What are politicians who oppose marriage equality defending any more?
We know what they say they have in mind: the mechanical litany of protecting the right of children to have two biologically related parents; some version of Christian values; the independence of the people’s will against unelected judges; and the right of a state to define family relations. Each of those has some appeal, and some merit.
But Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard revealed a gap in the politics that should ease those who are jittery about the coming Supreme Court case. After a federal court last week struck down Alabama’s prohibition on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, Hubbard said, “It is outrageous when a single unelected and unaccountable federal judge can overturn the will of millions of Alabamians who stand in firm support of the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment.”
Chris Geidner helpfully pointed out that, far from multiple millions, less than 700,000 Alabamians voted for the amendment. And that’s out of a population of 4.8 million.
This does not mean marriage equality is popular in Alabama. But you can’t deny that 4.1 million Alabamians did not weigh in on the sanctity of marriage. A lot of them weren’t registered to vote, a lot probably had other things to do on voting day, and you have to assume that a lot of them just didn’t really give much of a damn about this particular issue.
It’s not unlikely that, if this decision is upheld, either on appeal or as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling next June, there will be a certain amount of discontent in Alabama, possibly more than there has been in the 36 other states whose marriage equality bans have been overturned.
But think about the magnitude of the yawn that has greeted those other decisions.
So far, the Supreme Court has only overturned one state ban on same-sex marriage, California’s. Seven million Californians passed that ban (against 6.4 million who opposed it), and the court overturned it two years ago in Hollingsworth v. Perry.
While California is a pretty blue state, it is extraordinarily hard to find any of those seven million voters who, after the court’s decision, took to the streets, stormed the courthouse doors, or even wrote letters to the editor. The decision was met by the ban’s many supporters with a shrug. All of the fear and anxiety and emotional manipulation from one of California’s ugliest initiative campaigns had been utterly forgotten. No hard feelings, who’s providing snacks for the kids’ soccer game Saturday?
And that seems to be what’s happening in the other states where bans have been falling on a weekly basis. Most people are just relieved to be getting done with this.
That might be because equality advocates have had it right from the start: this really doesn’t affect most people’s lives negatively, and the ones whose lives it does affect are positively joyous. The bans were a deeply cynical and politically timed moment in American history designed to exploit the last dying gasps of an ages-old prejudice. That spasm forced the constitutional issue, and it turns out the cynics were right in their own way. That particular form of bigotry was dying, and they timed the bans well.
This last generation of politicians still has some long-tail prejudice to cater to. But I’m feeling confident they’re going to find this snake oil doesn’t dazzle the masses the way it used to.