August 23, 2007

Why the Democrats Should NOT Shut Up About Gays and Marriage

A few days ago I posted an essay from The New Republic which held the view that Democratic presidential candiates should shut up about same-sex marriage in order to improve the chance of one of them getting elected.

The New Republic has published a rebuttal by Evan Wolfson, the executive director of Freedom To Marry.

I have recommended that candidates be authentic and direct about their values and the policies of fairness that flow from them not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is also in their interest to do so. If candidates want to spend less time talking about gays and marriage, and more time talking about other questions, the best way to do that is to simply stand on clear principle, and explain that they are for equality in marriage because marriage matters and equality is right for all Americans. Then they can move on, rather than open themselves to countless follow-up questions on policies and positions that are incoherent or inauthentic. They could focus their campaigns on the real problems facing the country, the problems, by the way, that will determine the votes of most Americans, rather than the difference between civil union and the freedom to marry. Evasive answers fall short not just as politics, but as policy, and raise broader concerns about candidates' values, character, and leadership.

The truth is that Democrats, progressives, fair-minded Republicans, and other friends and potential allies will never be anti-gay enough to quiet their opponents. Democrats who don't support the freedom to marry fail in both directions: embracing the separate, unequal, and ultimately unworkable patchwork of civil unions while running from their party's historic commitment to fairness and inclusion. The abandonment of any effort to persuade the center on big questions has, for more than a decade now, ceded ground and power to the right-wing. Silence and evasion have harmed couples and their kids, and also our country.

As public support for marriage equality continues to evolve, Democrats, thus already perceived as the party of "gay marriage," have a winning issue on their hands, one that evokes the best traditions of their party--fairness and inclusion. The conversation will not stop. Candidates who want to move on to other questions ought to get the freedom to marry question right--for their sake as well as the country's.

It is easy to be cynical and think that Wolfson appeals to politicians to act as a matter of principle because that principle matches the viewpoint Wolfson has worked so hard to promote, but that doesn't mean it isn't right.

I think Wolfson's points about being able to move beyond the marriage question by making a clear-cut definitive statement on the issue and the idea of, whether people agree or disagree with it at least there would be respect for someone taking a stand are both dead on.

Sadly, I would be shocked it his wishes became reality, at least in this election cycle.

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