Although some gay organizations spent the second part of the week congratulating themselves on the defeat of the Marriage Protection Amendment (MPA) in the Senate, this week represents perhaps one of the worst weeks for the national gay leadership since gay issues entered the national conversation.
As I’ve said before, as the national conversation for a few days at least, turned to the most important social issue for our community — how the state should treat same-sex unions — gay leaders basically just chimed in to say that the president and the Senate GOP leadership were a bunch of meanies, pandering to their right-wing base by considering a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Even though the President and the Senate Majority Leader likely recognized that neither house of Congress could muster the two-thirds majority necessary to send the proposed amendment to the states, they hoped consideration of this amendment would placate those social conservatives who have fauled the GOP for not taking up their issues. Even as the GOP leadership threw a bone to the far right, they made it easier for the media to report on gay marriage.
In response, gay leaders acted like spoiled children, refusing to contribute to the debate because they hadn’t set the terms. Angrily sulking, instead of eagerly advocating, they accused those pushing the amendment of being “divisive.” Funny that they would accuse those (who believe they are) defending the status quo of being divisive when they (the accusers) are the ones promoting social change.
Even when the social change proposed is a positive one, the action of proposing it is necessarily divisive. As Charles Krauthammer put it in his column yesterday:
As for dividing Americans, who came up with the idea of radically altering the most ancient of all social institutions in the first place? Until the past few years, every civilization known to man has defined marriage as between people of opposite sex. To charge with “divisiveness” those who would do nothing more than resist a radical overturning of that norm is a sign of either gross partisanship or serious dimwittedness.
It would seem that the burden is on those who would overturn or alter such a cultural norm. And yet many gay activists bristle at having to undertake this burden. Rather than by building promoting social change through experience and advocacy, they would effect it through judicial fiat.
If we want to create a new social consensus, we need to talk about marriage the same way straight people talk about marriage. This is something I have been saying almost since I started blogging. Just nine days after my first post, I wrote:
We need to make clear that just as we seek the same privileges that the government grants straight people, we accept the same responsibilities expected of them.
Soon thereafter, I said we needed to talk about gay marriage not in the language of rights, but in terms of “values and mutual responsibility.”
Now it seems that some on the left agree with me. In Thursday’s New York Daily News, “progressive” Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote that it was a “mistake” for gay and lesbian groups “making the case for gay marriage” to rely “on the language of equal rights.“
While I disagree with Lerner’s suggestions on how to change the terms of the debate, we both agree that we need to turn the debate away from rights. The Senate consideration of this unnecessary amendment gave gay leaders an opportunity to do so. But, rather than engage the American people, they acted as if they were incapable of discourse, suggesting, in the words of the Independent Gay Forum‘s Stephen Miller, that the “topic itself is unworthy of debate.”
By so suggesting, they failed to seize the opportunity afforded by consideration of this unfortunate amendment — and so made this week the gay leadership’s worst hour. It showed them as angry partisans disdainful of the GOP rather than as eager advocates of gay rights.
They have another chance as the House is likely to take this issue up next month. When that debate begins, instead of focusing on the motives of those proposing the amendment, the gay leadership needs to articulate, as did that conservative columnist (Charles Krauthammer), on why the amendment is both “superfluous” and at odds with the character of the constitution.
And to make a case for extending the benefits and protections afforded by this ancient institution, for millenia between individuals of the opposite sex, to include couples of the same-sex.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UPDATE: While not as harsh on the gay leadership as I have been, in a post I discovered after posting this piece, Chris Crain makes the same point I’ve been making: Let’s have a real gay marriage debate. Let’s.
While I don’t agree with everything in Chris’s post, I believe it’s well worth your time so encourage you to read the whole thing. I also want to draw two of his points to your attention. Like me, he finds that “it’s so rare that the advocates on either side ever get down to talking about marriage itself.” And unlike the gay leadership, he actually dares take issue with the case that the president (and other conservatives) has made that the proposed amendment only serves to promote judicial restraint:
If those advocating “judicial restraint” only wanted to ensure that “activist judges” did not force states to marry gay couples, then they would have drafted a very different amendment; one that resembles the second sentence of the one proposed.
It would say something like: “Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status be conferred upon any relationship other than the union of a man and a woman.” Period.