October 28, 2006

Will New Jersey Gay Marriage Ruling Energize Republicans?

This column on Time.com opines that it just might:

"What Republicans are hoping is that they can use the issue of gay marriage and the ruling to motivate conservatives in key states like Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia, where Republicans are in danger of losing Senate seats. Polls this year have shown small, but measurable drop-offs in enthusiasm from Christian conservatives and there's some worry about whether they will stay home on Election Day, particularly after the Foley scandal, which some conservative leaders blamed on congressional Republicans for being too afraid to take action against Foley earlier because it might be perceived as anti-gay.

Measures to ban gay marriage are on the ballot in nine states, including Virginia and Tennessee, and conservative activists will point to the New Jersey decision as a reason people in those states should go to the polls, even if they're dissatisfied with how the Republican majority has run the country. If that message resonates, the same people celebrating the New Jersey decision could be having mixed feelings about it come election day."

This column in the New Republic disagrees: (via the site Faith in Public Life):

But Democrats should relax. It's true that Rove and Co. will do their best to make this case a decisive electoral issue. But that won't be the cakewalk Democrats have nightmares about. America in 2004 is not America in 2006, Lewis is not Goodridge, and, no matter how much Rove might hope for an early Christmas, gay marriage fear-mongering isn't going to be the eleventh-hour savior that Republicans need.

For one big reason why, look no further than the substance of the opinion. Much like Goodridge, Lewis insists that the "unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples can no longer be tolerated under our State Constitution." But, unlike Goodridge, Lewis leaves an important question--what should we call this new bundle of rights?--to the state legislature, which has 180 days to provide an answer. The difference in substance will make a difference in the politics.....

And, because the court punts the definitional question to the legislature, Republicans will have difficulty deploying their favorite mythical creature--the crazed, power-thirsty liberal judge, brazenly sweeping aside the democratic will of a helpless public to pursue her own narrow vision of the good life......

The activist-judge trope will fail not just because the legislature is being kept in the picture, but because public consensus in the state is starting to favor gay marriage. A June poll by Rutger's Eagleton Institute for Politics found that "New Jerseyans, by a margin of 50 percent to 44 percent ... support allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally." And, when you drop the word marriage, as the court did, the support is even more robust: 65 percent of state residents support giving same-sex couples "many of the same rights and benefits as a married man and woman." Only 30 percent are opposed.

Support for the decision aside, there's also a serious question about how receptive the Republican base will be to the typical "homosexual agenda" scare tactics. This year's ballot initiatives raise that question better than anything else. When the Times did a roundup of the 2006 initiatives, it found, amazingly, that "supporters of same-sex marriage this year are likely to be as mobilized as the opponents." Whereas many of the 2004 ballot initiatives passed with popular support topping 70 percent, polling in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin--four of the states with ballot initiatives up this November--show only narrow majorities in favor of them. In South Dakota, the ballot initiative might actually fail. The case might cause some polarization, but if the Times report is true, it should motivate both sides equally. This is not the stuff of 2004.

This is a desperate time for Republicans, and they will reach for anything that can stop their slide toward defeat. But there is little that indicates gay marriage is the right piece of underbrush to cling to: This case is not going to fire up that base. Call it homosexuality fatigue. Call it whatever you want. (Or leave it up to the legislature!) Just don't expect Republican demagogues to be able to change it.

The evangelical vote will probably be the largest undefinable wild card in the 2006 election, and the rights of same-sex couples to marry in several states is one of the main things hanging in the balance.

October 27, 2006

"It's Not Heaven, It's Not Hell, It's Purgatory"

That was the gist of the message from an e-mail distributed by Steven Goldstein, Chairman of the GLBT advocacy group Garden State Equality in regards to the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage.

