Thursday, July 22, 2004

More on Issue #1: The Constitutional Amendment to Ban Gay Marriage

The Space Between

It is almost impossible to write something about gay marriage that has not already been written somewhere else. VOR chose this issue because it has dominated recent political news and figures to be the most important social issue in this election. I have read the arguments on both sides with great interest, and found some points profound and others much less so. I do not view the “defenders” of marriage as negatively as some, because I understand their uncertainty about the major social changes that will accompany gay marriage. But I do wonder why more of their energy is not devoted towards attacking the problems that lead to the breakdown of heterosexual marriage. After all, the potential impact could be far greater if social conservatives tackled divorce, adultery, substance abuse, etc. with the same vigor with which they focus on homosexuality.

They are quite right that this debate is about changing the definition of marriage as we know it. On the other hand, if you watched any of the gay marriages that took place in San Francisco or other cities across the country, you will quickly understand that those who want gay marriage do not have a nefarious agenda to promote a certain lifestyle, but rather the honest desire to partake in our society’s most treasured institution and possess the legal rights that come along with it. (Note however that many gays want nothing to do with the heterosexual institution of marriage) The fact that these folks want to participate in marriage shows how valuable it still is in our society. If nothing else, the emotion on both sides of this issue indicates that something very real is at stake here.

On the specific issue of the amendment, the general consensus is that President Bush was pandering to his conservative base and knew full well that it would never pass. While the Left derided the failed motion in the Senate as embarrassing, the GOP had counted the votes well beforehand and knew exactly what they were doing. In forcing Congressional Democrats to make a difficult vote, we might see this issue actually impact House and Senate elections more than anything else. Keep an eye out for attack ads in close races in swing states.

While Kerry and Edwards came out against the amendment, neither of them officially supports gay marriage. The Democratic ticket is doing the classic Democratic two-step on cultural issues by professing their support for equal rights for gays while stopping short of endorsing marriage. Kerry’s website mentions more about hate crimes and non-discrimination than marriage. Of course, they then chatter on about civil unions. As far as I can discern, the 2nd most important thing we should understand about civil unions are, legally speaking, they are basically like marriage. (Think inheritance, hospital visitation, etc.) The most important thing however is that civil unions aren’t exactly marriage. And it is the space between that is the most interesting.

The President has not really been any more principled than the Democrats, since he is supposedly for the amendment but hasn’t talked about it much or really worked very hard for its passage. He has played the traditional GOP trick of pander and wander (towards the center). Of course he will heavily advertise his support for the amendment in certain areas of the country and on certain radio stations. But, do not expect him to even mention the amendment during major speeches and the debates.

In reality, I would bet my most recent campaign contribution that Kerry and Bush both agree on two things:

1.This issue is a distraction from the very real challenges facing our nation.

2.In 25 years, this issue will be settled. Younger voters are clearly more receptive to gay marriage and our collective values are moving in that direction.

Who gains from the politics of gay marriage? For better or worse, Bush will win the votes of those most strongly against it, but then again, he had their votes already. These people have strong reasons to vote for Bush even without gay marriage, so the increased turnout motivation is overstated. Will he lose moderates? Even including Log Cabin Republicans and Republican moderates, GOP voters are very loyal to Bush. In other words, if they haven’t defected already, gay marriage is unlikely to push them over to Kerry especially since they agree with Bush on most of the major issues.

As for Kerry, strong support for gay marriage would have contributed further to his liberal image, so that was not really an option. His position is the safe one, because it satisfies his base for now and doesn’t alienate swing voters. One could make an argument that he could lose votes to Nader on this issue, but that remains to be seen.

Thus, the biggest social issue of the 2004 campaign will not be very pivotal in the Presidential election at all and the action we have seen in the last week is classic Washington theatre. Rick Santorum and Barney Frank may be hyped up, but everyone else is just waiting to move on.

R.C.

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