The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Same-Sex Marriage is Not a Progressive Issue

I know I’m not supposed to talk about it, but I can’t help myself. I know we’re supposed to be portraying the election results as a progressive victory, and I’m as happy as the next person to see the Republican majority come to an end. But we’re being less than honest here if we pretend that we’re not seeing at least a subtle shift in the Democratic party and/or a redefining of what is and isn’t a progressive issue.

And, as was telegraphed all along the road to the 2006 elections, the first issue to go overboard was same-sex marriage. The newly-elected Dems are a mixed bag at best.

Last week’s election results may be more of a mixed bag for gay rights supporters than many originally thought.

At least 13 of 50 newly elected House and Senate Democrats oppose same-sex marriage, with two of those backing constitutional amendments to ban such unions.

According to research conducted by the Washington Blade, 16 Democrats elected Nov. 7 prefer civil unions to full marriage rights.

Nine incoming Democrats of the 50 examined by the Blade were verified to support full marriage equality for gay couples. They are Sen. elect Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), and Reps. elect Ed Perlmutter (Colo.), Joe Courtney and Chris Murphy (Conn.), John Sarbanes (Md.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.) and Stephen Cohen (Tenn.).

Forty-two incoming Democrats oppose a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

… Experts said the split illuminates political divisions among incoming Democrats.

“Many are moderate or conservative,” said Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University government professor. “They’re not all your traditional, liberal Democrat.”

But many gay activists said the political and ideological disparities were inevitable among the large group.

“We have some very progressive new members,” said Samantha Smoot, political director of the Human Rights Campaign. “We also have some very conservative new members.”

Also in the mix are many new members who have taken no clear stance on key gay issues. Of the 50 new Democrats reviewed, the Blade could not determine where 25 members stand on civil unions. And 10 could not be verified to support any gay rights legislation, including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which as been identified as a priority of gay activists.

No surprise there. I’ve been watching this happen for about the past year or so. I’ve ranted on about it on various progressive blogs. I’ve whooped and hollered about it at the YearlyKos convention. The answer I got was always the same, even from gay people: this is what we have to do to win, and get back into power. At the time I said that shifting right or shutting up on certain issues in order to win over more conservative voters will mean having to do more of the same to keep those voters and thus hold on to power.

It’s anathema to say it, and just about every major progressive blogger has gone out of their way to make a case for the opposite, but I still see one result at the end of this process: a more conservative Democratic party. If that isn’t a final victory in the Republican Revolution, then I don’t know what is. To counter that idea, you’ll see blogger after progressive blogger— after a year or so of backing centrist candidates who are slightly-less-than-progressive on issues like gay rights, abortion rights, and gun control — counting up members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, running the numbers to prove this election was a progressive victory, taking pains to define “socially conservative” Democrats as “economic populists”, and taking polls to define a progressive agenda.

Note what’s left out in each case.

Bottom line, to some degree, Dems gave it up on three issues in order to win the enough of the much coveted white evangelical vote and other related groups to get back into power: God, Guns & Gays. The turned up the volume on religious issues (even Pelosi’s talking about going to church), made more room in “the tent” on issues like gun control and abortion, and for the most part tried to back away from or at least say nothing about gay issues. (Note that progressive evangelicals, even if they support equality for same sex couples, would much prefer to stop talking about it for the foreseeable future.)

And apparently it worked. So, I submit the following: that same-sex marriage is not a progressive issue. At least not as todays progressives define progressivism, which looks and sounds more like populisim. Not that there’s anything wrong with populisim, but same-sex marriage, and even gay & lesbian equality in general, aren’t populist issues any more than they were progressive issues in this election.

Maybe hate crimes and employment discrimination will make it on to the agenda. Maybe. But if it upsets the newest members of the Democratic governing coalition to much. Maybe not. Because the lesson of 2006 is that Democrats win by softening their positions on and/or not talking about issues that don’t have majority support or that high priority constituencies (and I’m not including LGBT voters in that category, not after a year or more of hearing from progressives about how we have to “set aside” our concerns for now, would rather not talk about. And with one third of the coveted white evangelical vote in their corner now, people who would rather not talk about gay issues — even if they actually support equality — “for a season”, it’s unlikely that Dems are going to rock the boat in the next two years and do anything that would make these voters even slightly twitchy.

