Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Looming Question, "Is Marriage Equality Still Inevitable?"

The question of whether or not marriage equality is inevitable has been raging on the internet from both sides of the issue in light of recent setbacks in Maine and New York. It's a natural question to raise, especially if you've been fighting the good fight, making historical advancements and suddenly face what appears to be a gargantuan brick wall.

I myself have sat back and read what people are saying, but with the topic ongoing, I figured I would jump in. Or at least thread together the conversation.

In 2009 alone, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine passed marriage equality either in the court or in legislation. Connecticut beat them all in 2008. And D.C. is hot on their trails to pass marriage equality before the end of the year. But then Maine, one of the most secular states in the Union, overturned the marriage law, and the New York Senate cowered in fear of losing their jobs and went back on their word and voted our civil rights down.

Two days after the New York Senate betrayal, pollster Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight asked, "Is there a backlash against marriage equality?" Shortly before Maine's vote, Silver predicted that marriage equality would prevail in the state, so he went back to the drawing board to find out what actually is going on. His conclusion: no backlash.

Silver points out that Maine's Question 1 in particular was the first ballot initiative on marriage equality that did not affect the state's constitution - it was simply a veto. This is more popular with voters than an actual amendment to the constitution because it feels less permanent, perhaps. Same goes for a federal amendment. Not very popular, Silver states.

Comparing numbers, Silver says though a majority oppose banning marriage equality through the federal constitution, they still oppose marriage equality itself.

"What that means is that there's a 'swing vote' of about 10 percent of the electorate that is not yet ready to allow gay marriage, but is also not willing to ban it (at least not Constitutionally)," Silver says. "This is enough to tip the national balance on the question of gay marriage. And it may have tipped the balance in Maine."

He concludes, "...I don't think there is any evidence of a national backlash against gay marriage. It should be borne in mind that gay marriage is still opposed by a small majority or large plurality of Americans. But there's not really any evidence that the numbers are getting worse; instead, they appear to be v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y getting better."

So if there is not backlash per se, does that mean marriage equality is inevitable? Stagnant? Or is the popular belief that the future generation of voters will bring the victory for civil rights for LGBT citizens actually true?

Ben Smith at Politico reports that it most likely is. He refers to May's Gallup Poll which found that 18 to 29 year olds favor same-sex marriage by a margin of 59% to 37%, while people 65 and over oppose it by an even wider margin.

Yet he reports that conservatives believe the same-sex marriage issue could follow down the same path as abortion, where they claim the pro-life stance has chipped away at reproductive rights. And as the younger generation gets older and start having families, their views on marriage equality could change, conservatives claim.

“The question is how important will that issue be to them, and how engaged will they be to make sure the laws of their states and the nation change,” Republican pollster Kellyann Conway told Ben.

Democratic pollster Diane Feldman countered, "There’s a lot of things that go along with support for same-sex marriage – attitudes such as awareness that people are born gay." Young voters’ "underlying attitudes about gay people and gay rights are very different” from older voters.

Here's the golden nugget that Ben shares.
“It’s only a matter of time,” said a prominent Republican pollster, who declined to be named for stating a view that runs contrary to those of many of his clients. “Once the dam bursts, which is going to happen, it’s a process that won’t be stopped.”

And that sense of a building flood is part of the reason that the recent setbacks have prompted no serious evaluation of the goals of the gay rights movement, and no discussion of backing off a totemic issue – though one which some gay leaders, like Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), have long argued should be postponed for more practical fights. If anything, the energy and money of the gay rights movement are directed toward more energetic, more confrontational tactics; civil disobedience, Mixner suggested, will become more common in 2010.

“The fact of the matter is that in little more than a year we have multiplied the number of state with freedom to marry by six,” said Evan Wolfson, the founder the group Freedom to Marry, referring to the District of Columbia and five other states. “That’s a good year,” he said.
But don't think that hasn't swayed the opposition.

Our friend Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage had a few things to say in response to Ben's story.

"Ben graciously included a quote from me saying gay marriage is not inevitable, but mentioned none of the reasons I gave him, much less the ones I thought up in the car after the cell phone died," she complains. But luckily for her, she had time to think up more reasons why she believes marriage rights for LGBT citizens is not inevitable.

