Dubuque Values

Commenting on the surprising recognition of same-sex marriages in Iowa (which officially began this week), the film critic David Ehrenstein recently told the New York Times Sunday Styles Section that, "Iowa is apparently infested with San Francisco values."

This was irony and provocation by Ehrenstein, an often funny and certainly accomplished writer. But there are two commonly accepted claims that lie behind the humor, one of which is widely believed on the pro-SSM left, one of which is widely believed on the anti-SSM right, and both of which are wrong.

First, despite what many litigation-minded SSM supporters might like to believe, court decisions are a poor register of popular opinion. Indeed, they're valued most when they buck popular opinion. There's no evidence that Iowa has suddenly fallen in love with gay marriage, ahead of jealous Californians, New Yorkers, or even Illini. We have SSM in Iowa only because seven judges on the state supreme court say so, not because the state legislature or the people wanted it. The state provided no recognition for gay relationships: not marriage, not civil unions, not domestic partnerships. A poll on the eve of the decision found just 26% of Iowans supported gay marriage, well below the recent national average. SSM may yet survive in Iowa because the state's constitutional amendment process is so procedurally demanding and time-consuming. The evidence so far shows that people calm down about SSM if given sufficient time to adjust, and Iowans may have until at least 2012 to pass popular judgment on the issue, if ever. But make no mistake, if Dubuque could constitutionally implement its "values" as quickly as Orange County can, we'd have a ban before the fall harvest.

Second, despite what many opponents maintain, gay marriage is not a "San Francisco value." It is very nearly the opposite of a San Francisco value in the derisive, libertine sense many gay-marriage critics mean that term. Marriage is about commitment, family, and responsibility. It is not about sexual freedom, individualism, or self-expression. So gay marriage is not, contrary to what one prominent academic supporter of SSM recently wrote, a clash of "sexual liberty" and "religious liberty." We already have sexual liberty and certainly don't need marriage to practice it.

Furthermore, gay marriage is not a cause that many gay leaders in San Francisco or elsewhere easily took up. They were initially resistant and suspicious of it as mimicking heterosexual norms and limiting sexual liberation, which is what they imagined the whole gay-rights movement had been about. They were dragged to the effort by gay conservatives and others who articulated the reasons for it and by gay couples who needed and demanded it.

So gay marriage actually is much more about Dubuque than San Francisco, to the possible dismay of both.

Joan de Fresno

The controversy is this. Miss California finished second in the Miss USA contest after she gave an equivocal, factually incorrect, and inarticulate answer to a question. This alone does not distinguish her from the field. But the particular question was whether she supports SSM, which gets everyone's culture-war adrenalin flowing. She answered that it's "great" to live in a country where people are "free to choose same-sex marriage" or "the opposite marriage" - which is descriptively false but sounded as if she supported SSM as a policy matter. Then she added that in "my country" or in "my family" marriage "is between a man and a woman" - "no offense intended" to anyone.

I, for one, took no offense because I have no idea what she meant. The most likely interpretation is that she was playing to both sides, supporting same-sex marriage as a policy matter, but personally opposing it, the way one might believe a protestor has the right to burn a flag but think that flag-burning is wrong. I think just about every SSM supporter can live with that. And if it had been left there the matter might have been entirely forgotten, as the answers in all these beauty-contestant pageants are forgotten. As the second-place finisher, Miss California herself would have been forgotten, as indeed are the first-place finishers.

But the judge who asked the question, an openly gay celebrity-gossip maven, then defensively posted a video denying what nobody had yet charged, that Miss California had lost because she opposed gay marriage, which she hadn't opposed. Even this might have been forgotten if he hadn't added insult to non-injury by screeching that she had really lost because she's "a stupid b-h" who couldn't give a coherent answer to a predictable question.

By the next morning, the disappointed Miss California with no definable position on gay marriage had transmogrified into a free-speech and religious-freedom martyr who lost because she bravely stood up for her values, in "a test from God," against the gay mafia and the fork-tongued enforcers of PC orthodoxy. Never mind that the gay questioner was one of twelve judges. Never mind that the director of the Miss California organization said that he did not think she had lost because of her answer to the gay-marriage question. Never mind that she had been third going into the question round - which comes on the heels of the swimsuit round and the evening-gown round and the walk-around-the-room-and-wink round.

The whole manufactured controversy was a microcosm of the talk-show argument against gay marriage: dubious causation, exaggerated victimhood, endless repetition, and selected deployment of the most outrageous statements from the most overbearing gay advocates as if they somehow speak for gay families.

By the next afternoon, Maggie Gallagher at NRO annointed Miss California the new exemplar of traditional marriage for standing up against "lies and hatred" and all the demon bats of Hollywood.

Really? If there's a public face for Maggie's anti-SSM campaign, isn't it Levi Johnston, who appeared on Larry King Live last night, and Bristol Palin, whose traditional-family-values upbringing might be undermined? Aren't they the kind of folks who might become dangerously confused if gays wed? Adam and Steve get hitched and, next thing you know, Levi and Bristol will be off forgetting that sex, marriage, and babies go together.

Marriage Revisionism

On March 5, the California Supreme Court heard arguments about whether Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, is valid. Even if you oppose gay marriage, and even if (like me) you support it but question last May's decision declaring a right to it, there's good reason to invalidate Prop 8. That's because the root issue in the case is deeper than same-sex marriage. It goes to the heart of what it means to live in a democratic polity whose decisions are both substantively and procedurally bounded by a constitution.

