As I was tidying my desk last night, I came across an old note I had scribbled on the back on an envelope. The envelope was postmarked February 14, so I must have written the note just over a month ago. In the note, I had observed that, in the wake of the 2004 elections, like John Kerry, gay leaders claim that if only they had changed their message, they would have gotten a more positive response in the “red” states. I realized that this was one of those notes which was as valid today as it was when I first scribbled it.
I had wondered then — as I do now — whether or not the language of the advocates of gay marriage had changed at all in the wake of the 13 state referenda (11 in November, 2 earlier in the year) in 2004 defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, thus precluding gay marriage.
Just as I don’t think that John Kerry would have won last year had he had a “better message,” I don’t think that changing the message will be enough to defeat proposals in a growing number of states to amend their constitutions to preclude same-sex marriage. It’s not just semantics which cause many Americans to oppose gay marriages.
That said, advocates of gay marriage must do as Jonathan Rauch has done in the first chapter of his book, Gay Marriage : Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America and talk about what marriage is for. But, we also need to understand why, in the wake of growing tolerance for gay and lesbian citizens and growing support for civil unions, over 60% of Americans oppose gay marriage. (At the same time, most polls seem to show that a plurality of Americans oppose amending the federal constitution to define marriage.)
Instead of casually dismissing the arguments of social conservatives, gay marriage advocates need to take them seriously, understand that many see their arguments as scripturally based, some going to the very first chapter of the Bible where we read that “God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female” (Genesis 1:27). That is, they see marriage as a union of two people from different genders, not merely as a lifelong partnership between two loving individuals who have committed to the mutual welfare of each other.
Those who want to change the message have made a valid point. We do need to change the message. As I have said before (e.g., here and here, instead of using the terms “rights” and “equality” when talking about marriage, we need to talk about the issue as most Americans do, using such words as “values,” “commitment” and “responsibility.” But, we also have to consider the arguments of those who are making a scriptural case against gay marriage.
In short, we need to take seriously their religious arguments, to understand how they define their faith — and how they see it as essential to the survival of a free and civil society.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com