Here is the text of the message:

Dear LGBTI New Jerseyans and our millions of straight allies across New Jersey:
I'd like to take a moment, if you'll allow, to have a frank discussion about one of the more unique phenomena that emerged from yesterday's decision on marriage equality. We can't recall seeing so many divergent reactions from our community and supporters to any single event. Many of the reactions were diametrically opposed: Some activists and organizations portrayed the decision as "a big win" or "total victory." Other activists and organizations portrayed the decision as all but a loss -- a bad day when we had expected a total win. Still others, most people actually, had a reaction in between.
We're all over the map as a community. It's understandable -- well, at least the opinions in the middle are understandable -- given the complex nature of the ruling. On the one hand, not a single justice said same-sex couples are unworthy of equal protection. On the other hand, we did not get marriage equality, though it's now up to us to make it happen in the legislature within 180 days.
It's not heaven, it's not hell, it's purgatory.
But here's the problem with telling anyone, whether your family, friends or even journalists, that the decision is a victory: It will hurt our efforts to win marriage equality in the next 180 days. It will, I swear to you, it will. But more on that in a moment.
Describing the decision as a victory at this premature juncture is wrong. If we don't win the label "marriage," we will NOT have equal protection under the law. You know this too well from following our e-mails on the late Lieutenant Laurel Hester. Without the label marriage, couples like Lt. Hester and her partner, and scores of others across New Jersey, have been told time and again, "we don't care with the law says, you're not married."
As we've said a million times and we'll say a million times more, marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world universally accepts. We're not fighting for the label marriage for some moral, ethereal right. We're fighting for the label marriage because it's the only way a gay civil rights law will work in the real world.
And that's what you have to tell everyone you know. Were you to tell folks "it's a win" -- and to be sure, 90 percent of our community and our supporters believe otherwise -- it would tie the hands of those of us at Garden State Equality working every day in Trenton to get a real win: Marriage equality.
Because then legislators would tell us, "You know, we're hearing people call the Supreme Court decision a win. Why are you pressing so hard for marriage then?"
I'll go beyond that point, and this I plead to you with all my heart. A nuanced statement, along the lines of "it's a win, it's not everything we wanted, but it's a win," will still hurt our efforts for marriage equality.
First, such statements would be a lifeline to legislators whom we have got to win over. People hear what they want to hear, particularly legislators looking for an excuse not to do the right thing. They'll grasp onto the clause in a nuanced sentence that gives them an out.
Second, the art of political communications tells us that both the general public and the power-elites, from the press to public officials to others who hold our fate in their hands, don't process nuanced statements well.
If you tell someone, "the decision is a win, but blah, blah, blah," you can bet the "blah, blah, blah" caveat won't be processed and/or reported. People will only hear the headline, i.e. "It's a win." And that would devastate our efforts.
It would lead to reactions like this: "Well, I just read that someone in your community called this a win, I don't understand why you're now saying it's not. Sounds like this civil unions idea is a sensible solution."
Friends, we have 180 days to win 100% marriage equality in the state legislature, as the Supreme Court ruled. I personally plead with you, with every bone and fiber in my body -- and I'm joined by thousands of others at Garden State Equality -- that even if part of you thinks it this was a win in the context of history, it's not what your message should be at this most sensitive, pressure-filled time.
The bottom line is this: Marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world universally accepts. Anything short of marriage equality deprives LGBTI families of the equal protection they so desperately need. Contraptions short of marriage, like civil unions and domestic partnerships, do not provide that protection, as we've learned through the New Jersey experience. Thus we do not have a win yet.
But we're going to work our hearts out to make that happen within 180 days. We're counting on you to be by our side.
Thanks for listening, as it were. All of us at Garden State Equality appreciate you from the heart.
Warmly, Steven Goldstein, Chair of Garden State Equality

From the other side, Matt Daniels, the president of "Alliance for (Straight) Marriage," continues to run his mouth in the mainstream media. This quote from the New York Times, which he was kind enough to distritute by e-mail:

New Jersey's highest court ruled on Wednesday that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights and financial benefits as heterosexual couples, but ordered the Legislature to decide whether their unions must be called marriage or could be known by another name. But conservative groups opposed to same-sex marriage blasted the ruling as an example of the justices essentially trading judicial robes for legislative pens. ''The court is holding a legal gun to the head of the State Legislature, and saying, 'Listen, there are two bullets, you get to pick the bullet: either gay marriage or civil unions,' '' said Matt Daniels president of Alliance for Marriage, an organization based in the Washington area that supports a federal Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. ''And that is not democracy. That is court-imposed policy-making that takes this out of the hands of the people.''

