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June 07, 2005




Don't count Kiwi chickens before they're hatched. We have an election in September, and Civil Unions are still recent enough to repeal or water down. The Christian Right will be out in force-Ooga Booga! :-)


The best reason for optimism in the medium-term is too look at the age distribution of public opinion. Commenter #1 notwithstanding, most who oppose equal human rights for gays and lesbians are over 40. The age breakdown also goes to intensity as well. Those who oppose gay rights under 40 are much fewer than the previous generation, and they generally don't think it's as big of deal either.

And these sorts of things can change fast. In 1958 90% or more of white Americans opposed the interracial marriage. I very much believe that when I retire in 35 years or so, students will be as surprised and puzzled by the 2004 anti-gay backlash elections as students now are by the interracial marriage poll numbers.

Col Steve

as now, the opponents of gay and lesbian rights were what we still call today "the religious right."

Well, let's look at the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. It passed the House by a vote of 342 to 67. It passed the Senate by a vote of 85-14. Democratic President Bill Clinton signed the act into law. Despite his later spin on it - "When I signed the Defense of Marriage Act," Clinton said, "all it did was to say it's still a question of state law ... That's the way America's always been." (doubt he feels that way about abortion), the DOMA, especially since it enabled a state not to recognize another state's position, can hardly be viewed as supporting "full inclusion for gays."

Interesting, one of the Senators opposed to the DOMA was John Kerry, who less than a decade later, made this statement in his presidential bid - "The president and I have the same position, fundamentally, on gay marriage. We do. Same position."

So, it was only the "religious right" elements of Congress and the White House that resulted in the DOMA?

I reminded of the saying that historians tend to see in the past what they have been trained to see, or——what they want to see.


In these instances, the religious right very successfully intimidated a lot of centrist Democrats who were worried about re-election. The number of Democratic votes for DOMA (and the tortured reasoning for it) is a testimony to the power and scope of religious conservative activism.


There's a phenomenon call a "tipping point," Col Steve, and that's what's coming.


Policy, and elections, are often decided by a relatively small subset of constituents. Primary elections are notorious for being driven by the most committed members of the party. Politicians are capable of balancing single issue voter damage and less-committed-voter displeasure. If 20% of your constituents are ballistic against same-sex marriage, 5% are strongly for it, and the remaining 75% are either lukewarm either way or simply do not care, well, in a tight race, you are going to be better off choosing the 20-5 = +15% rather than the 5-20 = -15%

Col Steve

Hugo - For a trained historian, you sometimes make blanket statements with (seemingly) little factual support. Then again, the distinguished historian Sir Michael Howard once admitted that the past, which he aptly referred to as an “inexhaustible storehouse of events,” could be used to “prove anything or its contrary.”

Hugo wrote - "In these instances, the religious right very successfully intimidated a lot of centrist Democrats who were worried about re-election. The number of Democratic votes for DOMA (and the tortured reasoning for it) is a testimony to the power and scope of religious conservative activism."

Your own senators, Boxer and Feinstein, voted against the DOMA. However, in the Congressional Record, Sen Feinstein stated she voted against the act because it was an overstep by Congress. She maintained marriage was a union between a man and a woman. Sen Boxer stated that "this vote is not how I feel about gay marriage. I think Senator John Kerry said that clearly." Sen Kerry, who voted against the DOMA and was up for a tough reelection (against Gov Bill Weld), stated in the record that "I am not for same-sex marriage". Are you saying the religious right got to them in going on record to define marriage as between a man and a woman in spite of voting no?

Would you count former Sen. Wellstone, who voted for the bill, as a "centrist" democrat?

One of the co-sponsors was Senator Byrd, hardly a member of the religious right and rather immune to any serious competition for his seat. The Senator actually read from the Bible prior to the vote.

President Clinton's statement on signing the DOMA:
" I have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages and this legislation is consistent with that position." Perhaps he forgot the party's 1996 platform statement to "end discrimination against gay men and lesbians and further their full inclusion in the life of the nation". I guess the religious right got to him after the convention.

djw- I've read Gladwell. I'm more drawn to the work of those before Gladwell such as Schelling on path dependencies and the development of norms (just the economist in me I suppose).

It may or may not be correct to compare sexual orientation to race as you do. Perhaps science will discover the "gay" gene and sexual orientation will move into the same legal category as race. Perhaps science will discover something else. I do agree with you that expanded rights for gays and lesbians is more likely than not, but to what extent for "full inclusion" is far from certain. Even the person held up as the future of the Democratic Party, Sen Obama, holds the following position (although he's 43 so perhaps he's still tainted as a post-40 guy, although I'm unclear whether his position falls into the religious right area or whether Hugo gives a pass to "almost full inclusion" Democrats)

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama said Friday his Christian beliefs dictate that marriage should be between a man and a woman, although he supports civil unions that give legal rights to gay and lesbian couples.

''I'm a Christian, and so although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman,'' Obama said.

But my issue is not with the inevitability (or degree) of greater gay and lesbian rights. My concern is with my perception that Hugo views this issue through a lens colored by religious conservative activism.


Col Steve, I haven't made myself clear, and I need to expand and clarify what I've said. Wellstone and Byrd others who supported DOMA weren't necessarily in fear of losing their seats themselves; I'm convinced that they were driven by the fear of what their support for gay marriage might do to the Democratic party's prospects nationally. After all, the Republicans run nationally against the likes of Ted Kennedy; how he votes is often used against other Dems in more conservative states.

I know many Christians who are progressive on economic and peace and justice issues who cannot support gay marriage. I respect them. But they are NOT the ones beating the drums for the Federal Marriage Amendment; that is the task of groups like Focus on the Family, which has admittedly enormous influence on the GOP today, and whose membership (FOTF, not the GOP) is almost exclusively Christian conservatives.

It is possible to be something other than a religious conservative and oppose gay marriage. But I know very few folks who are actively opposed to gay rights -- in the sense of making the FMA a top political priority -- who aren't religious conservatives. If you have counter-examples, please provide.


I have no problem beleiving that Senator Byrd sincerely opposes same sex marriage. As for the likes of Kerry, Boxer, Patty Murray here in Washington, Feinstein, etc., aren't engaged in defensive political calculation with their positions on gay marriage? There's no real way to settle this, but I don't buy it. Sometimes I think I'm the only one on my side who was genuinely enthusiastic about Kerry (not as a candidate, but as a politician and person), but I found his standard line on marriage equality utterly tortured and unpersuasive. So, I think, did most opponents of gay marriage (to their credit), who never gave him a lick of credit for this political move. I could be wrong, of course, but I strongly suspect they sense the electoral calculus changes, these people will abandon their conservative views on this issue, and they'll be glad to do it.


FYI, I included this post in History Carnival #10.


Thanks, Marc!

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