The California Constitution recognizes two types of changes: "revisions" and "amendments." A "revision" can be enacted only through approval by two-thirds of each state house, followed by a majority vote of the people. "Amendments" can be enacted by simple majority vote of the people, without prior legislative approval. The harder process to enact a revision suggests that it is reserved for extraordinary matters requiring more deliberation and social consensus than an ordinary amendment. If Prop 8 was actually a revision, it cheated the constitutional design by going through the comparatively easy amendment process.

So which is it? The California state constitution itself tells us nothing about which route must be followed for a particular proposed change. The distinction between revision and amendment is rare in state constitutions, and completely foreign to the U.S. Constitution.

History offers little guidance. The easier amendment route was created in the early 20th century as a populist, progressive reform to combat the power of wealthy corporate interests over the California legislature. Whatever else can be said of them, neither side in the gay-marriage debate is controlled by robber barons. While the people obviously wanted a method of constitutional change that avoided the legislature, it's equally obvious that some changes still require prior legislative approval.

The court's own precedents don't directly answer the question. In the past, the California Supreme Court has said that a proposed change can be so voluminous that it requires the more laborious revision process. Prop 8 added only 14 words to the state constitution.

The court has also said that a change can be so "qualitatively" significant that it constitutes a revision. A proposal to instruct the state legislature how much to spend annually on environmental protection is an amendment. But a proposal to limit the ability of the state courts to protect multiple rights of criminal defendants was held to be a revision. Prop 8 dealt only with defining marriage, which is certainly important, but leaves intact California's extensive gay-rights laws, including its comprehensive recognition of same-sex domestic partnerships.

So past cases have labeled changes "revisions" if they are voluminous or alter the basic structure of state government, including the court's own role in monitoring the protection of a broad swath of rights. But if the underlying concern is that some changes should require more deliberation and consensus, why limit the analysis to those narrow instances?

Critics will say that overturning Prop 8 would be unprecedented. And they're right. But that is only because Prop 8 itself is unprecedented in California - or in any other state. To see why, forget about same-sex marriage for a moment.

Suppose a majority of the people decide that Mormons are exercising disproportionate influence in the political system. So they change the state constitution to deny Mormons, and Mormons alone, the right to make contributions to ballot fights.

Or suppose a majority of the people decide too many blacks aren't taking marriage seriously. So they vote to deny blacks, and blacks alone, the right to marry. Putting aside the questionable validity of such changes under the federal constitution, would they be "amendments" or "revisions" to the California Constitution?

Back to Prop 8. Under the California Supreme Court's marriage decision, marriage is as fundamental for gays as it is for blacks and as important for them as political speech is for Mormons. Additionally, discrimination against gays is as judicially questionable as it would be against racial or religious minorities.

There are solid reasons to think last May's decision was judicial overreach. But unless the decision is reversed, which is unlikely, the conscientious constitutional objector is left to consider the larger implications of allowing a fundamental right to be stripped from a vulnerable minority.

Even rights that the objector agrees are fundamental could be taken away, and even groups that he agrees need special judicial protection could be assaulted, in a future constitutional amendment, by a simple majority. If it's acceptable in this case, it should be acceptable in future ones.

Neither side doubts that courts are empowered to determine whether a change is a revision or an amendment. When in doubt, perhaps the court should follow the "will of the people," as legal supporters of Prop 8 argue.

But which "will"? The will expressed by any simple majority at any given time on any issue of sufficient brevity or discreteness? Or the enduring will expressed by the people themselves in their constitution, as interpreted by their courts, requiring extraordinary procedures for extraordinary changes targeting three percent of the population?

Gay marriage can be banned in a revision to the state constitution. After all, the people are entitled to govern themselves. But only under the rules they have enacted. And the best understanding of those rules suggests they were violated by Prop 8.

Know on 8

With a switch of just two percent of the votes, the leaders of the "No on 8" campaign would today be heroes. We'd be lauding their powerful advertising campaign. We'd be celebrating their coalition-building. We'd wonder at their unprecedented fund-raising prowess. And we'd still have gay marriage in California.

But life is a vale of tears, so the conventional wisdom is that the leaders of No on 8 are clueless cowards who squandered a large lead in a blue state in a bright blue year.

Never mind that they were trying to overcome deeply embedded views about something Americans think is the foundation of responsible family life.

Never mind that winning on Prop 8 would have been a first for gay marriage at the polls anywhere in America (except for a brief win in Arizona in 2006, reversed in 2008), including in blue states like Oregon and Wisconsin.

Never mind that the early public polls suggesting a big defeat for Prop 8 were never reliable, and were criticized as such at the time. There was no lead to be squandered.

Everybody now seems to know what went wrong on Prop 8. But the truth is, nobody really knows how that extra two percent might have been persuaded to vote "no."

The main "problem" identified by many critics is that the campaign left gay people invisible. Anti-Prop 8 literature made no mention of gays, instead complaining that it was "unfair" and "wrong" to discriminate against an unnamed group of people. The television ads didn't portray gay families.

