Dispatches from the Culture Wars pointed me to an interesting essay by Jonathan Rauch on the real story behind the Federal Marriage amendment. I read Rauch’s book Gay Marriage : Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America a while back, and I have a lot of respect for what he has to say, even if I don’t agree with all of it.
I’d say the same about his latest essay, but he’s definitely on the mark about something I hadn’t considered before and that I’m willing to bed a lot of other people haven’t either.
Rauch’s essential point is that the impetus of the amendment isn’t to keep the courts from legalizing same sex marriage. It’s to keep the voters from doing it.
In 2004, MPA advocates liked to say that pre-empting state legislatures and electorates was of no practical consequence, because only judges would support so alien a notion as same-sex marriage. That argument expired last September, when the California Legislature passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, but the question is no longer academic: How do MPA proponents, who claim to champion democratic decision-making, justify handcuffing the democratically elected Legislature of the largest state in the union?
At bottom, what many MPA proponents want to forestall is not judicially enacted gay marriage; it is gay marriage, period. They say that an institution as fundamental as marriage needs a uniform definition: a single moral template for the whole country.
In other words if, say, the legislature of California or some other state voted to legalize same-sex marriage the FMA would say they couldn’t. If the majority of voters in some state voted to legalize same-sex marriage, the FMA would put the kibosh on the voters too. In those states the majority wouldn’t rule.
For all the talk about “activist judges” and “letting the majority decide,” what’s behind the FMA is the fear that the majority will decide at some later date. The reason for the fear is that majorities can change their minds and, as I’ve mentioned before, the hate brigade is running out of time. Their voting blog is aging, and younger generations are leaning in favor of equality.
So perhaps the writing is already on the wall, and the right wingers can read it as well as I can. And maybe the upcoming Senate debate and vote is a half-hearted effort to give their base something to gnaw on, knowing all the while that it’s probably never going to pan out
Rauch suggests that their base isn’t even buying it.
Lyndon Johnson once said, “Hell, give [a man] somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The Virginia formula was in that vein: Knock the gays hard enough, and maybe conservatives wouldn’t notice the tax hike.
In Virginia, the moral-values credit card seemed to have maxed out in 2005; Democrats held the governorship. Nationally, many conservative voters seem to have noticed that the same Republican politicians who are trotting out the marriage amendment have also spent up a storm, created the biggest new entitlement program since LBJ’s Great Society, riddled the budget with earmarks, and approved unprecedented restraints on political activity.
That’s one more reason why it probably won’t work. Ed over at Dispatches echoes the study I mentioned earlier and linked above.
The strategy has lasted this long because it works, but only for a time. Before long, public opinion evolves away from bigotry and toward extending the promises of our founding. When the same cards were played by those who opposed civil rights for blacks in the 1950s – “If you let those negroes have their way, they’ll be coming for your daughters next!” – it worked, for a time. But when the dire predictions of impending doom from the leaders of the reactionary mob don’t come true, the public no longer takes those leaders seriously.
… What changed our minds about blacks is the same thing that will change our minds about gays – getting to know them.
… Now virtually everyone knows gay people, or knows that they know them at least. As more straight people interact with gay people in business, at school, in the media, even in church, it becomes harder and harder to cast them in the role of Them. We can listen to the songs of Melissa Etheridge, for example, and it makes us understand that gays go through the same experiences we do – they fall in love, they hurt each other and get hurt, they break up and feel angry or sad. We can see our gay friends interact with their lovers and, more and more, with their children, and we see that they are no different than we are. They love just like we do. They get angry just like we do. Their children misbehave just like ours do and they have to clean up the dirty diapers just like we do. And after a while, they are no longer Them, they’re Us.
And you’ll see us in your neighborhoods, cutting our lawns and picking up the mail. Our kids will probably play together, do school projects together and we’ll probably end up bumping into each other at PTA meetings and graduations. Our families will probably join us at company picnics alongside yours. And so on, and so on.
Eventually, if we don’t hide ourselves and our lives, simply humanity will wear down hatred and erode it away.
That’s what we hope for anyway. And that’s what the other side fears. And why they’re in such a hurry.
And maybe that’s why they will fail.