Thursday, January 10, 2008

Marriage? Not Worth Mentioning!

A funny thing happened on the way to the White House. Candidates forgot to slander same-sex marriage...or they mumbled their aspersions.

Americans are busy. There's the staggering economy, two-front, unwinnable wars with extreme costs of life and debt, and a seven-year reversal from world mensch and macher to international schlemiel.

Plus, the anti-gay force have already marked their territory. All but a few states have anti-SSM laws or amendments, leaving one state with SSM, three with civil union, and four with some form of domestic partnership. Later as they undo their restrictions, they'll ask why they implemented them, but meanwhile they can sit like old men in front of the fire patting their ample bellies. Ah, safe and warm.

Like 2004, this election is more about emotions than reason. Yet unlike it, "them queers getting 'our' rights" is not the big pull. Instead, all candidates claim they'll start repairing the crippling damage the current prez with a cowardly, short-sighted and complicit Congress has done to us. Also unfortunately for the GOP candidates, they have to be different from but the same as Bush — they try to share underlying ideas but claim their implementation will not be so stupid and destructive.

Non-Issue Issue

This is not to say that candidates and the MSM have ignored SSM and related equality concerns. There are intermittent whispers.

In light of the role SSM played in 2004, the lack of bluster and elaboration itself is fascinating. We can also note:
  • Only the outlying, marginalized candidates have strong positions they highlight.
  • The main Dem candidates are as un-American as the GOP ones is distancing themselves from marriage equality.
  • The undercurrent of states' rights continues to undercut any federal amendment defining marriage.

Life on the Fringe

You can check the candidates' SSM position on their sites. Virtually all have some spongy statement and Mike Huckabee has a strong one against anything even resembling equality. Alternately, you can click to CNN's handy-dandy dummies recap.

Look to those who have dropped out or are likely to do so. On the Dem side, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich are the only ones favoring SSM. All the others claim to oppose SSM, though most would oppose a federal amendment and most support civil unions.

Republicans other than Huckabee seem befuddled by the whole issue. They all oppose SSM and most like defining marriage as between a man and a woman. They split on whether the states should have the right to create civil unions and on a federal amendment. A couple (Rudy Giuliani and John McCain) would be okay with some partnership benefits to gay couples.

Hot Button, Not

We might pretend SSM is a LITE issue this contest because there is near unanimity among candidates against it. Instead, Occam's razor applies here.

On the Dem side, consider that candidates really don't want to be seen as Kucinich-style fringe, even if he is intellectually and morally right on this one. For the Republicans, go no farther than the polls on what's important to self-identified moral-issues voters this time.

No Smoke, No Mirrors

There are others, but let's look at the Harris poll released this week. The main conclusion is that self-identified moral-values voters don't want to hear about narrow issues. They want candidates to convince them of their honesty and integrity.

Consider the universe of over 2,000 adults surveyed last month. When asked How important are moral values to you in deciding which candidate to vote for?, 92% of Republicans and 82% of Democrats, and 93% of Conservatives and 85% of Liberals said those were either very or somewhat important.

Last election cycle's logic would have their hearts as easy to pluck on issues such as SSM — not so. Consider at what they listed in response to Looking at the list of issues, which two or three are most important to you in deciding which presidential candidate you would vote for?":


Moral Values Are



Not Very/

Not At All




Health care




Social Security




Economic Issues








War in Iraq




War on terror












The environment




Foreign Policy








Gay rights




None of these




Not sure




Likewise, when asked a free-form question about What do you mean when you say that moral values are very important to you?, the Very Important moral-values voters defied stereotype. Only the abortion stance had double digits (14%). Dribbling off the list were gay rights (3%), marriage as a man and a woman (3%) and gay marriage (3%). There was no peg to hang a campaign poster on, even for the hard-core group.

As the Harris folk conclude:

These findings show that pollsters, journalists and commentators must be very careful not to assume that voters who feel strongly about "moral values" are primarily concerned with issues such as abortion, homosexuality, gay marriage, stem cell research, gun control or any of the other issues often associated with the Christian Right or the Conservative base of the Republican party.

That comes back to the problem of conflating what people mean as morality with the stated values of the Christian Right. There was a small time slice four years ago when that worked for Republicans. As Harris notes now, "Overall, however, it is very clear that when most people talk about the importance of moral values they are not referring to the agenda of the Christian Right."

Where Next?

That is certainly better for us all when we want to disengage ourselves from two wars and look at how to fix a broken nation.

The most optimistic view of what this means for equality politics appears in this week's Bay Windows, where Laura Kiristy reports on positive shifts the Human Rights Campaign has seen in this election cycle. She writes, "With the political skill demonstrated by the LGBT community over the past couple years and willingness of more candidates to openly embrace LGBT issues and court LGBT support, (National Field Director Marty) Rouse said he’s feeling confident that the tide is turning in the gay community’s favor."

How true that is or how quickly it happens will evolve. Meanwhile, the relative neutrality this year is positive. Even candidates who are pretty anti-SSM aren't flogging the issue. The public doesn't want to hear about it either.

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Charlotte Robinson said...

First of all you have to stop using the term "same-sex" marriage. This buzz word was created by the religious right as a scare tactic for their followers. Knowledge is power.
For the truth about "gay marriage" :) check out our trailer. Produced to educate & defuse the controversy it has a way of opening closed minds & creates an interesting spin on the issue:

massmarrier said...

Thanks for the comment, but you're going to have a hard time with your gay marriage preference. You're wrong about where it came from and will have to work on GLAD, MassEquality, Marriage Equality USA and so forth to get them to change to it. Also, I hear my same-sex married couples say say, "My marriage isn't 'gay'!" and lesbian ones say to them "gay" means men.Oh, and the Goodridge docs refer to same-sex marriage and couples throughout.

I hadn't been back to your site to see the trailer. Nice work.

Bill Baar said...

I think Ron Paul has really been the interesting fellow here.

He's come closest to asking why license marriage at all?

If we only started licensing marriages to enforce misgenation laws, and a bit later to allocate civil war pensions, then the whole notion of Government having a roll defining marriage and discriminatinng i.e. licensing it, seems a bit over due for review.

If the Government just got out of the whole marriage licensing business, marriage equality wouldn't be much of a political issue.

Unless you think Government has a compeling mission to decide who can marry. I've yet to hear a UU argue that.