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A Less Perfect Union: Gay Marriage and the Subversion of the Republic
Posted on Oct 24, 2008
By Scott Tucker
On May 15 the California Supreme Court ruled, in a 4-to-3 decision, that legal marriage in this state should no longer be reserved for heterosexuals. Six of the seven judges on that court were appointed by Republican governors, with the lone Democrat voting with the majority in this case. According to an estimate by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, more than 10,000 gay and lesbian couples have married since the first legal same-sex marriages on June 16.
In response, opponents lost no time placing Proposition 8 on the Nov. 4 ballot. Proposition 8, if passed, would change the state constitution so that marriage would be legally defined as being between a man and a woman, and thus would eliminate the existing right of same-sex couples to marry. This does not mean that the marriages of same-sex couples already legally enacted will be automatically null and void if Proposition 8 passes. On the contrary, these marriages are now legal facts on the ground, which will figure in class-action lawsuits and future court cases as the nationwide legislative battle over same-sex marriages and civil unions unfolds.
Current polls suggest a very close call on this issue in the Nov. 4 voting. The Mormon Church is pumping millions of dollars into television ads supporting Proposition 8. According to The Wall Street Journal, “Between 30% to 40 % of the $25.5 million in donations raised as of last week by the ‘Yes’ campaign has come from the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”
The coalition supporting the Yes on 8 campaign goes beyond the Mormon Church, of course. Conservative Catholics, including the Knights of Columbus, have donated more than $1 million. Focus on the Family (an evangelical group headed by James Dobson), an Orthodox Jewish group based in New York City, the National Organization for Marriage, the American Family Foundation, and various Baptist, Sikh and Muslim groups, as well as many Republicans, all have contributed heavily as well. A leading African-American cleric, Apostle Frederick K.C. Price of the Crenshaw Christian Center in Los Angeles, was joined on Oct. 20 by 50 African-American and Latino clerics in supporting Proposition 8. The press release of this last group noted these organizational ties and funding sources: “Paid for by ProtectMarriage.com—Yes on 8, a project of California Renewal. Major funding by Knights of Columbus, National Organization for Marriage California Committee and Focus on the Family.”
For more than 30 years, right-wing conservatives have rallied a base of supporters made up heavily of white evangelicals and have waged many winning campaigns by using the ready ammunition of so-called wedge issues. Since the 1970s, the religious right has made moral crusades against abortion, homosexuality and pornography into political litmus tests for Republican candidates. They have also made direct appeals to cultural conservatives across party lines, including evangelical Christians of all races. So the power of moral conviction on the far right had a real crossover effect on the Democratic Party.
In this fight, gay people have notable allies, including some wealthy people in business and entertainment. But no movement for social justice can build a strong foundation upon such a thin upper crust. That’s why the solidarity of some labor unions has been so welcome. The California Teachers Union Issues PAC has contributed $2 million, and the Service Employees International Union donated $500,000. The California Nurses Association is strongly opposed to Proposition 8. David Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, has stated, “For us, it’s a civil rights issue.” Since the right wing is running TV ads claiming that the rights of schoolchildren and parents would be violated by Proposition 8, the voices and faces of parents, students and teachers who oppose this proposition might have been featured effectively in TV and community newspaper ads as well. This would have required greater communication between organized labor and parent and student groups, and the staffs of No on 8 and Equality California.
There is a much larger and starker problem with the Democratic Party. If Proposition 8 wins, the political illusions of many gay people must be part of the public accounting. Likewise, elected Democrats gone AWOL will deserve consequences at the polls. Career Democrats with extraordinary wealth have made some donations to groups opposing Proposition 8, but they have been stingy in spending real political capital for this cause.
Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden rarely mention gay people except when speaking directly to small audiences of gay and gay-friendly donors. The issue of gay marriage is one they prefer to avoid. All the more reason we might expect the top elected Democrats of California to take up this fight in earnest. But in fact, the career Democrats, with the important exception of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, have dealt with Proposition 8 only in smaller and safer side conversations, and not in strong public messages. This is true both in California and in Congress.
The No on 8 coalition includes many reliable liberal groups and individuals, but as of Oct. 24, no television ad featuring the leading Democrats of California has brought the No on 8 message to the general public. No political courage was required for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein to tell a gay magazine, “I believe we should uphold the ability of our friends, neighbors, and coworkers who are gay and lesbian to enter into the contract of marriage.” This message would have more reach and power if Feinstein dared to use the megaphone of the mass media. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has not campaigned aggressively against Proposition 8 either, and has also not yet appeared in any television ad.
Likewise, the political capital that Rep. Nancy Pelosi has spent on this issue is spare change, but many Democrats will give her a “pragmatic” pass precisely because she is speaker of the House. A perverse logic operates in this case. If Pelosi refuses to wield congressional power in a fair fight against imperial adventures and war budgets; if she rules impeachment out of order and sidelines Rep. Dennis Kucinich and other dissenters in her own party; if she goes along to get along with the corporate oligarchy … then why should anyone expect her to risk a political bruise in defense of gay marriage?
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