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    October 26, 2006

    The great gay election scapegoat

    Posted by: Chris

    For being a minority that exists in every American family, and whose civil rights are supported by a growing majority of the U.S. public, gay men and lesbians sure come across as the election millstone for whichever party is too closely associated with them (err, us).

    Democrats blamed "gays in the military" for wrecking the first half of Bill Clinton's first term, and with it the loss of Congress to Republicans for the first time in generations.  It's accepted wisdom today that Karl Rove successfully used gay marriage as a wedge issue in key swing states (especially Ohio), proving crucial to George W. Bush's re-election.

    Then came Foley-gate, which pundits of all stripes declared was the last nail in the coffin for GOP hopes of retaining the House (and maybe the Senate) in this year's mid-term elections.  Like gay marriage two years earlier, the Foley issue is seen as crucial in only a handful of locales, but in a closely divided House, that can be the difference between Speaker Hastert and Speaker Pelosi.

    Then yesterday, we got our "October surprise": the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state's heterosexual-only marriage laws.  The timing wasn't political; it was forced by the mandatory retirement of Chief Justice Deborah Poritz — who turned out to be Chief Protagonist for gay couples — and whose 70th birthday happened to be yesterday.

    Rove and company — including his closeted cohort Ken Mehlman at the GOP's helm — were surely disappointed by the ruling.  Not because the New Jersey justices unanimously ordered the state to extend to gay couples all the rights and benefits of heterosexual marriage.  No, these partisan hacks — like their counterparts James Carville and company on the Democratic side — have always cared much more about power than policy.  Their true disappointment was no doubt that the decision didn't go further, and order the state to begin actually "marrying" gay couples.

    As it stands, the New Jersey justices aren't likely to be smeared too successfully as "activist judges," considering they left the question of what to call the institution to the democratically-elected Legislature (and governor).  It's the name "marriage," after all, that is the rub for all but the most conservative Americans.

    As Conor Clarke details nicely for The New Republic, General Rove and his troops will no doubt try to use the New Jersey ruling as a wedge where they can, especially in states like Tennessee and Virginia that feature both a tightly contested U.S. Senate race and a gay marriage ballot initiative.  But those two races already featured highly charged racial issues, making homosexuality an unlikely deciding factor.

    New Jersey voters will also decide a closely fought Senate race, but both Democrat incumbent Robert Menendez and GOP challenge Tom Kean, Jr., oppose gay marriage and back civil unions, so conservatives probably can't do much with Kean's additional support for a federal marriage amendment.  That's especially so since Gov. Jon Corzine and his fellow Democrats in charge of the state House and Senate are also on record opposing "marriage" for gays.

    Republican strategists will instead risk appearing mean-spirited (which they are) if they try playing politics with civil unions the way they have marriage and self-righteous (which they are) to boot,  given what the Foley mess has taught the U.S. public about the influence of gay Republicans within the Gay Old Party. Not to mention that the GOP-In-Chief, President Bush, is on record backing civil unions for gay couples, as Andrew Sullivan reminds us.

    No, it looks like no matter who wins — or more importantly, who loses — on Nov. 7, they won't have us gays to blame for it come Nov. 8.  And who knows, maybe one day, in that shining city on a hill, being associated with the basic equality of our little subset of Americana will actually be credited with winning  an election or three.



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    1. mr.ed on Oct 28, 2006 2:48:50 PM:

      Blessed shall be the righteous. Damned shall be the self-righteous.

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