Thursday, February 19, 2004

Clearing things up (from today's Political Diary): "Just when Bush's support and his poll standings are shrinking, here come San Francisco's city-county sanctioned gay marriages -- almost certain to be declared invalid anyway -- to rouse Bush's base. Bill Clinton learned painfully that wading into the gay front of the culture wars in his first days in office is not a good way to begin. . . . . Couldn't [S.F. Mayor Gavin] Newsom have done his fellow Democrats a favor and waited a year before adding fuel to the fire?" -- Peter Schrag, former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee, in a February 18 column predicting that the gay marriage issue will hurt Democrats even in liberal Northern California.

There seems to be some degree of misunderstanding regarding my stance on gay marriage, so allow me to outline it here more clearly:
Effectively, I don't care. I'm not strongly in favor of it (except as a conservative in favor of individual rights) and I'm not at all opposed to it. I believe that marriage is a religious institution, not a governmental one, and, ideally, there would be no such thing as civil marriage. Unfortunately, as our society has deemed one necessary, and we haven't developped a different word for it, "marriage" must be allowed for any couple, gay or straight. I'm just tired of hearing about it.

Which brings me to the reason that some have come to believe I'm against expanding marriage to homosexuals:
From a strategic point of consideration, I have serious reservations about the means through which the gay community is pursuing this privilege. (I continue to believe that marriage is not a right, but if the privilege is granted to one group, it must be granted to another). In my opinion, 1 couple is a statement, 5 is a protest, 2,600 (or whatever number they're up to now) couples 'illegally' marrying in San Francisco is absurd. Beyond the first 10 or 20, all this is serving to do is anger large tracts of the political landscape. It is a sign that very few within the gay community are thinking about the movement, or securing the "right" to marry for their entire minority, but rather that most are concerned only with themselves.

Wouldn't it have made a lot more sense for that one lesbian couple who has been together for 50 years to be the only one to receive a license in San Francisco? And then for these other thousands of couples to pool their money and fight a court challenge? Don't you think that would be more powerful and effective than this mass rush for everyone to get his/her/its license before the door is shut? Instead, what we get is such an absurd spectacle that represents exactly what the extreme right fears from the left. We have such a show that even moderate Americans are a bit taken aback. On top of Lawrence, on top of Goodridge, even on top of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, these moderate Americans are finding themselves increasingly assailed by a lifestyle that, while they don't disapprove of it necessarily, they are still not quite comfortable with. Not everyone has had the benefit of a Yale social education.

The result may surprise a lot of people: we may very well end up with the FMA passing. I'm not saying this is a certain result, but can you argue that pursuing gay marriage so aggressively doesn't at least make it more likely? Anti-gay public sentiment is at an all-time high (since polls have been taken) and it's on the rise. Now, you could chalk this up to the advance of conservatism, or some other anti-gay trend, but I firmly believe it is nothing more than a backlash to the pro-gay trend. It is political fight or flight: the gay bludgeon is hitting Americans over the head, and their reaction is to strike back, even though they may not have a natural aversion to homosexuality or the "right" to marry.

Effectively, just as we could elect John Kerry in an increasingly conservative society, we could end up with the FMA in an increasingly gay-friendly society.
I'm not saying that gays should stop pursuing marriage "rights," and I'm not saying that it's possible for a movement like this to have any real coordination. We just have to realize that comparing this movement to civil rights in the '60s is a spurious connection: there is no coordination, there is no specific piece of the Constitution working in our favor, the gay community is not being beaten back with firehoses (to visibly inspire public support), and, as a result, outside of the community the public does not have any sense of urgency. It's too hard to make the case to the general public that not being able to marry is a form of oppression that must be rectified now. And, as evident by the public's lack of outrage over W's response of "We are all sinners," they aren't even close to buying that argument.

The best parallel I can draw is: what if Brown v. Board of Ed had been decided in 1920? Do you think desegregation would have begun in the 20s? Not likely. More likely, the two sides of the debate would have become even more entrenched, and desegregation may have been postponed even further.
I'm not against gay marriage. I'm not against the right to civil disobedience. I just urge the gay community: take your time, have a little patience. The country will support you, but you have to give them time. Hunker down, let the backlash roll over you, and then renew your efforts in a more welcoming environment.

To anyone reading this, I encourage you to click the comments link below and email me your opinion. If you give me a first name and location, I'll gladly post your opinion alongside mine.

UPDATE:The Village Voice: Cartoons: Mark Fiore: Attack of the Gay Agenda! by Mark Fiore (via Andrew Sullivan): This is the point "uh, could you just leave us alone?" If the single couple had gotten a license in San Francisco, that would have been the message. Thousands getting the licenses screams "We're Here!! We're Queer!! We're Everywhere!!" As I said above, large portions of America are not going to respond positively to that.

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