Monday, April 20, 2009

The Dull Wedge of Gay Marriage

We're going to hear and talk a lot about marriage equality in the next couple of years. That's not just because the news from the News — Hampshire, Jersey and York — may legalize same-sex marriage.

The philosophical and political issues abound. Foremost is whether Republican at the national and state levels will be able to use SSM as a winning ploy in 2010 and 2012 elections. They have been looking, panting and hoping, particularly after their huge success with it in 2004. They received some adrenalin last year when California voters narrowly overturned legalized SSM there by a plebiscite.

To the most literal among us, there is no hope for SSM here, the four states that currently authorize it aside. After all, the vast majority of other states forbid it by law, constitution or both.

That overly simplistic view disregards the states that have legal civil unions and domestic partnerships. More important, it downplays those which are likely or possibly going to enact SSM this year or next. In the end, it may take 20 years for the most regressive states to get with the program, but nearly are surely will.

Today's Salon runs a panel focused on whether Republicans and anti-marriage equality groups will be able to use SSM in the next couple elections. I'll highlight a few points below, but I recommend clicking through the large Will gay marriage still work as a Republican wedge issue?

I sincerely hope that the anti-SSM folk throw their time, cash and emotions in to trying to run up as many the-queers-are-coming flags as they can. Prop. 8 aside, that game played out for the nation five years ago. That's spitting in the wind and they are welcome to do so.

Who Talked

The Salon panel only had a single SSM advocate, gay journalist Jonathan Rauch. The others were Hendrix College Associate Professor Jay Barth, poll expert Anna Greenberg, and moderator Thomas Schaller, University of Maryland associate professor. Links to info about them is in that post.

The short of it is that the panel figures this issue has played out. They expect it to be a decider in the GOP candidate scrambles for party nominations in the next two elections, but a loser overall.

Among salient points are:
  • Rauch: SSM attitudes are "party generational, but the young are not as different from the rest of the country as people think. They're only 10 percentage points more in favor of gay marriage. And the result is that I think we're in for a long process of 10 or 20 years of debating and discussing the meaning of marriage in this country, where different states will do different things."
  • Barth: The replacement of the older, strongly opposed to any legal recognition of SS couple will be more profound. In general I would agree with Jonathan, except for one thing. "I do think there will be continued change, and I think it's hard to see anything that would turn those trends around, because it is so driven by generational replacement and secondly by increasing personal contact with gays and lesbians."
  • Rauch: "I don't see in my lifetime getting to a point where same-sex marriage is completely uncontroversial. I do think we stand a pretty good shot of getting to a point where it's at least consensus uncontroversial."
  • Barth: He figures that the consensus will come more quickly the more SSM becomes legal through legislatures or citizen votes instead of court rulings.
  • Greenberg: She says that "...there needs to be a lot more work done in the LGBT community with the African-American community." She point for an example how candidate Barack Obama's timid opposition to Prop. 8 in California was twisted into claims he favored it.
  • Rauch: "(SSM is) a wedge issue, but it's a rapidly dulling wedge issue. And the surprise for Republicans has been that you can point a wedge in two directions. Turns out using this issue turns off a lot of people, too. Those include people who don't want to be having this type of discussion about social issues, and it includes people who increasingly think that same-sex marriage belongs in the category of rights and that using this as a wedge issue is itself immoral."
  • Barth: "I think it's not accidental that 2004 was a cycle where that really did seem to have its greatest impact for a variety of reasons -- obviously, the court rulings, etc." Now people are much more concerned with economic issues.
  • Schaller: "(I)s the GOP in a bind here, that if they try to raise the salience of anti-gay measures, they're going to lose many of these swing voters they need to become a majority party again, but if they put it too much on the shelf, they're going to have an uprising among the core conservatives who vote on issues like this?"
  • Greenberg: "And there is a real danger that this sort of further marginalizes and typecasts Republicans as the mean party."
  • Greenberg: "(It) actually isn't knowing someone that is a predictor of supporting a gay marriage. Liking and feeling close to someone who is gay is a predictor."
  • Rauch: In a recent piece that I just worked on, knowing a same-sex couple is also a stronger predictor than knowing any individual gay or lesbian person. And so, that's also an important part of this story is the increasing presence and visibility of sustained relationships among same-sex couples.

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