Saturday, May 02, 2009

Good news for a change, part one

Updated Yes, it is certainly good news: The New Hampshire House and Senate have passed legislation establishing the right of same-sex couples to marry. The two houses have passed slightly different versions of the bill, so it has to be reconciled, but no one is suggesting that is more than a small procedural hindrance to final passage.

There is one hurdle remaining: Governor John Lynch is being wishy-washy about the bill, claiming to support rights while suggesting the bill is unnecessary. After Senate passage he released a statement saying
I still believe the fundamental issue is about providing the same rights and protections to same-sex couples as are available to heterosexual couples. This was accomplished through the passage of the civil unions law two years ago.
Opponents of the bill still hope Lynch will veto it because after the earlier House passage he said "I think the word marriage is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman." However, proponents note that he has made no pledge to veto the bill. In that light it's worth noting that Lynch played this same game - trying to come off as supporting rights while taking no steps to advance them - with the passage of the 2007 civil union law which he now claims makes the new bill unnecessary: He waited several weeks before taking a position, but eventually signed it. So he may do the same here or he may allow it to become law without his signature. Still,
Kevin Smith, executive director of the New Hampshire-based Cornerstone Policy Research - which is lobbying for a veto - said if there's a Democratic governor in the Northeast who would veto such a bill, it's Lynch.
It ain't over 'til it's over.

On the other hand, it's clear which way the tide is flowing overall. The day after the New Hampshire Senate acted, Maine's state Senate passed a bill that would redefine marriage as the legal union of two people rather than of a man and a women - thus legalizing same-sex marriage.

The bill will be voted on in the state's House of Representatives next week. One sign of the times is that
Maine Governor John Baldacci once opposed gay marriage, but said earlier in April he is keeping an open mind on the issue.
I have said several times that the time will come when same-sex marriage will be no more remarkable than opposite-sex marriage and laws against it will seem as dated and strange as laws against miscegenation do now. These events are just a few more hints that not only is that time coming, it may be coming sooner than we could have expected just a few years ago.

Still, I have to admit I'm not as sanguine about the short term as KTK at Lean Left seems to be: He referred to New Hampshire as "speeding the bandwagon of love that’s sweeping the nation." He does make the cogent points that "legislators are learning that they can vote for equality and keep their seats" and, to my mind even more importantly, "every state that goes for equality proves that it can be done, without incident and without backlash." That is all true. (I still recall the Massachusetts legislator who initially supported a constitutional amendment to reverse the state's Supreme Judicial Court decision embracing same-sex marriage but who changed his mind because, a year later, nothing had happened and life went on undisturbed: Contrary to his expectation, the state had not torn itself apart in civic bitterness.)

However, there are still enormous obstacles to overcome and the wheels on that "bandwagon of love" are still kinda squarish - so moving it remains a struggle. A somewhat more restrained but still hopeful (and I think more accurate) expression comes from Josh Marshall at TPM. He raised the possibility that we are "hitting some sort of tipping point," that point where the weight of opinion is on the side of justice and it is the homophobes, not their opponents, who must explain themselves. He supported that contention by referring to some recent polls:
A few days ago, the NYT/CBS poll showed support for full marriage equality jumped a full 9 points over the course of one month - from 33% support last month to 42% this month. According to NYT/CBS that's now the plurality position - with the 'nos' divided between 28% oppose any legal recognition and 25% supporting civil unions. ... I was inclined to chalk the dramatic move ... up to statistical noise.

But a new poll out just this afternoon from ABC/WAPO shows 49% of the population supporting full marriage equality versus 46% opposing, the first time more have supported than opposed. ... The last time the question was asked was in 2006 when 36% supported and 58% opposed (in itself a dramatic shift over less than three years).
What I found particularly interesting - and, again, hopeful - in that NYT/CBS poll was that 44% of conservatives advocated no legal recognition for same-sex couples. Why is that good? This is why: The pie chart illustrating the article shows responses totaling 95%, which I expect indicates that 5% gave "I don't know" or "No opinion" answers. Assuming only that the numbers of liberals and conservatives who gave that answer were pretty much the same, i.e., about 5% of each group did so - and assuming of course that the poll is accurate - that means that a majority of conservatives (51%) are willing to grant some form of legal recognition, be that marriage or civil union, to same-sex couples. And who the hell would have expected that even just five years ago?

What's more, that previous month's NYT/CBS poll, the one with 33% support for same-sex marriage, noted that
the demographics suggest that support for gay marriage will only increase: Opposition comes largely from those 65 and older, just 18 percent of whom support gay marriage. Younger people - those 18 to 45 - are far more supportive, with 41 percent backing allowing same sex couples to marry.
Such demographic considerations were undoubtedly part of what went into an analysis done by Nate Silver of, which was developed into a map predicting the future of same-sex marriage. Bottom line is that according to Silver's analysis, by 2024 the voters in every state in the union would defeat a measure to ban same-sex marriage, with 39 states at that point less than eight years from now. (Put another way for those who think in such terms, by the end of Obama's second term, should he win one.)

