The Politics Of Gay Marriage For Republicans Who Support It
One of those right-to-the-point articles comes in today’s edition of The New York Times magazine. Bill Keller writes a most entertaining read as he reports on the issue of gay marriage in New York, and the Republican personalities that came to light when the state legislature voted for the civil right last year.
It is difficult to construct an argument against marriage rights for gay people that doesn’t sound like an argument against gay people. Mike Long and his fellow partisans, like many conservatives nationwide, build their case on what they call “the defense of traditional marriage.” No society in history, they told me repeatedly, has extended marriage rights to homosexuals, and so we shouldn’t risk the unraveling of civilization by starting now. (Apparently they don’t count the 10 countries, from Canada to South Africa, where gays may legally marry and civilization endures.) I’ve had a few conversations with Long, trying to understand what harm they think they are defending marriage from. In one conversation I recounted my own classic wedding at the Holy Name of Jesus church, and wondered how somebody else’s less conventional marriage could diminish the joy of it.
“Well, I don’t think it hurts anybody,” Long replied, “but I think a society has to have certain standards, and since the beginning of time, marriage has been between a man and a woman.” Marriage, he elaborated, is about children. “You’re not going to procreate children with same-sex couples.”
I told him that would be news to my daughters’ school classmates, the ones with two moms or two dads. And by the way, we don’t prohibit elderly, infertile or just plain procreation-averse couples from marrying.
Not surprisingly, gay marriage is more likely to be a decisive issue for gays than for opponents. But if you parse public opinion, you find the acceptance of gay marriage is not just growing; it is accelerating. This is driven, of course, by the overwhelming support of young voters, but also by white Catholics, who have grown more open-minded on gay rights as they have become more affluent and educated, and as their children return from college with more liberal attitudes.
Adding to the inexorability is a factor pollsters refer to as “salience,” a measure of how much an issue means to you. It figures heavily in what politicians decide is safe to do. Most Americans favor restrictions on guns, for example, but gun control is stymied by salience: the people who want full gun rights care far more about the issue than those who oppose them. Opponents of gay marriage used to hold their opinion more passionately than supporters. But as more Americans have openly gay children, siblings, friends and neighbors, the supporters feel just as strongly. Another sign of seismic change: civil unions, once regarded by gay-marriage supporters as a best-we-can-hope-for compromise, have become a fallback position of the anti-marriage camp.
African-American support for gay marriage has remained stubborn, hovering around 30 percent for years, for reasons of class and education and because of the centrality of church in their lives. According to internal memos of the National Organization for Marriage, the anti-gay-marriage lobby sees an opportunity to play on the fact that some blacks resent hearing gay marriage likened to their own civil rights struggle.