This deliberate omission deeply offends a lot of people. The gay-rights command of the past forty years has been to come out. The logic was recently summed up by veteran lesbian activist Robin Tyler at a post-Prop 8 "Equality Summit" in Los Angeles. "When you get to know us," she said, "you don't want to discriminate against us." No on 8 was a "know-nothing" campaign.

Campaign leaders have defended the know-nothing approach as the only way to win. Political consultants, whom we're told know better about such things than ordinary mortals, advised them that frank images of homosexuals would turn off persuadable voters. An "openly gay" campaign would not have won. It would have lost by an even larger margin, they claim.

The political professionals may be right. The error of the know-nothing critique is that it treats a strategy for winning the culture war (come out) as a tactic for winning a ballot battle. Coming out is an interpersonal act that works because the person already knows and likes you. It's not something you tell forty million strangers expecting their immediate understanding and support. Contrary to Tyler's admonition, can you really "know us" via thirty second ads aired over a period of a few months?

But there are a couple of potential problems with the adult, responsible, realistic, political-consultant perspective. First, to know whether it's right we'd need to see the actual data - the polling, the focus-group analysis - that underlie this judgment. My untutored sense is that focus groups and polls are often applied too statically and mechanically to real-life politics, which are dynamic and contextualized. Focus groups might have loved New Coke, but the public didn't.

Second, there's a paradox here. Almost everyone agrees that victory in the gay-marriage struggle ultimately requires the deep cultural shift brought on by coming out, by acquainting Americans with the real problems faced by real gay families, and by showing them how gay people are no threat to their own churches, families, and values.

We aren't going to fool people into supporting gay marriage. We can't just coldly claim legal rights. We may persuade gay activists that it's "wrong" and "unfair" to eliminate rights created five minutes ago by four judges. But most people don't believe there's a right to something that's not right. And they need to know a lot more about gay families over a long period to reach the conclusion that gay marriage is right.

How can that be done without talking about actual gay people? And when will it be done on a large scale except when we have the resources and energy to do it, as we do in a ballot fight? Winning in the end may depend on losing a few preliminary rounds in a way that progressively erodes the opposition. Instead, in every single ballot fight in thirty states, we have squandered the opportunity to educate voters for the future. Losing smartly now means winning later; losing ignorantly just means endless losing.

None of this is to say that the know-nothing choice made by No on 8 leaders was wrong in its context. My sense is that leaders of No on 8 reasonably thought they were within striking distance of winning and let their analysis overcome their instincts. They placed the safest bet available and narrowly lost.

Some people would say on principle that we should always reject "closet" tactics, regardless of the political consequences. That's too hard and pure for my taste. If we could have secured marriage in California in 2008 by parading Dykes on Bikes before the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I would have done that. If we could have won by replaying Pat Robertson's meteorological ruminations, I would have done that, too.

But the hard truth is that in the long run, and in other places, we'll need less "No" and more "Know."

Reaching Out to Move Ahead

Reactions to Barack Obama's choice of a prominent pro-Prop 8 preacher to deliver the invocation at his inauguration have fallen along some familiar lines. On the basic question whether Obama will be a good president for gay rights or another huge disappointment, like Bill Clinton, we still don't have even a preliminary answer. Choosing Rick Warren may be an early warning sign, but it might also reflect Obama's transformative potential.

Warren goes lighter on the sexual sins, and heavier on helping the poor and sick, than most prominent religious-conservative leaders. But like them, he thinks homosexual acts are immoral and that gays should become heterosexual. He opposes gay marriage, which he says is as wrong as incestuous and pedophilic marriage.

Warren is undeniably influential, and not just with his large Southern California congregation. He's the best-selling author of The Purpose-Driven Life, a religious species of motivational and self-help book that attaches special significance to the number 40. In August, John McCain and Barack Obama trekked to a presidential "forum" that Warren hosted, at which they took turns affirming how religious they are.

For a certain class of gay Obama supporters, mostly pundits and bloggers, the choice of Warren was a shocking betrayal. For them, Warren is just a Jerry Falwell who tithes more. You don't befriend or co-opt people like that. You "crush" them, as one commentator wrote.

These particular Obama supporters really believed that he cared so much about gay rights that he would devote himself to it to the exclusion of mere politics, which he was thought to rise above. During the campaign, they ignored Obama's consorting with anti-gay ministers, paid no heed to Obama's lack of actual accomplishments for gay equality, and caricatured his opponent as a standard Republican ogre.

Politics for them is a continual triumph of hope over experience, especially when it comes to the Democratic Party. Now they imagine they will hold Obama's feet to the fire, to use one metaphor I've read recently, as if Obama has anything to fear from people who told us we had no respectable choice but to support him. For them, the Obama presidency is going to be a corduroy road to disenchantment.

Many gay conservatives pounced on Obama's choice as proof that he's Clinton redux, totally uncommitted and ready to ditch gays to serve his own interests. That could be correct. But another interpretation is also plausible: Obama is doing exactly what many gay conservatives have been urging gay-rights advocates to do. Without actually giving any ground on policy, he's reaching out to people who disagree with him.

A third group of commentators regarded the selection of Warren as unimportant, purely a matter of symbolism, not substance. It'll be a few minutes of platitudes and pieties about racial progress and helping the poor, during which Warren is unlikely to hold forth on specific policy issues. Who remembers a single word from a past inaugural invocation except "amen"? What matters, they say, is what Obama does on policy.