But - you knew that was coming - it's just not as easy or clear-cut as that. First is the fact that in a number of those states it would not be a matter of rejecting a move to ban same-sex marriage but the harder one of overturning an existing ban, including, in 29 of those states, constitutional amendments. Second is another poll that Marshall cited:
The counterpoint is a Quinnipiac poll that came out today showing 38% support and 55% opposition - virtually unchanged from when Quinnipiac asked a similar question question last year (for 36%, con 55%).
Marshall properly notes that the questions were different. Last year it was "In general, do you support or oppose same-sex marriage?" while this year the question was "Would you support or oppose a law in your state that would allow same-sex couples to get married?" It would not be unreasonable to think that had Quinnipiac asked the same question as last year (and as the other polls cited), it, too, would have registered movement. But that very fact points out something vital to keep in mind: NIMBY. It's always easier to approve of something in the abstract: "Same-sex marriage, yes or no?" But bring it home, make it real - "Same-sex marriage in your state, yes or no?" - and the doors can slam and the walls can go up.

So, ultimately, no, I do not think we've got a "bandwagon of love" going. But I do think we could be at a tipping point, a point where a shift in attitude becomes obvious even as the work remaining is considerable. I wrote recently that the day will come when even having to have this discussion will seem odd, when the simple justice of it will be so obvious that those who still hate (and they will be there, just as there are still racists) will be seen as the freaks they are.
I don't know when that day will be and I'm old enough to think I might not live to see it - but it will come.
And tonight I'm letting myself think, again, that it could be closer than I thought - still a ways off, but closer than I thought.

Footnote: The arrival of the May 11 issue of The Nation brought some related news (no link because it's behind a subscriber firewall). Steve Schmidt, who was John McCain's presidential campaign manager, recently told a meeting of the Log Cabin Republicans that there is
a sound conservative argument to be made for same-sex marriage. I believe conservatives, more than liberals, insist that rights come with responsibilities. No other exercise of one's liberty comes with greater responsibilities than marriage.... I cannot in good conscience exclude anyone who is prepared for such a commitment from the prospect of such happiness.
Okay, I'm coming to believe the tide is more than turning, it has turned. The only question now is how long it will take to rise high enough to wash away the detritus of bigotry.

Updated with a further observation: There's been a fair amount of fuss and feathers just recently about how same-sex marriage is creating "widespread," "devastating" legal conflicts that "force" religious bigots to go against their consciences and how the only escape is to have same-sex marriage bills come with "robust" religious exemptions so the bigots are not hindered in their bigotry.

This all seems to arise over cases where certain people or religious groups have been operating in the public arena and have found that they could no longer discriminate against gays and lesbians, thus "violating their consciences." Most if not all of the tales told have proved under examination to be bullcrap.

But I don't care. I really, really don't. They could be literally and precisely true - I still don't care. When you operate in the public arena, when you work in the public square, you play by those rules. If you can't play by those rules, you can't play the game. If you're a wedding planner who finds you can't do wedding planning for same-sex couples in a state where such marriages are recognized, you don't get to be a wedding planner in that state. If you're a church group that advertises its church hall as available for rental by the general public for parties, weddings, meetings, and so on, and you can't accept renting it out for a same-sex wedding, you don't get to rent out your hall. No more than if you turned your home into a B&B and claimed you didn't have to rent rooms to blacks.

Do churches have the right to discriminate in their own operations? Do people have the right to discriminate in their private lives? Yes and yes. But when you as an organization or as an individual step out into the public marketplace, to a large degree you lose that right. When you take on that public role, that market role, you are undertaking to perform certain services, to do certain jobs. If you can't live up to those obligations, then you can't do that job. That is a price of conscience.

I have said before - and not that long ago - that while I would never deny anyone their right of conscience, they must realize and accept that conscience can bar them from some paths in life. A pacifist can't be a soldier. A Christian Scientist can't be a surgeon. But these right-wingers and these churches want society to arrange things on their behalf so they can, if you will, have their conscience and evade it, too: They want to have the right of conscience but experience no limitations arising from it. That is not conscience, that is selfishness. In the specific case of same-sex marriage, bigoted selfishness.

So it is one thing to say that, for example, a minister or a church should not be compelled to perform a same-sex marriage on the grounds that it violates their religious beliefs. It is quite another to say a judge or a Justice of the Peace should be able to refuse to perform such a ceremony on the same basis. Conscience is not a convenience - but neither can it be allowed by society to be a basis for bigotry.

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