July 09, 2008
Moving to the middle on marriage
Posted by: Chris
For gay issues, that typically means we see the Republican nominee rediscovering his “compassionate conservative” side, reaching out through rhetoric if not through an actual thaw in policy positions on gay rights. Remember George W. Bush back in 2000 famously declaring himself “a better man” for having met with the so-called “Austin 12,” a group of gay Republicans who told the Texas governor about how discrimination had impacted their lives.
On the Democratic side, gay marriage becomes a “Sister Souljah” issue, on which the candidate can prove his centrist credentials by emphasizing the very same opposition to marriage equality that he practically apologized for during the primaries.
The gay marriage ruling in Massachusetts gave Sen. John Kerry just such an opportunity back in 2004. He leapt on it with gusto, declaring his opposition to the court’s ruling and throwing his support behind efforts there and elsewhere to roll back marriage rights through state constitutional amendments.
Running mate John Edwards hit mostly the same notes, declaring twice in national television interviews that he and Kerry were of like minds with President Bush on gay marriage, forgetting momentarily that the two Democrats had voted against the president’s notorious federal marriage amendment.
The ink is barely dry on this year’s party primaries, but it’s curious how the presumptive nominees from both parties are departing from the script written by previous presidential candidates.
Initially it seemed John McCain was following closely in W.’s footsteps. News leaked last month that the Arizona senator had a “secret meeting” with the president of the Log Cabin Republicans, who have done their best to smear lipstick on the pig that is McCain’s horrendous gay rights record.
A few conservative Christian leaders squawked in protest, as they did over W.’s more public gay Republican encounter back in 2000, but McCain proved himself anything but “a better man” in response. It should have been an opportunity for McCain to set his jaw and declare as he has before that he “opposes discrimination in any form” – always curious for a politician who also opposes legislation in any form that’s meant to outlaw said discrimination.
But instead of tacking to the center, McCain chose to pander to the right – issuing a public statement in favor of the California ballot measure aimed at overturning that state’s landmark gay marriage ruling. In another secret meeting, this time with social conservatives, McCain is said to have promised to increase the volume even more on his gay marriage opposition.
If McCain lacks the will to withstand even a smattering of criticism from conservatives on gay issues, it bodes very poorly for how a President McCain might be in office.
On the other side of the aisle, Barack Obama is so far proving he’s no John Kerry on gay marriage. Even though the Illinois senator had pretty much locked up his party’s nomination when the California Supreme Court issued its gay marriage ruling, he didn’t use the occasion to bolster his centrist credentials by declaring himself in opposition.
Instead, he issued a statement saying he “respects the court’s decision.” Later, when the amendment that would overturn that ruling qualified for the November ballot, Obama declared his opposition to it, in marked contrast to Kerry’s position as the Democratic presidential nominee just four years ago.
(Not surprisingly, Kerry himself has flip-flopped on the issue. Facing a Senate primary challenger, he came out in opposition to state constitutional amendments banning gay couples from marrying.)
Even in these early days of the general election, then, the distance between these two presidential candidates on gay rights is already quite striking.
In previous cycles, the move to the political center has made the Republican candidate more palatable and even encouraged fantasies of a gay-friendly GOP president able to accomplish what a Democrat couldn’t – sort of Nixon goes to China for the gays. We are encouraged in that delusion by how the Democratic candidate has by now already betrayed his vow of unwavering support for us during the primary season.
This time around, at least so far, John McCain seems more interested in using gays as a political wedge to energize conservatives than he is in reaching out to moderates. In fact, Washington pundit Fred Barnes declared on Fox News declared last week that waving the gay marriage flag was McCain’s last, best hope of winning the White House.
It’s a curious strategy, given where the population is moving on the issue. Poll after poll shows growing public support for marriage equality, and the power of the issue as a panic button for conservatives fades a bit each and every month that gay couples marry and the sky doesn’t fall.
Maybe that’s one reason why Obama did not choose gay marriage as a sacrificial lamb on which to prove he’s no liberal. It’s not just that he’s unwilling to pander at our expense, but the center itself has moved on gay marriage.
And maybe 2008 will be the last presidential race in which we’ll see both major party candidates in opposition to our full marriage equality.
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