They have a point. Policy matters more, and for this we will have to await some actual results. But symbolism sets a tone. It defines what is acceptable and what is not. Everything about an inauguration, especially this one, is symbolic. Obama will swear to uphold the Constitution as his left hand rests on the Bible that Abraham Lincoln used for that purpose. The choice of Warren has symbolic potency precisely because it's so seemingly discordant at the inauguration of a president many gay-rights supporters thought they could trust.

The question then is, what kind of symbolic message is Obama sending and is it inconsistent with gay equality?

Choosing Warren was certainly smart politics since it appeals to a group of religious voters who mostly distrust Democrats. That may be all it was. But I take Obama at his word that he's actually promoting a different kind of politics. Call it a politics of "anti-demonization" or, as Lincoln put it, "charity for all." The idea is that there can be some good in those we disagree with. There may even be merit in their disagreement.

Gay-rights supporters must become masters of anti-demonization, of charity for all, both because it is right and because it is effective. A majority of this country subscribes to roughly the moral dogma of Rick Warren, including his views on homosexuality. Religious doctrine, along with visceral disgust, is still the greatest barrier to achieving things like gay marriage.

We are not going to crush 200 million Americans. We are not going to circumvent them through courts. They must become comfortable with the notion that equal dignity and regard for gay Americans is no threat to them or their families. They must see the connections, the similarities, between gay lives and their own.

That happens through familiarity, which promotes understanding. And understanding has always been pro-gay. It doesn't happen overnight, but by imperceptible degrees. You arrive at the destination before you realize you've been on a journey.

Seeing one of their own leaders on the podium at the inauguration of a president who publicly calls himself a "fierce advocate" for gay Americans might help make it a little bit easier for religious conservatives to envision our cause literally side by side with theirs. To the extent Obama's choice elevates further among them a voice that de-emphasizes the condemnation of homosexuality, that's not a bad day's work.

Betrayals may yet come from this administration, but this was not one of them.

Losing California

On election night, I stood in the heart of San Francisco's Castro district. Around me were thousands of people cheering and dancing for Barack Obama's victory and for the promise they believe it brings gay America. Meanwhile, on a large screen broadcasting local news it became more apparent with every passing hour that Californians had voted on the marriages of a small minority, and had found them wanting.

There will be a strong temptation among gay-marriage supporters to put on a brave face about the loss on Proposition 8. It has been noted that the vote was close, 52-48 percent, which is both heartbreaking because it was winnable now and encouraging because it may be winnable soon. We narrowed a gap that stood at 22 percent eight years ago, when Californians last voted to ban gay marriage, to just under 5 percent now.

But the narrow margin of the Prop 8 loss masks some hard facts for the gay-marriage movement. Counting the losses in Arizona and Florida, we are now 0-30 in the states. In California, we lost under circumstances that were as favorable to our side as they are likely to be for some time. We lost in deep blue territory on a blue night, when Obama carried the state with an astonishing 61 percent of the vote. We lost despite being on the "no" side in a ballot fight, with the built-in advantage that gives you among those who vote "no" on everything out of understandable proposition fatigue. We lost despite the state attorney general changing the ballot title to reflect that it "eliminates rights," something most Americans don't like to do no matter the subject.

All of this suggests that actual support for gay marriage in California is something less than 48 percent. My best guess is that actual electoral support for it in the state is somewhere in the low 40s, when you factor out ballot fatigue, the blue tide, and the favorable ballot title - all of which you would have to presume in trying to reverse Prop 8 in a future initiative requiring an actual "yes" to gay marriage.

And, of course, to reverse Prop 8 we'll have to raise lots of money and put together a petition drive just to get to the ballot. My estimate is that this loss - barring federal or state judicial intervention to undo Prop 8 - means there will be no gay marriage in California for several years, perhaps a decade. In fact, it might be a mistake to put this on the ballot again in two years, as some are planning. Voters may resent a quick re-vote.

Something else, however, concerns me even more than whether particular tacticians can manipulate a vote by a sufficient few percentage points to eke out a narrow win in the next few years.

The reality is that to a very large part of the country, and even in the bluest parts of the bluest states, homosexuality is not seen as normal and gay relationships are not seen as healthy and contributing to a society's well-being. Whether that's because of religion or because of the "ick" factor or some combination of the two, it doesn't much matter. It's there and it's only grudgingly and slowly giving up ground.

The smartest leaders of the gay-marriage movement know this. That's why gays were invisible in the No on 8 campaign. The "No" literature talked in generalities about "discrimination" and about how it was "wrong" and "unfair" to take away marriage from some unnamed group of people. There was no reference to "gays." The No on 8 ads featured almost no gay couples, and especially no male couples, who are especially repugnant to many people.

This may have been the only strategy that had any chance of winning under the circumstances. If the campaign had frankly presented the case for gay families and marriage we might have lost by a much larger margin. No on 8 leaders were trying to dislodge in five months what people have been taught for a lifetime about homosexuals and marriage. Given the size of the task, it's amazing we nearly succeeded.

Mostly, my heart breaks for the gay couples and their children who had a five-month window in which their families could celebrate the ultimate expression of commitment and love our culture knows. Now they have no idea whether they have just been divorced by their fellow citizens.

