Terrance Heath

Will Democrats Seize the Marriage Moment?

Filed By Terrance Heath | May 08, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Democratic Party, gay marriage, marriage equality, marriage recognition, President Obama, same-sex marriage, Washington D.C.

DC has approved a same-sex marriage law.

Washington DC city council has voted to recognise same-sex marriages conducted in other US states.

Because Washington DC is not a state, the decision will now have to be approved by Congress before it can become law.

Four US states - Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa - now permit gay marriage, and legislation to allow it is in progress in other states.

The resolution was passed in the council by 12 votes to one.

Council member David A Catania - one of two openly gay members of the body - explained his reasons for supporting the measure during the debate.

“This issue is whether or not our colleagues on a personal level view me and [Council member] Jim Graham as your equals,” he said.

This ought to be interesting.

Under the previous Congress/administration, there would almost certainly have been a backlash; probably a law banning marriage in D.C. would’ve been passed and signed before the close of business. What, however will this Congress and administration do?

Here’s the thing, it’s not just a question about D.C.

I have gone on and on and on about how Democrats have shied away from an opportunity to lead on marriage, despite the obvious trends towards equality.

And if the numbers against us are falling now, they're only going to get lower if William Strauss -- author of Millennials Rising : The Next Great Generation (Vintage Original) -- and the social research mentioned that Deb Price mentioned in her column are both right. The number will continue to go down because according to Strauss the "Millennials" are the next influential generation of American politics, and according to recent research they're pretty supportive of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

…I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the credit for this goes largely to gays and lesbians -- from every day folks to activists -- who've come out and educated their families and communities, started families of their own, pushed for more (and more accurate) media representation of gays & lesbians, advocated for equal rights and protections, etc. These are kids who've grown up with openly gay people in their families (perhaps even with gay parents), seen gays portrayed honestly on television and in movies, or gone to school with gay peers or peers who have gay parents.

If there's been a shift in younger generations, it's largely because we -- the gay netroots -- have been "doing our job." It's what BIll Bennett is talking about when he says "gay marriage is coming." He says it's because "the courts have done it," but I think he knows that the the California legislature elected by the people of California has done it.

…If all of the above is any indication, the American people are moving towards a "greater understanding and respect of same-sex relationships." I was working at HRC ten years ago, when the Hawaii case was looming on the horizon and the marriage issue was before us. Marriage was an issue that bubbled up from the grassroots, from the bottom up, and the numbers were dismal no matter how you looked at it. Ten years later, the numbers have changed, but the approach from the top hasn't, pretty much across the board.

If the tipping point is ten years away, or less, isn't now the time to lead by example? If more people are shifting in favor of equality, than gay organizations and progressive leadership could conceivably hasten that tipping point if they have the courage of their conviction and lead by example on the issue.

That is, of course, if they actually want to hasten the tipping point towards equality.

If anything, it’s even clearer now than it was then that the trend is towards majority support for marriage equality.

Fifty-four percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Monday say marriages between gay or lesbian couples should not be recognized as valid, with 44 percent suggesting they should be considered legal.

But among those 18 to 34 years old, 58 percent said same-sex marriages should be legal. That number drops to 42 percent among respondents aged 35 to 49, and to 41 percent for those aged 50 to 64. Only 24 percent of Americans 65 and older support recognizing same-sex marriages, according to the poll.

While a majority of those polled oppose legalizing gay marriage, six of ten said states that do not recognize gay marriages should allow civil unions. When it comes to supporting civil unions, the poll indicates a similar generational shift.

…Forty-nine percent of those questioned say they have a family member or close friend who is gay. That’s up eight points from 1998 and 17 points from 1992. Fifty-eight percent of those aged 18 to 34 say they have a family member or close friend who’s gay. That drops to just one in three of people 65 or older.

