Monday, May 14, 2012

Don't Worry Be Happy as the First Gay President Repeals His Personal Don't Ask Don't Tell Policy

Three years ago this poster would have gotten Andrew Sullivan branded a racist tea party bigot, although in his defense the Obama halo is an old 2008 campaign theme.

What you won't read in Newsweek about President Obama's decision to announce his support for gay marriage:

Q: Why do you announce your support for gay marriage the day after a ballot referendum in North Carolina makes gay marriage unconstitutional in that state?

A: Because I made the assessment that announcing my support before the public voted was not going to carry the day.
The political calculus is that it's better to sign on to a lost cause after it is lost than to be seen losing it. That was apparent in the email that was sent on the day of the announcement from the Obama campaign:

"I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry."
That word "affirm" neatly ties up the previous position to the current position:
"I've always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. I was reluctant to use the term marriage because of the very powerful traditions it evokes. And I thought civil union laws that conferred legal rights upon gay and lesbian couples were a solution."
But just what is that current position:
"I respect the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines. But I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them."
That's right, Barack Obama still says he respects the beliefs of those who are opposed to legally recognizing gay marriage and respects churches that want nothing to do with gay marriage. That's a halo of many colors.

The email from Barack Obama was the third of the day on gay marriage. The first was from Nancy Pelosi who offered a roadmap of where this goes next:
"We must continue to fight – in the courts, in state legislatures, and in Congress – until all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans are guaranteed fair treatment in our country."
Let's consider that. The fight in North Carolina was not in the courts, state legislature, or Congress but at the ballot box. And at the ballot box voters in 31 states have banned gay marriage, and in doing so many states have approved language that has banned civil unions too. When that gets to 34 states, they can propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage and possibly civil unions in all states. At 38 states, they have enough to ratify that amendment.

The handful of courts which have declared that their states must recognize gay marriage rather than providing equality through civil unions have unleashed a hornet's nest of opposition that might not otherwise exist. The Iowa Supreme Court understood that:

"While unexpressed, religious sentiment most likely motivates many, if not most, opponents of same-sex civil marriage and perhaps even shapes the views of those people who may accept gay and lesbian unions but find the notion of same-sex marriage unsettling."
That religious sentiment hardly remained unexpressed when Iowa voters ousted the three members of the Iowa Supreme Court up for retention in the next election. Would they have kept their jobs if they had said civil union rather than marriage? All they needed was another 5% of the vote. Would North Carolina opponents have gotten 61% of the vote if civil unions and not marriage had been on the line? It would seem that gay rights advocates have lost more than they have gained. We'll never know if Barack Obama was right the first time to support civil unions as the best route to equality.

The second email of the day came from Massachusetts Congresswoman Niki Tsongas. Her ideas of where to go next include championing:

"the Respect for Marriage Act which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)"
That would short circuit the careful consideration of the various federal laws and benefits intended for traditional marriage and how they should most fairly be applied for gay marriage. And before you start saying that denial of any of the benefits of marriage makes one a second-class citizen, I just want to observe that I am single and I don't get any of those benefits. Not one. Citizen, third-class.
"the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow permanent partners the same immigration rights as spouses"
Those sham marriages that some people use to abuse our immigration laws? Forget that hassle, "permanently" shacking up will do.
"the Every Child Deserves a Family Act which would end discrimination by federally-assisted child adoption agencies"
No Child's Adoption Should Be Assisted by Catholic Charities is what that really means. Doesn't that violate President Obama's expression of respect for religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines?

"the Freedom from Discrimination in Credit Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in all credit transactions including student loans, small business loans, mortgages and credit cards."
That means you are going to have to check the box for your sexual orientation if you want to borrow money, just like now you have to check the box for your race, which is the only way that banks can discriminate in these days of electronic applications and approvals.

Still, gay marriage has worked out without too many hitches here in Massachusetts. And by that I don't just mean that my mailbox is not exactly flooded with gay marriage invitations. The original named plaintiffs Julie and Hillary Goodridge married in May 2004, separated amicably in July 2006, and divorced in July 2009.

The fourth email of the day came from Rufus Gifford, National Finance Director of Obama for America. It had a short subject line:

I am just so happy.
He wanted money. What you are supposed to know without having to ask is that Rufus is gay. His life partner, Jeremy Bernard, is White House Social Secretary.

Jeremy and Rufus do not look particularly oppressed in this picture with their dog Lucas. No word on whether they plan to make it legal.

And that's what makes gay marriage different from traditional marriage. For opposite-sex couples, marriage is what society traditionally expects. Is that to become the norm for same-sex couples too? Is the GBLT community down with, in the words of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a "union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others"? Lesbian women probably, gay men maybe not, bisexuals almost certainly not, transgenger who knows.

Update: 31 states have banned gay marriage at the ballot box but 7 additional states have legislative bans, so that's 38 states with bans in place, enough to ratify a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage nationwide.

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