On the Sunday before the election, I spoke to a rally of about 100 of them in Vallejo, east of San Francisco. It was held in a park bordered by rolling and largely barren, brown hills, which funneled a chilly wind onto us. The park was empty except for gay and lesbian couples, many of them with young children. Some had gotten married already and others were planning to do so before the vote, just in case. They were wearing red and carrying signs. They were full of hope. They would be heading out that day to form a human sign constituting the words "No on 8" by the side of the freeway, trying to capture the attention and hearts of a few thousand passing motorists in a state of 40 million people. It seemed an impossibly small group taking on a lot for themselves.

We are going to get gay marriage in this country, but that day is now a little farther away.

The Case for McCain

John McCain has made it hard to vote for him. Linking Barack Obama to terrorism was odious. Choosing Sarah Palin was reckless. Still, an advocate of gay equality who's otherwise closer to McCain's views on economic and foreign policy can support him with a clear conscience. That's because the differences on gay issues - as a practical matter - are less dramatic than we've been told by the organized "GLBT movement." As the practical differences on gay issues get smaller, non-gay issues grow in salience.

You wouldn't know it by listening to gay pundits and organizations, but McCain is the most gay-friendly Republican presidential nominee ever. That's not just faint praise. Despite election-season pandering to the religious right, he's not one of them and they know it. He has openly gay staffers and campaign officials. He has defended his gay colleagues in public office against attacks by religious conservatives. The convention that nominated him was free of anti-gay rhetoric. Even marriage, long a crowd-pleaser, was rarely mentioned. In fact, 49 percent of the delegates to the GOP convention supported civil unions or gay marriage. And unlike Bush in 2004, McCain's campaign has not exploited homophobia.

There's much more. In a first for a Republican presidential nominee, McCain recently responded in writing to questions from the Washington Blade, DC's gay newspaper. The responses, while occasionally mealy-mouthed, were encouraging. Yet gay activists replied to the interview as if he'd called for death camps for gays.

Take the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which McCain voted against in 1996. Gay organizations' scorecards continue to say that he "opposes" ENDA. The truth is more complicated. McCain told the Blade that he now supports "non-discrimination in hiring for gay and lesbian people" and will "give careful consideration" to ENDA. Moreover, his lingering reservations about ENDA are not "anti-gay": if drafted too broadly, the law will needlessly erode religious liberty and generate frivolous and costly litigation.

Skeptics will say these are excuses for vetoing ENDA, no matter what form it takes. They may be right. But it's significant that McCain, who unlike Obama has a long record of actually working productively with the other party, also promises to consult Congress to meet these concerns. Unlike Obama, McCain could actually get around a possible GOP filibuster in the Senate to pass the bill.

Still, Obama would sign ENDA no matter how broadly drafted. A Democratic Congress wouldn't have the votes to override a McCain veto, which would at least mean a narrower bill than we'd get under Obama. So the advantage goes to Obama, but the difference is smaller than once supposed.

Obama supports a hate-crimes law covering sexual orientation. McCain would veto it largely on federalism grounds because controlling crime is primarily the responsibility of the states. Again, that's not an "anti-gay" view; indeed, protecting the states' prerogatives to decide important policy matters was the basis for McCain's and many congressional Democrats' opposition to a federal marriage amendment in 2004 and 2006. In any case, there's no evidence such laws actually deter hate crimes, so Obama is better on an issue that doesn't much matter in practice.

Then there's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which Obama opposes. As gay organizations like to remind us, McCain supported it in 1993 (as did Bill Clinton and the Democratic Congress back then).

But, in another sign of a thaw ignored or belittled by gay leaders and writers, McCain told the Blade he "will have the policy reviewed." He is open to ending DADT, he said, but only if military leaders agree. So the upshot, one might think, is that Obama will end DADT while McCain will only "review" whether to end it. That's a big difference between them, you say.

Not so fast. Like McCain, Obama would need the support of military leaders to end the ban. He would then have to pressure Congress on a matter involving military policy and national security, areas of perennial Democratic political vulnerability.

Neither persuading military leaders nor wary congressional Democrats to end DADT is a given in an Obama administration. Unlike McCain, Obama has no military background and little credibility with the military brass. (If, on the other hand, McCain decided to end the ban, he would be uniquely positioned to do so, like Richard Nixon traveling to China.) Also unlike McCain, Obama has an undistinguished legislative record, which bodes ill for pressuring his own party or Republicans on the issue.

Thus, it's unlikely that DADT would be repealed in an Obama administration. I agree that it's better symbolically to have a president on record against DADT than one who's agnostic about it, but the outcome is likely to be the same: no end to DADT in the next administration.

Both men oppose gay marriage. But McCain supported the Defense of Marriage Act (along with Bill Clinton and most congressional Democrats) back in 1996, and continues to support it, while Obama opposes it. This another area in which the conventional gay-rights scorecard favors Obama.

But here we have another distinction that makes little practical difference. Repealing DOMA would be very difficult, requiring full presidential commitment and masterful legislative skills. Obama might be up to this task, but there's little evidence of it so far.