That's right, the courts took marriage away from being strictly in the hands of straight couples and allow same-sex couples, in some form, to share in it.

October 26, 2006

AFA Gets After Wal-Mart

The American Family Association, often a well-deserved object of scorn here, recently sent out an e-mail blast titled "Wall-Mart Rolls Out Red Carpet For Homosexual Marriage."

Among what the AFA considers the company's heinous sins are:

o Joining the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and being appointed to its board.

o Having the nerve to sell books that are supportive of same-sex marriage

Then this which really cracked me up:

"A quick search of Wal-Mart's website turned up the following number of items for sale: Gay - 1148 Lesbian - 468Transgender - 40 Bisexual - 38 Gay Marriage - 26 "

Personally, I think someone there has waaaaay too much time on their hands.

From my perspective, and I suspect that of most people who aren't aggressive homophobes like the AFA, Wal-Mart hardly comes across as a social activist. I have no doubt these measures were taken to promote business, and I applaud the company for that. It can only be a good thing, in my opinion, for large companies to be sensitive to the needs of GLBT consumers--a win-win for everyone involved.

Of course, the AFA just wants gay people to crawl back in the closet and it grinds their cookies when companies like Ford and Wal-Mart not only acknowledge the existence of the GLBT community but active engages it.


October 25, 2006

New Jersey Rules on Same-Sex Marriage

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled today in favor of same-sex marriage--sort of. A decision seemingly designed to avoid making anyone unhappy left both sides unhappy, which is usually how that goes.

As CNN reported: In a decision likely to stoke the contentious election-year debate over same-sex marriage, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that state lawmakers must provide the rights and benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples.

The high court on Wednesday gave legislators six months to either change state marriage laws to include same-sex couples, or come up with another mechanism, such as civil unions, that would provide the same protections and benefits.

The court's vote was 4-to-3. But the ruling was more strongly in favor of same-sex marriage than that split would indicate. The three dissenting justices argued the court should have extended full marriage rights to homosexuals, without kicking the issue back to legislators.

In a release titled "Radical Activists Prevail in New Jersey Marriage Decision," the right-wing Alliance for (Straight) Marriage was not happy:

"This marks the second state -- after Vermont -- where radical activist groups have convinced state court judges to hold a gun to the head of the legislature," said Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage. “The legislature will now be compelled to choose between two bullets -- all under court order. Either they create so-called ‘gay marriage’ or they create a civil union scheme that is identical. Either way, the people of New Jersey lose the right to decide -- freely and democratically -- to choose the course that is best for them, their families and their children.”

"Given the continuous attacks upon marriage in courts across the country, AFM's Marriage Protection Amendment is clearly the only hope for the American people to determine the future of marriage under our laws," Daniels added.

Daniels also added, "Most Americans believe that gays and lesbians have a right to live as they choose. But they don't believe they have a right to redefine marriage for our entire society," said Daniels. "Americans want our laws to send a positive message to children about marriage, family and their future."

Let me insert a point here: Why shouldn't marriage be redefined? Doesn't the fact that the divorce rate hovers around 50% indicate that the institution, as now designed and practiced, falls WAY short of prefection?

