Gay Marriage Politics

Lindsay contributed to the Washington Post’s latest question to bloggers, “Should homosexuals be allowed to marry?”. Lindsay’s own response is a fairly good summary of the civil rights case for gay marriage, but I’d rather focus on another response, by Carl Senna. Carl Senna talks mostly about the political angle,

But as far as the politics is concerned, I believe that it has been a major political error for homosexuals to have forced the social decision to recognize homosexual marriages on the legislature. In hindsight, an organized religious authority set up for homosexuals would have been the least fractious politically for homosexuals to defend their right to marriage. A religion that preached homosexuality for homosexuals would have been able to participate in inter-faith discussions.

Actually, forcing civil rights on legislatures has been the politically smartest move in the last 20 years not only for the American gay rights movement but for the entire American left. By forcing the issue out in the open, gay marriage advocates managed to squeeze into mainstream liberalism in a time of a political shift to the right. Public support for civil unions in the US has soared in the last 6 years. In 2000, it was a fringe liberal issue; in 2002, it was a mainstream liberal one; by 2004, it was supported by the majority of Americans.

The anti-SSM propositions that have passed in many states didn’t change much. All they did was proclaim, “Our state doesn’t recognize gay marriage.” In the one state where it would’ve changed anything, Massachusetts, no such proposition has passed. Bush won in 2004 because of terrorism, not gay marriage. Even now, it looks like the Republicans are not going to be able to get votes out of the New Jersey decision.

The alternative proposal in the response, a gay church, just wouldn’t work. Interfaith coalitions don’t include everyone; they only include the largest churches, and typically the ones that acquiesce to the status quo the most. An interfaith coalition can work when different homophobic religions join together and proclaim that homosexuality is evil. It can’t work when a gay church wants to join in.

Besides, the greatest support for gay rights has come from secularists. The sort of people who support Michael Newdow almost invariably support SSM, which they see as another civil right the religious establishment suppresses. Even more moderate secularists, who are just passionate about evolution in schools, tend to view SSM bans as an extension of religious fundamentalism. Working via the church will seriously undermine that support base for no reason.

7 Responses to Gay Marriage Politics

  1. Thanks for that—I wish I had made that point, because the evidence definitely falls in favor of the notion that the courts can move public opinion.

  2. SLC says:

    There is an anti same sex marriage on the ballot in Virginia which will pass, even though it goes far beyond same sex marriage. I suspect is will have an effect on the Senate race here because if will bring out the born again vote in Southeastern Virginia who will heavily support George Macaca Allen.

  3. Anonymous Coward says:

    Public support for civil unions in the US has soared in the last 6 years. In 2000, it was a fringe liberal issue; in 2002, it was a mainstream liberal one; by 2004, it was supported by the majority of Americans.

    Where does this statistic come from?

  4. Stentor says:

    Senna’s argument is just bizarre. The more intolerant churches are also the least amenable to interfaith dialogue (even with other Christian sects). And a Church of Gayness would have validated all the claims about gays trying to indoctrinate us and convert our kids. And gays and lesbians hardly share a spiritual outlook on which to build a church, while a church that exists only to perform not-recognized-by-law marriages will have less clout than the Universal Life Church.

    In any event, there are pro-gay movements within most churches — they’ve won in the Unitarians and UCCs, and are causing no small amount of heartburn for the other mainline denominations.

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Where does this statistic come from?

    CNN’s 2004 exit poll shows that American voters support civil unions or gay marriage 60-37, up from 42-54 in 2000. Also, Gallup noted,

    The current [5/2004] poll also shows that when people are asked first about gay marriage and then about civil unions, support for civil unions is higher than when people are asked about civil unions first. These results suggest that many people see civil unions as an alternative to gay marriage, and once they can express their opposition to the latter, they are more willing to embrace the “civil unions” alternative.

    Similarly, support for gay marriage is lower once people have expressed their opinions about civil unions than it is when gay marriage is mentioned first. Taken together, these results show about a third of Americans (35%) supporting gay marriage after being asked about civil unions, and a clear majority (56%) supporting gay civil unions after being asked about gay marriage.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Stentor, the greatest threat to gay right always comes from the more mainline conservative groups, which do do interfaith dialogue. Wingnuts like Fred Phelps or even Pat Robertson can get 20-30% of the country to mobilize against GLBT people, but more people than those oppose even civil unions. And even they are powerful because of the rise of a relatively uniform Dominion theology, which unifies the conservative branches of most Protestant denominations as well as of Catholicism. The main problem comes from people who can pretend to be nice but espouse wanton intolerance the way Wojtyla did; fundamentalists with the temper and attitudes of Ratzinger only scare people away.

  7. DAS says:

    In hindsight, an organized religious authority set up for homosexuals would have been the least fractious politically for homosexuals to defend their right to marriage.

    I guess Stentor already made this point, but my immediate response was “what? are the UCC, Reform Judaism, et al. chopped liver?” I could give (and people have given) a straight-up Talmudic argument that the Levitical prohibition on homosexual acts, when applied to homosexuals, would actually prohibit heterosexual acts (and that, e.g., the whole “ex-gay” movement the fundies push is an abomination) — but this wouldn’t likely convince anyone who wasn’t already convinced.

    In the larger picture, I cannot stand these “it’s bad strategy to let the courts force change” arguments: what do they think of the civil rights movement? If it weren’t for the rulings of some “activist judges” we wouldn’t have had civil rights. This hits close to home for me: if it weren’t for such rulings, I wouldn’t be able (at least in some states) to marry my gf (although, we’re both Jewish, so I guess anti-miscegination laws wouldn’t apply?). Do these people who say “the courts shouldn’t decide who gets to marry whom” realize that courts decided, e.g., that white people get to marry black people?

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