Driving our daughter to her swim meet yesterday, I faded the speakers to the front and cranked up the volume while the kids sang spring break songs in the back seat. Nina Totenburg, NPR’s legal affairs correspondent, was covering the Supreme Court arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
As I listened to her expert and always gripping coverage of the back and forth between Justices, I heard a word that had me scrambling for my phone at a stoplight to register a voice memo. I pressed the red record button with my thumb, put the microphone graphic to my lips, and said, “new Lexicon word: animus.”
This morning, I ate a boiled egg while I read The Roanoke Times piece by Michael Doyle, “Justices may be ready to scrap marriage act,” and there was the quote again.
Associate Justice Kagan asked of the 1996 law, which denies federal marriage benefits to same-sex married couples, “Do we really think that Congress was doing this for uniformity reasons, or do we think that Congress’s judgment was infected by dislike, by fear, by animus?”
When I heard Nina Totenburg speak it, and when I read it again in the paper, that word had a powerful impact on me. Animus. Though I didn’t know the definition, it felt like animosity – like spitting, like scowling, like hatred and hostility – but somehow more potent. Deeper. More elemental. A conviction rather than a behavior.
When I looked it up, so similar in sound and scope to animosity, I found that animus is both “an attitude that informs one’s actions” and “a feeling of ill-will.” A conviction that drives a behavior. In this case, convictions of moral judgement that drive behaviors of discrimination. An attitude of animosity that governed our leaders’ actions.
Is that what we want? Discriminatory legislation founded on impulses of ill will? Laws that are driven not by the Constitutional commitment to ”promote the general Welfare” but by an attitude of hostility towards our own citizens? As Justice Kagan quoted from the 1996 House Report, “Congress decided to… express moral disapproval of homosexuality” in passing the Defense of Marriage Act.
Well, I’ll tell you where the 1996 Congress can put their moral disapproval. They can stick it in the bosoms of their mistresses. In their illegal prescription pill bottles. They can file it with their affair-driven divorce papers or their fraudulent income tax reports.
Meanwhile, I’m going to stand by my married and hope-to-be-married gay friends. The ones whose values I share and trust. The ones who love their partners as much as I love mine, who struggle with the same issues all married couples struggle with, and then some. The ones who, even though they have more justification for attitudes of ill will than the 1996 Congress, they rise above it, love their partners, and are not infected by dislike, by fear. By animus.