repealed, probably in not much longer than fourteen years. The experience would discredit opponents of gay marriage, just as Prohibition discredited opponents of alcohol. In a sense, this amendment could be a great thing for the cause of gay equality.
Except for the fact that it won’t ever pass.