Everything that I’m seeing and hearing from progressives on gay & lesbian equality, unless I see or hear differently in the next couple of years, tells me one thing: we’re on our own.

So now what?


  1. So now what?

    Simple: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

    Hold the Democrats’ feet to the fire and demand that they immediately pass a bill to repeal DADT, even though the President would of course veto the legislation.

    And while we’re on the subject: the Solomon Amendments and federal DOMA.

    Should be easy enough with the Democrats in charge of both houses and people like Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank running things, right?


    Or will they be too busy with the minimum wage, Hillarycare and making sure that nothing is ever done about the Social Security crisis.

    I’m not holding my breath.

  2. hi terrance – i just found your blog and am so glad i did – i am adding you to my blog roll right away! to me it is very confusing anymore, trying to figure out ‘what’ or ‘where’ i am on the political continuum, given all the gradations. i know i’m not far left, but somewhere between the center and moderately liberal, i suspect. it’s like you almost need a degree in political science to figure it out.

    i am currently an independent. i was a democrat for most of my adult life so far (and even a, i hate to say it, registered republican back when I was 18 in 1979 and voted for ronald reagan! i was so ‘wet behind the ears’ then and just really going along with outside influence at that time/not thinking for myself at all).

    today, at 45, i am a psychotherapist and relationship coach and was one of the first ‘out’ life coaches nationally and internationally. so, i am very much interested in the gay marriage issue. i am from maryland, btw, and worked on the campaign in the late 1990’s to add the state anti-discrimination law (back when equality MD was free state justice).

    i do think that it’s very early, but i think that at least with this congress and house, it’s not as polarized to the right. no, we probably won’t get very far with the marriage issue, but i think there is more of a chance hate crimes and enda might get some hearing time. yes, i think that gay issues in general are never going to be ‘front and center’ unless we wake up our community to complain more, however, i think this legislature will force the pres to make some needed changes and i think there won’t be as much of a stalemate (and lack of a moderating of the republicanism) as there was. i think it’s wild that we have a woman so high up in power for the first time (other than condeleeza, can you think of any other time when a woman has had this much influence? and chance to screw up!?! ;p-) so, let’s see what nancy cooks up!

    as far as the Iraq situation, it’s hard for me to feel very good about us pulling out without achieving much more. it seems immoral to me to start a mess and not clean it up, but perhaps i’m naive. and, when you listen to the ‘talking heads’ they all have a different answer. some folks just say ‘oh those factions in iraq will never get along, so it’s a hopeless case’. still, we went in there and upended things more and i fear we have added instability to that area of the world that we need to address before we pull out.

    and, i also hear that the new iraqian government might be at fault here by not picking up the ball. again – it could be because they really didn’t want to become a democracy in the first place. they’re conflicted. we foisted it upon them, coerced them. just like love – it can never be forced or coerced, it must be freely chosen.

    i look forward to getting to know you – i live in florida currently but will be in the balto/dc area for xmas/new years if you want to get together.

    check me out at – I’ve written a series of articles on ‘creating the relationship of your dreams by the holidays’.

    xoxoxo, barb (white. lesbian. furkid mom. semi-vegetarian. recovering christian/catholic. religious scientist. centrist.)

  3. You may be alone in Congress, but we (the straight Christian soccer moms of the country) are still slowly but steadily working from inside the churches for same-sex marriage rights. I think once we hit critical mass in church, state is going to follow, so that’s where I’m putting my energy. And I know I’m not alone. So that means neither are you.

  4. Maybe I’m not typical, but I’d be totally delighted with a Congress that will refrain from using my family as a pinata.

    Having reserved seating at the grownup table is a nice fantasy, but in reality, I’m satisfied to be confident that we’re not being invited to the party to serve as the entertainment. (“Ow! Dammit, put down the stick!”)

    It’s not likely that we are going to get anything of substance out of this Congress, like a reversal of the federal DOMA. That said, it’s significantly less likely that we’re going to get beaten on as regularly–might even be able to debate ENDA. Of course it would probably get vetoed if it passed, but just the discussion to raise awareness would be valuable. A shocking percentage of straight supporters think it’s illegal to fire someone if you find out they’re gay, which is not the case in most states.