Gay pundits and leaders love to remind us that Obama opposes California's Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage. But they never mention that Obama's "opposition" has consisted of a single letter sent several months ago to a local gay Democratic group in San Francisco. No public statements. No TV or radio ads. McCain supports Prop 8, but never mentions it in his campaign. Again, there's a paper advantage to Obama here, but neither his nominal opposition to Prop 8 nor McCain's nominal support for it has had any practical impact.

Despite what he once erroneously said, McCain does not oppose gay adoptions. His campaign clarified that he supports adoptions by loving parents, without regard to sexual orientation. In fact, McCain told the Blade that he "respect[s] the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian people" struggling and doing their best to raise adopted children. Gay groups have pounced on McCain's original misstatement as evidence that he's "anti-gay," but they never get around to explaining the context and the subsequent clarification.

Also on the subject of gay marriage, we should never forget that McCain led the charge against the Federal Marriage Amendment, loudly bucking his own party and President Bush when it really counted. Though he seems genuinely accepting of gay people, Obama has never taken a position on gay rights that cost him politically. McCain did so on the single most important gay issue of this generation.

It's true that Sarah Palin recently broke with McCain and endorsed the FMA, just as Dick Cheney broke with Bush in 2004 to oppose the FMA. But Palin is not the presidential candidate in this race, McCain is. Amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage is off the table politically, regardless of what Palin thinks - thanks in part to McCain.

The upshot legislatively is this: Under Obama we'd likely get ENDA and a symbolic hate-crimes law. Under McCain, we might get a narrower ENDA and no hate-crimes law. That's all. It's a difference that gay voters are surely right to take into account, but it's hardly a huge difference.

Finally, Obama's judicial nominees will be more gay-friendly and more aggressive about using judicial power to support gay rights than McCain's will be. But McCain will face a strongly Democratic Senate, which will moderate his choices. He also tends to favor judicial-restraint conservatives who respect precedent rather than judicial-activist conservatives who want a right-wing legal revolution.

So while they won't advance the cause, McCain's nominees probably won't reverse prominent gay-rights legal victories, either. Despite what you may have heard, it's unlikely the Supreme Court's decision overturning sodomy laws will even be reviewed, much less reversed, because of appointments by McCain.

None of this will persuade a liberal voter who prefers Obama on lots of non-gay issues. Nor will it persuade a single-issue gay-rights supporter who cares about nothing else. I respect these choices. I myself opposed Bush in 2000 and 2004 because he backed sodomy laws and the FMA. These were red lines for me and Bush crossed them.

But this year is different. While Obama is undisputedly better on gay issues than McCain, the differences in likely results are not so great that a vote for McCain is unforgivable. For those gay and gay-supportive voters who worry about the effect of an Obama administration combined with a Democratic Congress on taxes, spending, trade, Iraq, and national security against terrorism, a vote for McCain this year is not a betrayal of gay rights. For such voters, it's the right choice.

Goodbye to the GLBT Movement

Not long ago columnist Wayne Besen wrote that gay Republicans have "no place" in the "GLBT movement." Because they support John McCain this year, he charged they are "shamefully in cahoots" with anti-gay forces. He claimed they have a "suicidal tendency" they must overcome. The only thing missing was the tired analogy to Jewish Nazis.

Besen is no kook. He's a widely read gay writer who fits squarely in the mainstream of the GLBT movement. It's safe to say he was only expressing openly what many people, especially leaders and activists, within the movement privately think about gay conservatives.

In fact, Besen's column was only the latest in a barrage of attacks against gay conservatives this election season. Time and again gay conservatives have been called self-hating, treasonous, and selfish. It's the worst vitriol against gay conservatives I've seen in fifteen years in this movement.

The co-founder of Manhunt was forced to resign from the company's Board of Directors because he dared to make a campaign contribution to John McCain, which started talk of a boycott against the company. People are free to boycott companies if they want to, but the fact that supporting McCain was seen as worthy of a boycott is deeply disturbing. The GLBT movement does not tolerate such dissent. What's next, banning conservative columnists from gay newspapers?

My primary reaction to all this has been rising anger. How dare these self-appointed High Priests of the Movement excommunicate the ideological infidels? As a gay conservative, I have worked my entire adult life for gay rights. It has been the focus of my scholarship and activism. That advocacy has cost me personally and professionally. And I'm hardly alone.

But the more I've thought about it, the more I realize the critics are right. People like me do not belong. When you think about it, what do we have in common with this movement?

True, we share same-sex attraction. But even that has been diluted with the addition of transgendered causes. Indeed, the insistence of movement leaders on "T" inclusion even at the cost of passing pro-gay legislation has only highlighted major conceptual differences between gay conservatives and leftists about what exactly we're fighting for.

We also share some experience of discrimination. This gives us some common adversaries and some common causes, like supporting the recognition of gay relationships and ending the military's exclusion of homosexuals.

But the experience of discrimination is different for different people, and we draw wildly different conclusions from it. While gay progressives believe we must have more government in our lives to end discrimination, gay conservatives are wary of interventions in the private sphere. While many movement leaders would punish anti-gay "hate speech," gay conservatives want freedom even for thought we hate.

Even when we agree on issues, we have very different rationales. Gay leftists tend to see access to marriage and the military as legalistic matters of "civil rights," even as they distrust these institutions. Gay conservatives eschew such rights talk, and instead see these institutions as important traditionalizing, stabilizing, and integrating forces in our lives.

