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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2006, Law and the Courts, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Chris Lawrence
About Chris Lawrence
Chris teaches political science at Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia. He has a Ph.D. in political science (with concentrations in American politics and political methodology) from the University of Mississippi. He began writing for OTB in June 2006. Follow him on Twitter @lordsutch.

Comments

  1. madmatt says:

    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)

    So 53% of people want equal rights for gays…many just don’t want it to be called “marriage” which is exactly what the nj courts decided to do.

    The NJ constitution says equal rights for everybody…that supercedes a law that seeks to legitimize unequal treatment. Thats what courts are supposed to do…you don’t like it try writing a law correctly instead of saying…”that wasn’t our intention” when the court says it is illegal.

    If you right wingers actually spent as much time with your wives worrying about your own marriages as you do cruising gay porn sites and badmouthing people you might have a point. As it is the red states tend to have higher divorce and spousal abuse rates than the hedonistic northern states.

    Its the hypocrisy, stupid!!!!!!!!

  2. bithead says:

    The double-standard which james mentions would also seem to apply to the MJ Fox/stem cell thing. What they say and how they vote are seemingly two seperate issues.

  3. Because, you know, gay marriage is the only issue that Andrew Sullivan has with the Bush administration. It’s not spending, torture, increased government, etc. etc. etc.

    It’s all gay marriage.

    How condescending…

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    Because, you know, gay marriage is the only issue that Andrew Sullivan has with the Bush administration. It’s not spending, torture, increased government, etc. etc. etc.

    It’s all gay marriage.

    How condescending…

    While you have a point, I’m curious, did he have a problem (or at least voice his objections) with those other issues before or after the switch? The point being, could gay marriage have been sort of the “straw the broke the camels back” as far as Sullivan is concerned?

  5. Well, for the record I support same-sex marriage. It seems to me though that many Democrats could do gay marriage supporters a world of good by legitimizing the pro-gay-marriage position instead of pretending in public that they don’t support same-sex marriage when in private they really do.

  6. floyd says:

    let’s clarify one thing ,”civil unions” is merely a euphemism used by cowards who do not wish to admit they support “gay marriage”, or want to find some middle ground on every issue. the latter is even worse than the former because it guarantees a permanent state of erosion in any position taken.

  7. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Isn’t “Democratic Sincerity” an oxymoron?

  8. Tano says:

    Well floyd,

    If all you want to do is be contentious, I guess you could see it that way.

    Fact of the matter though, is that the American people are supportive of the basic notion of equal treatment under the laws, and tend to support giving to gay couples all the rights and responsibilities that hetero married couples can have. But the American people are also uncomfortable with calling those arrangements marriage – in part, I guess, because they are constantly being lectured about how marriage in general is somehow in danger by using that word.

    So maybe the majority of people are cowards, or maybe the civil union position is simply an accurate reflection of where the country as a whole is situated on this issue, at this point in time. Crafting a solution that reflects the complex reality of the “will of the people” is what politicians in a democracy are supposed to do, so I do think the “coward” charge is unfair.

  9. Most rank and file Democrats oppose gay marriage. If the Democratic Party is going to regain political ground in red leaning districts, it must support measures that will prevent same sex unions from becoming a reality in all fifty states.

    Gay marriage is the perfect wedge issue that separates elitist social liberals from those of us with mainstream family values. As a economic populist and social traditionalist, I would like to see my party become focused more on the concerns of working families and less on exotic social issues.