    While I wish we had a progressive party to support instead, I busted my butt to get a Democratic majority in Congress. Not because Dems are progressive.

    The fact that we won’t see another orgy of gay-bashing on the Senate floor over a constitutional amendment to exclude our families from coverage by the law? Priceless.

  5. I realize I may take some heat for this opinion but I think one thing the left has done recently that has not been smart has been trying to force America to bite off more than it can chew at one time. I think we get so wrapped up in our albeit worthy causes, such as gay rights, that we lose track of doing so in a sensible and strategic manner. For instance, we will settle for nothing less than full blown gay marriage, thereby foregoing any incremental progress that we could make. nd in the end, by forcing the issue we end up getting nothing. It is akin to football. Having the ball, 1st and 10 deep in our own territory, we use all of our downs throwing the long ball trying to score a touchdown and end up turning the ball over on downs. This instead of strategically running the ball for small gains each down and getting a 1st down and for more attempts to gain yardage. I think we ought to list priorities, the things that are most important for us and work to gain progress on each. First and foremost should be defeating any attempts at a federal protection of marriage amendment. Then we oought to fight to have the same civil union rights as breeders have. Then fighting for adoption rights. After that work to have gay civil unions have the same rights as marriage. Then attempting ot overturn the federal defense of marriage law and individual states bans on gay marriage/civil unions as unconstitutional. But do them in steps, allowing Americans to gradually warm up to the idea instead of shoving it down their throats all at once. Just one man’s opinion. And thanks for the inspiration for my blog today.

  6. Agreed with the (very likely) lack of leadership from the federal Democratic party. Not being attacked is a step forward, but, the immorality of leaving our families behind is a glaring (and painful) sin by omission.

    Not much can be done on the federal level. Work for the ENDA and focus on local organizing–the Christian soccer mom above has found one niche.

  7. ruggerjohnnyd, another view might say “ditch strategy and fight for what you believe in.” so there are a few ways to see it, i guess. i say ditch strategy and fight for what you believe in. big bites and all.

  8. I agree with Nezua because what you are saying, rugger, is that blacks shouldn’t have wanted equality, they should have been happy with a seat at the lunch counter, or on the bus, etc. You have to fight for it all because all of it is what you deserve.

    I don’t understand why the Democrats don’t see the untapped potential in voters who are too disgusted to vote, progressive voters, unless they do not want to see it. This could all be a whitewash job, the insistence that Americans are conservative, because government (both Reps and Dems) and corporations want us to be conservative. They don’t want a government representing average Americans, they want a government representing a very few extremely wealthy and powerful people. In that case you must keep progressive hands off the levers of power by convincing the voters that America wants conservatives. It keeps real progressives from bothering to run or vote.

  9. I think that it’s important to focus on battles which can be won in Congress and in each state. Now is the time to push strongly for ENDA and a Hate Crimes bill. Let some of other items on the agenda wait until next time. Everyone is a part of this. Pick up that pen and write to your Senators and Congressmen. Let them know you support ENDA and a Hate Crimes bill. If you don’t already belong to the Human Rights Campaign, join, join now, join today. The HRC cannot fight our battles without our help. If you have any extra money–hey, maybe you can skip going to the bar for a night–make a contribution to Lambda Legal, the group that goes to court for us. One battle that is being fought as I write this is the one in New Jersey. You can log on to Garden State Equality and check out its campaign for gay marriage in that state. You can even donate at their site. If New Jersey goes for full gay marriage, it will be a significant victory. Every war–and this is a long term war–consists of a series of battles. We need to pick the right ones, win them, and move on to the next ones. We can achieve an ultimate victory here if we have a good strategy and follow smart tactics!
    – RC

  10. We can now add Israel to the list of countries that will be recognizing same sex marriages.

    (Won’t the conservative theocons love that bit of news)

