Friday, December 09, 2011

The Good Politics of Gay Marriage

Even as the far right convulses in hatred and bigotry against LGBT citizens, a sea change is taking place in America in terms of support for LGBT civil equality, albeit not at the same pace in every state. Virginia, as has now been its norm for over a century, continues to be in the rear guard seeking to swim against the tide of history and equality. In the process, the state sends a message to the world that progressive and innovative businesses and the best and the brightest are not welcomed. But elsewhere, as noted, things are changing at a rapid pace. A column in the Washington Post even makes the argument that supporting same sex marriage may now be the smart political thing to do. Here are some highlights:

Now is the time for President Obama to complete his evolution on the subject of same-sex marriage. Supporting the right of all Americans to marry the person of their choice would be the right thing to do. Strange as this may sound, it might also be good politics.

More to the point, it would not be the almost certainly disastrous political move it would have been even in the last presidential campaign, when none of the major Democratic candidates supported the right to marry.

Flash forward three years to Hillary Clinton’s remarks this week. “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” declared Obama’s chief primary rival and now his secretary of state, echoing her famous declaration, as first lady, about women’s rights. Clinton did not go so far as to endorse same-sex marriage. Yet the arc of her logic bends inexorably in that direction. As Clinton surely knew when she proclaimed that “no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us.”

Now, in a memorandum to Democratic consultants and campaign managers, gay rights advocates argue that backing same-sex marriage is not the political poison it was in years past. Indeed, they contend, it could be a political boon — not only with Democrats but with independent voters, some 56 percent of whom approve of same-sex marriage.

Their data? Analysis by Joel Benenson, Obama’s pollster, and Jan van Lohuizen, who served that role for George W. Bush.

“What was once used as a wedge by Republicans to turn out conservatives and put Democrats on the defensive may now have the opposite effect, as growing numbers of voters across the board support the freedom to marry,” says the memo, written by Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway and Evan Wolfson president of Freedom to Marry.

“Younger voters, who are critical to Democratic victories in 2012, are highly motivated by candidates who show their support for ending discrimination in the nation’s marriage laws.” Hear that, Mr. President? Younger voters!

Support for same-sex marriage is accelerating; More voters strongly support same-sex marriage than oppose it. And the strongly opposed minority is unlikely to back Democratic candidates no matter what.

The understandable instinct of the president and his political advisers is to play it safe. But the data ought to give comfort that Obama would not commit political suicide were he to complete the evolution he clearly knows is inevitable. In the politics of 2011, survival of the fittest does not compel opposition to marriage equality.

And then there is this question for Obama: Mr. President, what better moment will there be? You might lose. A lame-duck proclamation would be lame. If not now, when?

One other thing that the Democrats need to do is connect the dots: those who oppose LGBT rights are the same people (or their descendants) who used the Bible to support slavery, support segregation, oppose integrating the military, and oppose interracial marriage, etc. They have a very, very ugly legacy and it needs to be tied firmly around their necks - especially folks like Tony Perkins of FRC with a history fraternizing with white supremacists. The public needs to be reminded of this history over and over again. These "godly Christians" are NOT nice people.

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