I won't vouch for her logic, but here are her 8 reasons in italics:
  1. Nothing is inevitable.
  2. Young people are not as unanimous as most people think.
  3. The argument from despair is bait and switch. (She claims we tout that marriage equality is inevitable because we're losing.)
  4. Progressives are often wrong about the future.
  5. Demography could be destiny. (Here's a laugh. She urges traditionalists to have more children. The implication here is that they'll be raised with anti-LGBT views and therefore hinder future LGBT advancement. Does she not realize that having more children also increases the LGBT population - even better, in traditionalists households?)
  6. Change is inevitable. (The young folks will become old folks and then the younger folks won't think pro-marriage equality is "cool" because that's what the old folks think. Huh? Also, she says we may give up. Wishful thinking, Mags.)
  7. Newsflash: 18-year-olds can be wrong. (No kidding. But they know bullshit when they see it, too.)
  8. New York's highest court was right. (She refers to Hernandez v. Robles and quotes the ruling in which the judges refuse to guess what future generations will believe.)
Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend wrote in response, "Is she serious? Is this any kind of reality-based plan -- to encourage Duggar-like spermination to save marriage? Ha! Unfortunately, while Maggie may think homos are made, not born, all this over-procreating is only going to do is increase the odds that every fundie family will raise a fag- or dyke-in-waiting, eventually coming out and giving these moms and pops the need for a fainting couch on National Coming Out Day."

Jeremy Hooper at Good As You, who is always on top of these wingnuts, issued a point-by-point response. A highlight:
It's also pretty interesting that Maggie would even turn to this little snippet from Hernandez, considering her cited chunk contains this line:

We do not predict what people will think generations from now, but we believe the present generation should have a chance to decide the issue through its elected representatives.

That's right: Decided through the elected representatives, not through "the people" via a direct referendum. Even this court, as part of a really bad ruling, recognized that if this nation is going to have the chance to weigh in on a matter like this, then this voice is to come through the representatives that Americans send to office. The human rights decision is not to come via the extremely hurtful campaigns that Maggie forcefully backed in both CA and ME!

So my thoughts.

First, on Mags. If this is the best that Maggie can come up with, then I rest comfortably in my belief that marriage equality isn't only inevitable but assured. I even hesitated to post her illogical rambling in fear of lowering my blog's intellectual equity, but one must deal with one's opposition, no matter how stupid they are.

Second, I don't believe we're facing a marriage equality backlash but a setback. The road to equality is never going to be "downhill from here." Our victories this past year are stunning and extremely encouraging, but the trek ahead will always be uphill. We will always face opposition. We will always face misinformation and voters who have been lied to. We will always face politicians thinking of their jobs and their asses first instead of their moral duty to protect the civil rights of their constituents. That's how it's always going to be. Victory will come at the apex of our journey, and think of the stunning view we will have from up there!

Third, I do in fact truly believe that full marriage equality nationwide on a state and federal level is inevitable. Humanity's movement toward human rights has never moved backwards collectively. We definitely have had some major hiccups. Even now in Uganda, where they are attempting to pass a bill targeting gays (at one point, punishment for being gay would have been execution), some believe that not all human rights are right. But these are blips in the larger scale of human history.

Marriage equality exists today, right now, in a handful of states, and if history is any indicator, it will spread. Naturally, we want it to happen today. Who doesn't? But in a generation of instant gratification, fostered by On Demand entertainment and immediate information provided through the internet and mobile phones, the long trek toward full equality seems unbearable, and the amount of work to reach the finish line near unconscionable.

It seems wrong. It almost appears we have to wait. But it's not about waiting. It's about the work. The hard work is the engine that creates the inevitable trajectory. Something is only inevitable when the work is being done to make it happen. Otherwise the inevitable becomes only a "possibility." And that implies doubt.

Don't let our recent setbacks get you down. Use them as a rallying cry. Let them motivate you. Let them be a reminder of the work that needs to be done. Don't let the inevitable become only a possibility.


  1. Very thoughtful analysis. I find it both encouraging and convincing. But for those of us of a certain age, it is cold comfort to believe that marriage equality is inevitable, but likely to come after we are gone.

  2. In response to this article, Robin Tyler, one of the plaintiffs in the California marriage case that, for a short time, legalized marriage equality in the state, emailed me the following -

    Great Article Phillip:
    Should we give up on fighting for marriage equality. Never.

    No civil rights movement has ever said 'give us less, and we will be satisfied.' No civil rights movement has ever won without the strength to keep fighting no matter what the loss or setback was at the time. The LGBT community has survived mental institutions, penal institutions, science calling us sick,
    and religion calling us sinful. We have survived been thrown out of our homes, our schools, and rejected by everyone we knew. But we found each other. And we loved each other. And we supported each other through AIDS, when no one gave a damn. And we refused to be victims. We became survivors, and now,
    our resilience has made us tougher, stronger, smarter. No, we will not back down from the losses around marriage equality, or any other civil right issue. We deserve it all, and we will not rest until we have it all. That is what a movement is. We keep moving, forward. No retreat, not now, not ever.

    Robin Tyler, age 67

  3. Great comment by Robin Tyler!!!!