August 19, 2007

Could Democratic Presidential Candidates be Right in Not Pushing for Gay Marriage?

James Kirchick believes they are in this column published in The New Republic, and he supports his point very well:

During last week's gay issues forum, broadcast on the cable television station LOGO and sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), all of the Democratic presidential candidates expressed their support for legal equality for gays via civil unions. But, with the exceptions of former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, they opposed calling those relationships marriage.

This seeming hypocrisy doesn't sit well with gay rights advocates. Evan Wolfson, head of the Freedom to Marry coalition and one of the intellectual fathers of gay marriage, says that, just as previous American presidents made the civil rights struggle into a national issue through the power of "moral suasion," presidential candidates ought to voice support for gay marriage today because it "creates a political, cultural and moral space for America to rise to fairness." HRC's vice president of programs, David M. Smith, says that "The most important role the presidency plays in public policy debates is the bully pulpit, to sway public opinion." And as HRC President Joe Solmonese put it after the debate, "The next president must be committed to not only doing what's achievable, but also what's right."

It would certainly be refreshing to hear a leading presidential candidate come out in favor of "what's right" and support gay marriage. But gay marriage advocates are actually doing their cause a disservice by pushing the Democratic candidates on the issue.

Kirchick reviews the national polls that still show a majority of people are against full marriage rights for same-sex couples and points out that the granting of marriage licenses is still under the jurisdiction of the individual states, not the federal government. He suggests a different approach than what many GLBT advocates are calling for:

But in the present climate, asking that presidential candidates support same-sex marriage--while serving an important moral purpose--demands a significant political sacrifice. At most, gays should expect a president to act as a bulwark against congressional attempts to limit their rights and to support congressional attempts to defend those rights. This means pledging to repeal anti-gay laws like the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell and to sign pro-gay ones like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which all of the Democratic candidates have explicitly promised to do. Seeing the Democrats squirm on the issue of gay marriage may make for good political theater, but it does not make good politics.

Those actions would certainly be important steps toward equality, at least removing some of the largest barriers. However, I'm not sure I trust a politician who does not believe in his heart that GLBT people should completely have the same rights as heterosexuals to take these steps. If they don't believe in equality, then how far will they really go?

That is one of the difficult questions the GLBT community and their advocates must answer when choosing which presidential candidate to support in 2008. I don't have a clear choice at this point, and I suspect many of you don't either.


  1. I just hate being reminded of the vast gulf that separates justice from political expediency. And of the fact that opting for the latter is usually seen as not only acceptable, but a good in and of itself. Call me a dreamer. =)

  2. *sigh*
    indeed. We.. well I know darn well they are not going to stand up for political reasons. So, they get a pass. At this moment, althought I agree with Evan that you don't ask for crumbs, a UK style civil union would be fine with me. We need to give people time to change. Of course, I'm a peace keeper. There are alot of people out there on the right who would grant us that. Now if I thought that we would then focus on hunger, homelessness, crime and such.. well, I'm not the optimistic. Call me a dreamer too.

  3. I grew up in the segregated south, and I know from personal experience that separate is never equal, and that it diminishes the moral strength of those in power as much as it deprives the second class of justice. I say this as a white man. I have friends who lived in South Africa during the days of apartheid, and their experience of the undermining of the moral foundation of society is even more intense.

    I recognize, however, that we must step towards a goal. So I am not opposed to civil unions. But if you look at what happens in states with civil unions -- like New Jersey now -- you will see that this never does provide the same rights as marriage. It is doomed to fail and be transitional at best.

    Keep your eyes on the goal while you march down the field.

    As for the politicians, charity forbids me to say.