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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Friday, November 21, 2003


Gay rights are a winning issue for Dems - and Dean

posted by Aziz P. at Friday, November 21, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
I've talked with a fair amount of people (off line) about Dean's candidacy, and even managed to sway people from supporting Clark, Kerry, and even Bush. But among the Anybody But Bush crowd, there was a sense of real despair about the Massachusetts court ruling which struck down the anti-gay marriage law. The feeling is prevalent even among gay rights advocates in the gay community that the ruling may have handed Bush another four year term. And that Dean, by virtue of having signed civil-union legislation, is even more vulnerable.

This is exactly backwards. When it comes to gay marriage, far too many liberals and progressives have internalized the bias of the conservative media, and assumed that the majority of Americans are indeed strongly opposed. And, it blurs the distinction between civil unions and marriages. This is a deliberate strategy by the GOP, which sees gay marriage as a wedge issue with which to peel off conservative moderates, and tars support if civil unions with the same brush. Dean is the only candidate to have recognized this tactic and addressed it head-on:

"As Governor of Vermont, I was proud to sign the nation's first law establishing civil unions for same-sex couples. Today, the Massachusetts Court appears to have taken a similar approach to the Vermont Supreme Court and its decision that led to our civil unions law. One way or another, the state should afford same-sex couples equal treatment under law in areas such as health insurance, hospital visitation and inheritance rights.

"There will be those who try to use the decision today to divide Americans. Instead, this decision should be viewed as an opportunity to affirm what binds us together -- a fundamental belief in the equality of human beings, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation."

The truth is that the issue of gay marriage is indeed a wedge issue - against the GOP. The supposed conventional wisdom of an intolerant majority in this country is false. Matthew Yglesias has a length explanation in the American Prospect explaining why:

An October USA Today/Gallup Poll showed that just 48 percent of the public believes gay marriages "will change our society for the worse," and 50 percent feels the change would either be an improvement or have no effect. Notably, younger Americans -- who are often described as being more culturally conservative than their parents on issues like abortion -- are much more likely to support equal rights for gays and lesbians. In the USA Today poll, for instance, 63 percent of 18 to 29 year olds and 53 percent of 30 to 49 year-olds said that gay marriage would cause no harm or change society for the better.

To be sure, this split in opinion still leaves the anti-gay forces with a political edge, seeing as the cons outnumber the pros by a significant margin. But the key point is that the crucial middle ground -- which, taken together with those who favor gay rights, forms a majority, however slim -- is held not by gay bashers but by people who basically don't care.

It is in this middle ground that elections are won or lost, which is why the political dynamics of gay rights may pose more problems for Republicans than for Democrats. It is very unlikely that politically committed homophobes were being tricked into supporting liberal candidates for office based on the Democratic Party's refusal to embrace same-sex marriages. It's long been clear which of the two parties is the more gay-friendly one. The groups that stoke the fires of anti-gay sentiment are all aligned with the Republicans, and Democratic candidates everywhere are frequently tarred with alleged opposition to "family values" no matter what they say or do on the issues.

(emphasis mine). There are some conservative analysts who realize the threat, also. Remember that the GOP's base is not content with preventing judicial activism - they are actively lobby for the Federal Marriage Amendment, which reads:

"Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."

This is not just a way to stop liberal activist courts from imposing gay marriage. It's a way to stop State legislatures from enacting civil unions, too. The language is unambigous. It's intolerant, divisive, anti-federalist, and ugly. It invites the government into the bedroom of every American and abrogates to itself the power to define the status of human relationships. It's fundamentally un-American and goes against every libertarian grain that the character of this country embodies. The FMA is the wet dream of the Christian Mullahs.

And it's going to be EASY to campaign against. And rulings like last week's from the Massachusetts Supreme Court are going to increase the pressure on the GOP to try and actually implement it, rather than pay lip service to the idea without any politically risky action. We should be fervently praying that more rulings of this sort "energize" the religious right base (EJ Dionne has an article explaining what's next)

Remember that conservatives, not liberals, have been on the wrong side of every major social achievement in this country since WWII. The GOP is desperate to avoid the analogy to racism - after all, look what's in the closet over at conservative bastion and flagship National Review. From an unsigned editorial in August 24th 1957, almost certainly written by William F. Buckley (who founded the then-fledgling publication only two years earlier in 1955) , arguing that giving blacks the vote would undermine civilization:

“The central question that emerges . . . is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not prevail numerically? The sobering answer is Yes–the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.”

“National Review believes that the South’s premises are correct. . . . It is more important for the community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.”

NR today would never sanction such an editorial - and times have changed on the gay marriage front too. The GOP knows it. Even Dick Cheney, who said during Election 2000:

I think that means that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It’s really no one else’s business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard.

The next step, then, of course, is the question you ask of whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction, if you will, of the relationship, or if these relationships should be treated the same way a conventional marriage is. That’s a tougher problem. That’s not a slam dunk.

I think the fact of the matter, of course, is that matter is regulated by the states. I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that’s appropriate. I don’t think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.

I try to be open-minded about it as much as I can, and tolerant of those relationships... I also wrestle with the extent to which there ought to be legal sanction of those relationships. I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.

Howard Dean should be salivating at the opportunity to confront Bush - whose statement on the Massachusetts ruling was also unambigous - with the statement above, and his own history on supporting civil unions without marriage in accordance with Bush's own Veep's statements. Bring it on.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.