Gay Marriage

There’s been a lot of discussion about the sixth of the electorate which voted for Bush on the basis of “moral values”. While various issues can be lumped under “moral values”, I think that it is correct to assume that this phrase is a code for opposition to abortion and gay marriage. There are also questions as to whether this year was any different than 2000 or earlier years – i.e., whether the new issue of gay marriage specifically had any important effect.

One thing to remember is that the Republican noise machine will always be able to find something. In the most egregious case, in 2002 they succeeded in convincing a certain number of voters that the Wellstone funeral was virtually a Nuremburg rally. Likewise, when they needed to, the party of homophobia was able to whip up a bunch of phony concern over’s Kerry’s mention of Cheney’s lesbian daughter. In both cases, the specific issue wasn’t important. Before the 2002 election, and right after the third debate, the slime machine needed something to work with, and they didn’t really care what it was.

After a first flurry of reports, many spokespeople on both sides are now denying that gay marriage was a decisive issue. However, I’m not convinced. Republicans have two reasons for denying that it gay marriage was important. First, many hip Republicans want to deny the degree to which homophobia was an key part of the Republican campaign. Second, cynical Republicans do not want the Democrats to distance themselves from gay marriage. Among Democrats, many seem to be denying that gay marriage was an important issue this year because they also do not want Democrats to distance themselves from gay issues.

Now, in my travels around the blogosphere, I find many Democrats for whom the social issues (abortion and gay rights) are the most important and almost absolute. This bothers me, because my main issues are war and peace on the one hand, and economic democracy on the other, and I sometimes find that social-issues Democrats are far too willing to cut deals with the Republicans on my issues. (As far as war and peace goes, Kerry himself was careful not to sound dovish either on Iraq or Israel. He just said that he would run the Iraq war more effectively).

Politics consists of making deals, and I’m willing to deal. However, if I suggest, as I’m now doing, that gay issues be soft-pedaled a little, and that my own issues be stressed a little more, I run the risk of being declared a homophobe. In other words, other people’s issues are absolute, and mine are not.

Andy Sullivan is a beautiful case in point. For about ten years now, he’s hurt the Democrats as much as he’s been able to. He absolutely disagrees with me about almost everything. But about two weeks before the election, having finally figured out that the Republican Party just plain hates him, he finally came over to the Kerry camp.

That would have been worth one vote, if Sullivan were a citizen. But this was an indication that — yes indeed — the Democratic Party is the party of gay marriage. And so what Sullivan gave us was just a nice albatross around our neck. Thanks, Andy!

As it turned out, despite everything 23% of the GLB vote — which is 4% of the total — went to Bush. In other words, we traded 17% of the vote for 3%. There’s a lot more involved here than just numbers, of course, but from a cold-blooded that really doesn’t look like a good deal at all.

Clinton suggested that Kerry should support one of the anti-gay-marriage initiatives. Nobody likes Clinton’s opportunism, but he is a guy who has a track record of winning. What would have happened if Kerry had taken Clinton’s advice?

To begin with, all of the initiatives passed anyway, so nothing would have changed in that respect. As for the Presidential race, we can’t be sure that Kerry would have won if he had supported the initiatives, but by clearly dissociating himself from gay marriage he would have neutralized that issue.

Ans based on my own small-town experience, I can assure you that there are lot of people who are otherwise Democrats but homophobic. One high school friend has a gay sister, but please don’t tell him that. My mom has a gay cousin whom she dearly loves, but she doesn’t want to hear about that either. My mom remains a strong Democrat, but I can’t be sure about the highschool friend.

So is everyone opposed to gay marriage a homophobe and a bigot? There are many who accept domestic partnerships, but not gay marriage. How much is the difference between domestic partnership and gay marriage worth? (Even for most GLB’s, gay marriage and related issues are seldom the most important political issues; war and peace, prosperity and stagnation, and social security “reform” affect everyone). There’s been enormous progress on gay issues over the last 30 or 40 years. Do we really need to push it this one step farther?

Marriage is an ancient religious institution, and historically gay marriage is very rare indeed. To my mind there’s a lot of weirdness involved in traditional marriage, but on the other hand it’s central to a lot of people’s lives. (Some families spend a whole year planning for weddings, virtually bankrupting themselves.) Maybe it’s not a good idea to poke them in the ribs and tell them that marriage is something different than they thought it was. Let marriage be their thing.

As it is, we’ve lost everything, including gay marriage. For four years Bush is going to be able to do whatever he wants. Speaking for myself, I wish that this issue had never come up at all.

Poll results (thanks to Sisyphus Shrugged)