At a deeper level, gay conservatives believe the path to happiness leads through the inclusion of homosexuals in all aspects of American life. Many gay leftists dismiss this as "assimilation." Gay conservatives want a place at the table. Gay leftists want to upend the table.

On non-gay issues, the chasm is wider and deeper still. Gay progressives, like others on the left, support wealth redistribution through higher taxes on financially successful people and social programs for the poor. Gay conservatives want low taxes and doubt the efficacy of anti-poverty programs. Gay leftists often oppose free trade; gay conservatives support it.

The gay left supports abortion and believes it is intimately tied to gay rights. Gay conservatives either oppose it or think it is simply not a gay issue.

Gay conservatives want an aggressive fight against Islamic radicalism. Gay leftists tend to distrust American military power and seem to think the greater threat comes not from terror but from the war on terror.

These tensions have grown as gay conservatives have become increasingly self-conscious about being gay and conservative. The Internet has connected them to each other in ways never before possible. Gay conservatives are no longer willing to sit still for lectures about what it means to be authentically gay. They will not be silent or silenced.

It is time for gay conservatives to declare independence from the GLBT movement. We'll still make common cause at times. Gay conservatives will continue to fight government-sponsored discrimination.

But it is time for gay conservatives to admit that we are aliens in this movement, that we disagree with its leadership and its most visible activists on some very basic questions about what it means to be gay, about what must be done to improve the lot of gay Americans, and about how much weight should be given to purely gay issues in a time of economic and military turmoil. This presidential election has rawly exposed the rifts that have been there from the beginning.

The marriage of the gay left and gay conservatives under the umbrella of the "GLBT movement" has failed. It's like waking up one morning next to your spouse and realizing all of sudden you don't really like each other. You've been squabbling all these years to save a relationship you no longer believe in.

Suddenly you grasp the futility of it. It's saddening but also liberating.

Log Cabin’s McCain Endorsement

When the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) recently endorsed John McCain for president the usual suspects bitterly denounced them. Treason! Delusional! Selfish! Self-hating! These criticisms misunderstand Log Cabin's basic mission. In the context of that mission, LCR's endorsement was sensible.

As usual when I write about Log Cabin, I should first explain my own history with the group. Back in the mid-1990s, I was president of the group's Texas chapter. I also served briefly on LCR's national board of directors in the late 1990s. Although I have many friends in LCR, I've had no role in the organization for eight years.

Critics of the endorsement basically argue as follows: (1) LCR is a gay-rights group. (2) Gay-rights groups should endorse the candidate who's better on gay rights. (3) McCain is worse on gay issues than Barack Obama. (4) Conclusion: LCR should not have endorsed McCain.

What explains LCR's endorsement in the face of this simple logic? LCR's critics offer several explanations.

Some say that Log Cabin must simply be ignorant of the candidates' stands on a familiar list of issues, like employment-discrimination protection and the military's gay exclusion. But LCR's directors and members are very well informed on these and other political issues.

Other critics say that LCR members must be self-hating. This charge is silly and uninformed. LCR recognizes, and actively opposes, the anti-gay tendencies in the GOP.

Finally, some critics conclude that LCR's members must care more about their own pocketbooks, preferring tax cuts over their own (or others') civil rights. Many label this selfishness or, worse, a betrayal of gay rights.

Some LCR members may indeed be stereotypically selfish Republicans - - just as some gay liberals are soft-headed and hopelessly naive. But the fairer description is that they simply believe libertarian or conservative positions on economic and foreign-policy matters better serve the public interest. That's what makes them Republicans, after all.

There is also irony in this criticism. It typically comes from left-leaning activists who have been counseling us for years that gay rights, narrowly conceived, are not the only thing that matters. LCR has taken this counsel to heart and, as a frankly partisan organization (unlike the Human Rights Campaign), it must consider its party's positions on non-gay matters.

The deeper problem is that LCR's critics fundamentally misconceive the organization's mission. Critics analyze the endorsement through a standard civil-rights lens. A gay-rights group should look at the candidates, they reason, and choose the candidate who's "better" today solely on the basis of gay rights.

This kind of analysis would almost always mean endorsing a Democrat over a Republican opponent. Fine, say the critics.

But the problem is that it leaves no room for a gay Republican organization working from within the party to improve it on gay issues while retaining its GOP credentials. Having some credibility as a Republican group is essential to LCR's mission. Otherwise, it's just a garden-variety gay-rights group.

Quite a few people think it's delusional to imagine that a few thousand gay Republicans are likely to have any effect on today's GOP, which is dependent on a "base" intensely hostile to gay equality. There's some truth in this. If the Republican Party is to change on gay issues, the primary reason will be huge shifts in the culture for which no single organization can claim credit.

But there is some value in having a group of openly gay people within the party embracing its basic philosophy while simultaneously endorsing gay equality. Such a group can have a uniquely positive impact given its special niche in the political system. These gay GOP activists literally embody the future Republican Party we must have if gay equality is to survive shifting electoral allegiances.

LCR operates on the principle that a political party that genuinely embraces small government and individual rights would be a good thing for everybody, including gay people. It endorses candidates based on long-term considerations about how to advance gay equality within a conservative political party.