Here's a positive message to kids about marriage: fall in love with whoever your heart leads you to, commit yourselves to that person, and stick with it. Just because it's always been done boy-girl and that's how it was in the bible doesn't mean boy-boy or girl-girl can't work and, more importantly, that God wouldn't bless it. Just because narrow minds don't understand something doesn't make it wrong, and it certainly doesn't mean that should be part of the U. S. Constitution.

Not all GLBT activists were completely happy with the New Jersey decision, however. This from Equality Maryland:

“If the true intent is to give all benefits to same-sex couples, then what is the point of calling it civil unions if not to caste a separate and negative class for LGBT couples,” said Executive Director Dan Furmansky. “This day will be remembered in history as one where a court of law granted some protections to same-sex headed families, but denied these families true equality and dignity under the law."

I tend to think that Dan is taking too much bloom off the rose today, but I also can't dispute his points. If I had invested as much of myself as he and other GLBT activists have to fight for the right to marry, I probably would not be satisfied with this incremental step either.

I still believe, however, that this was an important step forward for GLBT rights. People like Matt Daniels and his organization will insure that many, many more steps need to be taken before GLBT people will gain equality in marriage, but at least today there is one less obstacle to overcome.

October 24, 2006

U. S. Catholic Bishops to Define Their Stance on Gays

According to this report in the Boston Globe, the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will be voting on a proposal at their next gathering that would condemn "scorn and hatred" of homosexuals. The bishops are also expected to declare that gay couples should not be allowed to marry or adopt children.

In other words, Catholics won't outright condemn homosexuals, but they won't recognize some of the basic rights and needs of human life for gays and lesbians either.

The report says they will reaffirm that "homosexual acts are `always sinful' and `morally wrong."

No big surprise there.

Sam Sinnett , the president of Dignity USA, an organization of gay Catholics, said the document "will be discussed entirely by celibate males, and their viewpoint is more concerned with keeping their jobs than being pastoral leaders."

As usual, it comes down to politics.

October 23, 2006

Churches Thrust Into Marriage Debate in Virginia

This report in the Roanoke Times shows how much of the political battle over the issue of same-sex marriage in Virginia is being fought from pulpits of churches and amongst congregations.

VAMarriage.org, a coalition that supports the measure, has asked pastors to give Nov. 5 sermons for "Marriage Protection Sunday." The group has handed out "pastor packets" and other tools to galvanize voters. This is apparently legal since the churches are not endorsing a specific political candidate.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

"Marriage is something that cannot be tarnished," said the Family Foundation's Victoria Cobb at a recent pastors luncheon in Roanoke. "We believe the churches are key. The pastors must lead and remind people that this is a biblical issue."

"People of faith are not all on one side of the issue," said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, campaign manager for the Commonwealth Coalition, which opposes the measure.

"People of Faith for Equality in Virginia was formed more than a year ago to help voters understand that there are people of faith who are 'no' voters and that is OK. The other side doesn't have any campaign except to scare, shame and goad some people of faith into voting yes."

It personally makes me ill that churches are a political battleground. That is clearly not what Jesus had in mind and it angers me that some Christians can try to get me to believe that it is.

October 22, 2006

Are Right-Wing Attacks Actually Opening Closet Doors?

That is the conclusion of this article, which analyzes two U. S. government surveys.

The number of same-sex couples that identified themselves as such has increased 30% in just five years, a period which saw the general population grow 6%. Interestingly, some of the larger jumps were in the Midwest, especially Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The survey also suggests that the push to outlaw same-sex marriage is encouraging GLBT couples to emerge from the closet to stand up and be counted. Six of the eight states with an anti-gay marriage initiative on this year's ballot -- Arizona, Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin -- saw rate jumps higher than the 30 percent national average.

A New York Times poll cited in this article showed that the understanding of what homosexuality is truly about is increasing. The poll showed that 53% of respondents thought that people do NOT chose to be gay, up from 43% in 1993. Also, the percentage of those who believe homosexuality is morally wrong has plummeted to 37%, down from 55% in 1993.

My conclusion from this data is that, eventually, ignorance allways loses.