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2/12/2005

Gay Marriage and the Democratic Party

Wow. The Ethical Werewolf (is such a thing possible?) does a pretty good job of shredding the logic (or lack thereof) of Keith Burgess-Jackson's hyperbolic post in which he asserts that the Democratic Party's support for gay marriage exhibits a "death wish":

My guess, having surveyed the political landscape for many years, is that at least three of every four adult Americans oppose homosexual "marriage." This does not bode well for any political party that endorses such an institution. But the Democrats appear to be doing just that.

...

To the extent that liberals control the Democrat party, the next presidential nominee will be someone who favors homosexual "marriage." This will virtually guarantee defeat.

First of all, I'm pretty sure that an endorsement of gay marriage is not to be found in the Democratic Party platform, and none of the major contenders for the 2004 Pres. nomination were in favor of gay marriage, but never mind that for now. Let's assume KBJ is correct in taking the Dems to be the party of gay marriage. Is this really tantamount to a death wish?

Ethical Werewolf demonstrates that it is not. First off, he points out that when you look at actual polls, you see that the opposition to gay marriage is not nearly as overwhelming as KBJ claims it is:

On the first thing, let's look at some actual polling data, rather than using the >75% opposition number that the AnalPhilosopher pulled out of his ass ... Usually, you get 30+% support for full-fledged marriage and ~60% opposition with 5-10% undecided, when those are the only options offered. While a slight majority opposes civil unions, the civil-union + full-fledged marriage disjunction actually wins a majority when both options are offered.

Werewolf correctly concludes that

this talk of a 'liberal death wish' is radically overstated.

Furthermore, he takes a look at what the gay marriage issue might mean in the future:
According to every poll that breaks things down by age groups, the 18-29 age bracket is by far the most pro-gay, and the 65+ folks are the most anti-gay.

...

eventually the old folks will cease to be physically located, the kids will grow up, and Democratic fortunes will grow with them. In terms of sheer political strategy, supporting gay people's right to marry is an investment that's going to pay off huge for us. Twenty years from now, we'll have a clear majority and you guys will be trying to figure out what to do with a losing position that costs you more every year.

This is exactly right. I can't for the life of me understand why a good number of Democrats are running around saying that the party needs to find a way to get in touch with culturally conservative voters. You'd think Dubya just won a landslide as opposed to a mere 51%. Democrats who think like this are not looking at things in the long run -- or rather, the medium run, since twenty years is nothing. The anti-gay prejudice of the GOP's base is on the way out big time. People in their twenties and younger are overwhelmingly supportive of gay rights.

A related point is the connection between politics and religion. After the election, there was much talk about how regular church-goers voted mostly for Bush, and this was understood to be a significant problem for the Democrats. But by all accounts, regular church attendance is on the decline. Fewer and fewer people are going to vote according to what their pastor tells them, which is what a lot do now. The GOP's close association with organized Christianity is another thing which gives them a slight advantage now but will hurt them in the long run.

Ethical Werewolf is correct that "our grandchildren will see the conservatives like we now see George Wallace and the old segregationists".

The only way this might change is if Burgess-Jackson is not just being an irrational alarmist when he says

given an institution as old and important as marriage, there should be a strong presumption against changing it, if for no other reason than that we don't know what will happen if we do. The likelihood of harm may be small, but the magnitude of harm should harm occur may be large and irreversible.

But KBJ's worries of the possibility of some kind of societal collapse in the aftermath of gay marriage seem, well, kind of stupid, as Ethical Werewolf also demonstrates in his post, pointing out that it really isn't that radical an idea:
On the whole, I expect that this expansion of the right to marry won't be nearly as far-reaching a social change as integration. Many fewer people are directly affected, and the indirect effects are small. So if you fear radical social changes, there's really not much here to be afraid of and only a tiny presumption against should apply. At the very least, you ought to support civil unions. They're a nice incremental measure, if that's how you like it. When you see after a decade or so of civil unions that we aren't falling into barbarism, you'll be ready to go the rest of the way.

Well said, and a conclusive refutation of KBJ's post. And, another example of why Democrats need to stop listening to Republicans' advice about what is best for their party.

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