  11. It is important to note that the gay rights movement will advance in steps, not leaps. No, it’s probably right that a plurality/majority of the new Democrats don’t support full gay marriage rights for gay couples. Nonetheless, the movement for equality has advanced greatly. Under Speaker Pelosi, say goodbye forever to votes on Federal Marriage Amendments and similar bigot-based legislation to attack/demonize homosexuality. Voiding the marriage issue takes the debate back to the consideration of other important issues where there is great bipartisan agreement and potential of movement on. For example, even before the Democratic takeover, Congress had the votes to pass a Hate Crimes bill (as shown in a 2005 Conyers amendment to H.R. 3132. We just didn’t have the leadership to shepard it threw to the president. Guess what! Now we do!!!! The Military Readiness Enhancement Act (repeals Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) though it may not see real action ’til after the 2008 presidential race, also has bipartisan support. And though Americans are still divided over gay marriage, a solid majority believe workplace discrimination is wrong: consideration and passage of an all-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act is another strong possibility.

    Hope is on the way! If we can secure our Democratic hold beyond the 110th Congress and into the 44th Presidency, I predict many many steps up towards equality for gays.

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  14. I must step up to agree with Terrance. I’m *over* the “happy Dem” syndrome that seems to have struck most of the LGBTs and local progressives. You can negate everything I am going to say because I live in East Tennessee, or you can hit recall and form these letters slowly, enunciating each one carefully – D…O…M…A.

    Yes, I believe the year was 1996. The hand that rocked our world was that of then-President William Jefferson Clinton. His wifie-poo, front-runner in the 2008 pack of Dem presidential hopefuls is in full agreement with his handiwork. Show me a Dem who isn’t who is a *serious* 2008 contender.

    I have long since forgotten what it feels like to be more hopeful for LGBT rights and women’s reproductive freedom just because the Dems won *anything*. We have seen locally a scenario that I believe is also the case for national races. We had a potentially-wonderful TN state rep candidate locally named Schree Pettigrew. While she admittedly ran against an incumbent, the individual I reference is Stacey Campfield, a white Repug infamous in these parts for his verbal indiscretions and his far right stance on most, if not all, issues.

    Schree began the race with solid support from the local Dems *and* the local LGBT community. As her campaign chairman, she chose a squeeky clean young man who happened to be gay. Sometime before the primary, he somehow or another left her campaign and was replaced with someone who reportedly was not a member of the LGBT community. This was supposedly a move made in order to distance Pettigrew’s campaign from LGBT “issues.”

    She won the primary. She lost the general election. I’ll bet that she wishes she had retained the support of the LGBT community. Her opponent got 10,364 (53.78%) votes while Pettigrew had 8,250 votes (42.81%). (A third candidate had 657 (3.41%).

    Now all Schree and the Dems have is a bunch of pissed-off LGBT voters who will certainly think twice about supporting any more flakey Dems who do not openly support the LGBT community. I know I am in that category.

    Our US Senatorial race was national news throughout the election cycle. Bob Corker, ex-mayor of Chattanooga and the darling of the Jim Haslam camp, was hand-picked for Frist’s slot. (Some people think Jim Haslam runs the state of Tennessee. I think that he and Howard Baker share the wheel.)

    It was a done deal before anyone voted. These things just happen down here in Dixie. You know it. You can’t prove it. The reality of the “done deal” is physically palpable, but you have to be careful what you say or the Republicans who run this state will come down on you swiftly. Theirs is a deadly aim.

    So all the Dembots, LGBTs included, supported TN State Senator Harold Ford, Jr., (or “Junior” as he is affectionately known in the local African American community.) Same song, second and much longer and louder verse…

    We now have Repug Corker as our US Senator and a stunned statewide LGBT leadership who watched Junior lay claim to the “conservative” label in a way we haven’t seen in the Tennessee Democratic Party in many, many years. He denounced marriage equality at the time when we were fighting the good fight against a statewide ballot initiative that carried the day at 81%, proving once and for all that bigots turn out the vote in Tennessee.

    Marriage equality has been illegal in this state since the same year that Slick Willie signed the national DOMA, but the Bill Dunn’s of Tennessee weren’t satisfied with that. They had to deform and twist our state constitution to be sure that those nasty little queers *never* got the right to have their relationships acknowledged by the state.

    I’m sick of all this. I may never vote for another Dem as long as I live. They are going to have to *BEG* me and spell out the terms of “endearment” to the entire community on a *public* basis before I will consider another Dem for a state or national post. I really don’t think that is going to happen, do you?