It’s true that people who have friends or relatives who are gay are more likely to support equality, and that’s part of what’s happening here, but it’s also that more people now have gay friend or relatives who are legally married. And even if they don’t, some of them live in places where same-sex marriage is legal.

The fight for marriage equailty may have been won the moment that the first same-sex couple got legally married and the earth didn’t move or spin off its orbit into the sun, the mountains didnt crumble, the oceans didnt’ boil, the rocks didn’t cry out, civilization didn’t immediately implode, and a surprising number of heterosexual couples woke up the next morning to find themselves just as married as they were before.

That’s likely to be duplicated more places. Because, though there have been some disappointing legal defeats, there have been some astounding victories lately.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Massachusetts, which began the trend five years ago. (Iowa issued its first marriage licenses April 27, a few weeks after its Supreme Court gave approval; weddings in Vermont will begin in September.) Within a year, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York will probably follow suit, say sexual orientation scholars at the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute; New Hampshire’s Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill Wednesday.

And as more same-sex couples wed in places where it is legal, the administrative fallout in other states is expected to keep expanding.

“The courts are going to have to wrestle with these issues as more and more states make it possible for people to marry,” said Toni Broaddus, executive director of the San Francisco-based Equality Federation. “People don’t stay in the same state for their whole lives anymore, so the courts in states without marriage equality are going to have to address these issues.”

The recent moves in New England and the heartland to legalize gay marriage appeared to reinvigorate campaigns for passage of same-sex marriage bills in Maine, Maryland and Hawaii. Rights advocates predict the tide will eventually sweep even into some of the 30-plus states that have passed laws or constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Simply going about the business of living our lives, and taking care of our families means that eventually the law -- if there’s any serious commitment to justice -- will have to catch up to us. The circumstances of everyday family life will make it more plainly obvious, and painfully obvious in some cases, the cost that inequality exacts from our families, and the inadequacy of half-measures that fall short of equality, and eventually it will appeal to people’s sense of right and wrong; because we are and will have been their friends and neighbors for years, raising our families next to theirs, sending our kids to the same schools, meeting each other at church, community events, etc.

The long arc of the universe may indeed bend towards justice, but only because of many hands and many lives bending it closer day by day.

For crying out loud, gay marriage is in the dictionary.Gay people are lining up to get married in Iowa. Iowa. Marriage passed in the Maine Senate, after a public hearing that started with a standing ovation. It looks like there’s broad support for a marriage bill in New York.

Meanwhile the opposition is making a laughing stock of themselves. Republicans are being urged to rethink same-sex marriage, by a former strategist for the McCain campaign.

Even Democrats, timid as they have been all this time, are now (finally) sensing an opportunity on marriage.

Gay marriage legalization in several states and the public’s growing acceptance of same-sex unions have Democrats sensing political opportunity and some Republicans re-evaluating their party’s hard-line opposition to an issue that long has rallied its base.

…With congressional elections next year, Republicans, Democrats and nonpartisan analysts say the changes benefit Democrats, whose bedrock liberals favor gay unions, and disadvantage Republicans, whose conservative base insists that marriage be solely between a man and a woman.

“This is not a sea change. This is a tide that is slowly rising in favor of gay marriage,” creating a favorable political situation for Democrats and ever-more difficulty for Republicans, said David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University in California.

Democrats have a broader base filled with more accepting younger voters, as well as flexibility on the issue. Hard-core liberals support gay marriage, while others, including President Barack Obama, take a more moderate position of civil unions and defer to states on gay marriage.

Sure, it would seem kind of like joining a marathon in the last mile, just to get in on the photo-op at the finish line. But it’s about, or even way past, time.

As an adviser on gay rights to President Bill Clinton during his second term, I know how hard it is to achieve real progress. We learned that lesson acutely during Clinton’s abortive first-term attempt to allow gays to serve in the military, an outcome for which he is still paying a steep legacy price.

But recent victories on gay marriage, a youth-driven paradigm shift in public opinion and the election of our first African American president make this a uniquely opportune moment to act.

