Democratic Sincerity on Gay Marriage
In the wake of yesterday’s New Jersey Supreme Court ruling, the heat is likely to be turned up further on Democrats’ efforts to distance themselves from the same-sex marriage issue. An inadvertent case in point: David Greenberg’s attempt to show that Democrats aren’t really that pro-gay-marriage after all at Open University, complaining about a New Yorker article by Peter Boyer on Virginia senatorial candidate Jim Webb:
Boyer’s piece contains the line:
[Howard] Dean’s point (and Webb’s) is that Democrats cannot succeed in the South until the Party broadens its tent, becoming less insistent on such matters of current Party orthodoxy as abortion, gun control, and gay marriage.
What, exactly, does Boyer presume the Democratic party orthodoxy to be on gay marriage? Virtually every major Democratic leader opposes gay marriage–including the current liberal darling, Barack Obama–though many favor civil unions. I can’t find polls that break down respondents into Democrats and Republicans, but given that only 22 percent of Americans favor gay marriage, according to a July 2006 Princeton Survey Research Associates poll (another 31 percent back civil unions), it is highly improbable that a majority of Democrats do.
If there’s anything approaching a party orthodoxy among Democrats, it’s opposition to gay marriage, albeit with significant support for civil unions.
Sloppy journalism that implies otherwise allows Republicans to get away with painting the Democrats as out of the mainstream, on not just this issue but a range of others. Boyer’s uncritical acceptance of conservative talking points stamps them with validity, since they’re appearing as plain fact in a mainstream, ostensibly non-partisan news organization. Thus, they gain currency not just on the right but across the spectrum, and the Democrats get tarred as dangerously radical on social issues when they’re not.
I’d argue that while Greenberg may be correct about the announced positions of Democratic politicians, they don’t reflect these politicians’ sincere beliefs–or at least what many Americans perceive to be the sincere beliefs of Democrats. As noted by Glenn Reynolds (who points to similar evidence as Greenberg, again in an effort to minimize the GOP-Democratic differences on the issue), Andrew Sullivan certainly perceives the Democrats as gay-marriage-friendly, or else he wouldn’t have switched party allegiances.
More to the point, most Democrats’ position on gay marriage is essentially a form of cost-free position taking, as it has been on other hot-button issues like flag burning. Same-sex marriage statutes are not going to pass in any state legislature (except that of New Jersey, which is now under court order to pass one) with or without Democratic support, but instead are more likely to come about due to judicial action–at which point, Democrats will have ample arguments available, such as respect for the sanctity of the text of the constitution, to support their likely inaction to prevent or otherwise oppose the implementation of same-sex marriage by judicial fiat.