Lesbian Politics: Is Gay Marriage Good for McCain?

MotherJones.com has a very interesting article this week entitled "Will Gay Marriage Help McCain?"

Much has been said about the impact of the gay marriage debate on political discourse. Senator Dianne Feinstein notoriously said in 2004 that the efforts of our community had been "too much, too fast, too soon." This was echoed by many who argued that Kerry's defeat lay in the hands of gay couples who united a base of "fiscal conservatives who see promoting marriage as a way to reduce state dependency, anti-gay voters who quail at the notion of same-sex unions, right-wing Christians who seek to enforce biblically determined family law, and the mass of voters anxious about the instability of marriage" (cite). As Democrats wailed that gays had ushered this motley conservative crew into the ballot boxes to vote Republican, the 11 states that passed anti-marriage initiatives that year did so without showing any actual boost to Bush in the polls.

Despite this, the primary LGBTQ community strategy to combat homophobia and gender discrimination at the polls has relied most heavily on legislative methods (i.e. legal decisions by judges) rather than popular votes. Barack Obama's rhetoric about gay marriage being a states' rights issue might offend many of us, but his determination to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act would mean that the question of gay marriage would once again fall not to the states and their voters but to the U.S. Supreme Court. The bench might lean a little to the right at present, but we cannot deny that most of our gains--even in domestic partnerships--were achieved by judicial decision and not by popular vote; the same can be said for the majority of civil rights triumphs. E.g., 94% of whites polled in 1958 did not approve of interracial marriage, and courts legalized it anyway in 1967. I'm sure there must have been people then, too, griping about "activist judges legislating from the bench," but can anyone deny the value of that landmark ruling?

The MotherJones.com article poses the question: "Should Barack Obama brace for another round of backlash at the ballot box?" The answer I infer from reading the article is, maybe not! Consider this: a Quinnipiac University poll from September 2008 shows that 55% of Florida voters polled support their prospective gay marriage ban (margin of error ±2.6%); however, a Rasmussen poll from this week shows only 46% of Florida voters support John McCain (margin of error ±3%).

From whence does this disconnect come? Chris Lehane, former communications director for the Kerry campaign, is quoted as having said: "McCain has gone to such pains to try to distance himself from Bush and to make clear that he represents a different kind of politics that he's ultimately going to be forced to address this. [. . .] Either he waffles on it, which just irritates everyone; he takes the conservative position, which undermines his brand; or he takes a more open-minded, progressive view of the world, and he really hurts his base. What worked great in 2004 doesn't work so well in 2008."

Two recent Gallup polls indicate that even as the perceptions of homosexuality become increasingly tolerant, the idea of gay marriage lags behind in popular acceptance. Why is this?

Some people have argued that anti-marriage sentiment is not homophobic but rather about preserving one of the last vestiges of traditional stability in an increasingly unstable world. Others like Jonathan D. Katz, Prof. of Women's and Gender Studies at Yale, have said, "This isn't about lesbian and gay Americans being treated equally, which is a constitutional guarantee. It's not about that. It's about making money, wedge issues, forging boundaries. It's about dividing this country." Apart from these seemingly well intentioned or cynical foes, you and I can also recognize our homophobic detractors when we see them, whether they identify themselves that way or not.

Even with these traditional opponents, it appears that change is imminent. Some have started to take issue with anti-marriage initiatives as they affect gay and straight couples alike, preventing household diversity not only in gay relationships but also in those of foster parents, adoptive parents, and any number of other "nontraditional" living arrangements. A federal judge actually struck down a Nebraska anti-marriage initiative on these grounds in 2005. Similarly, a generational shift is occurring that shows younger voters have a more favorable view of gay marriage than their predecessors, and the percentage of under-30 voters with a favorable opinion increases each year. Our prospects improve as more tolerant voters come of age.

Copyright © 2008 The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Richard Kim of The Nation also points out: "The premise that Democrats are still on the losing side of the culture war defined the last weeks of Hillary Clinton's campaign, which, aided by the mainstream media, dredged up nearly every assumed liberal Achilles' heel of the past forty years--race, religion, guns, elitism, patriotism and '60s radicalism--in order to paint Barack Obama as a general election loser. But, like Christian conservative attempts to portray same-sex marriage as a 'threat to civilization,' the culture war against Obama--waged around flag pins, Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers and bowling scores--was a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Thankfully, the majority of Democratic voters refused to be manipulated by these symbols sheared of substance, and now it is time to retire the paradigm altogether." In other words, being liberal about stuff just isn't that politically dangerous anymore.

In response to Dianne Feinstein's "too much, too fast, too soon," I point to Prof. Katz again when he says: "We did not put gay marriage on the front burner of the national LGBT agenda; it was put on the agenda by the right and we had no choice but to respond." I believe that as more voters realize that their woes (unaffordable healthcare, unfair wages, increasing disenfranchisement, and undereducated children to name a few) are a direct result of the predatory behavior of the Bush administration, powerful lobbies, and underqualified cronies, they will feel less inclined to blame their eroding security on the queers. Even if this realization does not take place this election cycle, an Obama presidency could make all the difference, putting the fight back in the courts where it belongs.

Doesn't it cheer you to think the day might be here where it is no longer politically expedient to throw us under the bus? when it might expose one as a hypocrite to oppose us? when discrimination and hate would keep one from achieving office? Let us march with our allies to the polls on November 4, secure in McCain's ignominious defeat, chanting all the way: "Let Freedom Sting!"

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