I understand that the president has his hands full saving the economy. But across a broad spectrum of issues — including women’s rights, stem cell research and relations with Cuba — the Obama administration has shown a willingness to exploit this change moment to bring about dramatic reform.

So why not on gay rights? Where is our New Deal?

Put another way, where’s our bailout? So far, it seems like Democrats are OK with or at least resigned to saddling taxpayers with the worthless paper generated by an unregulated finacial sector that seems to have brought the world as we know it closer to the brink of disaster than a bunch of married queers too busy paying bills, mowing lawns, changing diapers, driving to soccer practice or ballet class, helping with homework, visiting with neighbors, and caring for each other and our families could have even if we wanted to.

But they remain strangely risk averse when it comes to marriage equality.

That’s fine. It would be nice to have their leadership. But we don’t need it. We’ve been doing the work all along, because we’re already committed, privately and publicly.

It came home to me in a very real way a few weeks ago, and helped me give voice to an understanding I don't think I had before entering a committed relationship and becoming a parent. Like Wallis' experience watching the finale of Survivor, I had my epiphany while watching television. The hubby and I were watching Noah's Arc, and one of the characters (Ricky) who was struggling with his first real relationship mused that "When you fall in love with someone that way, you're supposed to be shutting out a world of trouble." (Or something close to that.) Without even thinking about it or intending to speak, I heard myself saying "That's not true!"

It took me a minute more to articulate what I meant, but it comes down to this. Making a commitment to another person, as a partner or a parent, is the furthest thing from "shutting out a world of trouble," because it means making yourself even more vulnerable to an already troubled world; something that really comes home to you when you're loved one's walk out the door to go to work, school, etc., and you realize how vulnerable they are, how much can happen "out there," and how little you can do to protect them. It means, or it can mean, committing to making the world you and your loved ones journey through each day a little less troubled if you can. By extension that means, or can mean, doing the same for and alongside the families in your community.

It means investing in hope that the world you and your loved ones live in can change and the others will take up the work with you, if you make a start. In fact, given the degree of commitment required for most gay people to become parents, and the obstacles or "flaming hoops" between us and parenthood, it's possible that we have to invest even more in hope and in the creation of community.

Democrats may sense an “opportunity,” where many of have realized an imperative. So once it’s “safe” for them to do so, once they can take a stand without taking a risk, once the finish line is within sight, they may join us for the last mile.

And that’s OK. The win will be ours, and ours alone; it will belong to those of us who were committed from the beginning, before it was “safe,” before it was less “risky,” and before finish line -- the goal of equality and justice for our families -- was within sight or within reach, or even close to being a reality.

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So if I fly to Pune and then to someplace in Spain, be can be married in DC?

I don't think it technically has to be approved by Congress, but they can review it and intervene within 30 days. Which I don't think they'll do, however, the question would be many times bigger if the bill was to allow the legalization of SSM's performed in the city itself. Marion Barry's conniption factor would triple.

Vermont. Connecticut. Massachusetts. Iowa. I say lets all pay off their deficits. That'll get some action and "change". Add Maine and DC to that.

Will Democrats Seize the Marriage Moment?


Why should they? Obama's against it, and the DNC lukewarm.

I have to agree with Zoe here. Will they seize the moment? Not if the White House can't even put out a statement on Iowa's ruling or Maine's legislative victory...

Brad Bailey | May 10, 2009 12:37 AM

I hate to say this, but over the years the Democratic Party has become just a pale imitation of the Republican Party. Their intense desire to be perceived as politically correct and their unwillingness to take a chance on supporting gay rights without a clear mandate from their constituents has virtually crippled them as a viable alternative to the Reps. The author is right: if and when we achieve some semblance of equality with heterosexuals, it will be entirely because of our own efforts, not because of any help from either major political party.

The marriage moment? Be nice, but let's see them grab the hate crimes moment and ENDA moments, first.