This does not mean LCR should support all Republican candidates. However, the question for LCR is not reducible to weighing the candidates' paper positions on gay rights. The question is whether, given the context, including the overall tone of the campaign and the salience of gay issues within that campaign, the Republican candidate meets a minimum threshold of respect for the rights and dignity of gay Americans.

In 2004, George W. Bush did not meet that test after he backed an anti-gay federal marriage amendment that would have ended the possibility of gay marriage anywhere in the country for decades.

McCain, whatever his shortcomings, loudly and articulately opposed that amendment. His opposition was maintained at considerable political cost to himself. It takes nothing away from his courage to observe that he did so in defense of federalism, rather than in defense of gay marriage itself. Many Republicans and Democrats were ready, in the hothouse of that time, to ditch federalism in order to appease religious conservatives and others opposed to gay marriage.

McCain's opposition gave political cover to other Republicans and even Democrats to oppose the amendment. Thus was removed a dagger aimed at the infant heart of the gay-marriage movement.

To refuse to endorse him after that singular act, especially when he is famously alien to the party's religious conservatives (despite his recent pandering to them), would have been practically to forfeit any role for LCR within the GOP. And that would have been no favor to gay Americans.


One unfortunate byproduct of presidential elections is that they make really acute people say really obtuse things in an effort to help their preferred candidate. Supporters of John McCain have done plenty of this, of course. But since this is a gay newspaper, where you're likely to read nonstop criticism of McCain and all things Republican, I want to focus on some recent commentary by gay supporters of Barack Obama.

Start with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the flagship national gay-rights organization. It makes perfect sense for a group focused solely on gay equality to back Obama, as HRC has done. (The analysis is different for the Log Cabin Republicans, whose mission is to work for gay rights within the GOP.) On paper at least, Obama is better than McCain on every gay issue.

So you'd think HRC would have enough material to justify its choice without stretching the truth. But just as the Republican National Convention ended, HRC sent out an email littered with distortions about McCain's record on gay issues.

HRC flatly claimed that McCain "believes same-sex couples should never be allowed to adopt children." It's true that McCain initially told the New York Times in an interview that he "doesn't believe in gay adoption." But his campaign later explained that he had expressed only a "personal preference" - not a policy view.

More importantly, McCain recognizes that when the biological parents are gone, the child needs "caring parental figures." This gender-free language seemingly includes adoption by same-sex couples. It's a bit ambiguous, I agree, but there's no ambiguity in HRC's criticism. Explaining the context and nuance requires more thought than HRC thinks we deserve.

In the same email, HRC also charged (in bold type) that McCain supports "writing discrimination into the U.S. Constitution" through a federal constitutional amendment on marriage. This is both misleading and deeply unfair.

McCain has said he would support a constitutional amendment allowing states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states if a federal court ruled otherwise. Arizona should not have to recognize gay marriages from Massachusetts if it doesn't want to, he believes. That's the law now and it's entirely consistent with McCain's defensible view that states should decide the issue for themselves.

For the same reason, he courageously and loudly opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage - and twice voted against it as Senator. He paid a heavy political price within his own party for taking that stand. Yet HRC doesn't mention it.

HRC even chides McCain for saying things slightly favorable to gays. For example, McCain supports letting gay couples "enter into legal agreements" to get some benefits of marriage because he wants them to "have the rights of all citizens."

Instead of noting this, HRC criticizes him for not supporting full marriage. "If GLBT Americans don't have marriage rights then they don't have 'the rights of all citizens' - simple as that," HRC lectures us. That's true, but Obama also opposes gay marriage, a fact unmentioned by HRC.

In fact, few gay supporters of Obama ever acknowledge that he opposes gay marriage for explicitly religious reasons. Defending his view that marriage is between "a man and a woman" at the Saddleback Church forum in August, Obama told the faithful that "God is in the mix."

This is blatant pandering to religious conservatives. Worse still, rhetoric like this legitimizes much of the opposition to gay marriage. If McCain justified his views about marriage solely on religious grounds, you can be sure gay-rights groups would be huffing and puffing about the separation of church and state.

Ordinarily independent bloggers, too, have donned election-year blinders. Chris Crain, an incisive gay commentator, recently castigated GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin because her Down's Syndrome baby, Trig, "requires far greater attention than Palin could give as vice president or president." There are plenty of reasons to be dubious about Palin, but contrived and sexist concern about her maternal duties isn't one of them.

Andrew Sullivan, an often inspiring and visionary gay writer, has recently turned his blog over to constant and fevered opposition to the Republican ticket. A low point was reached when he peddled baseless and vicious rumors that Trig might not even be Palin's baby.

Finally, even gay "news" sources have let their bias distort their reporting. The Republican National Convention was notable for its lack of gay-bashing. In contrast to George Bush in 2004, McCain made no mention of gays or gay issues in his acceptance speech. He didn't even take a swipe at gay marriage, which is especially tasty red meat for social conservatives.

The Advocate, however, reported that McCain's speech had nevertheless been "slyly" anti-gay. First, McCain chided judges "who legislate from the bench," which the story claimed was a "coded" complaint about the recent California marriage decision. GOP opposition to judicial activism does indeed include concern about judicially mandated gay marriage, but it's much broader than that. And more than a few of us who support gay marriage believe it should be achieved legislatively.

The second reference said to be a "thinly veiled dig at gays" was McCain's observation that education is "the civil-rights issue of this century." McCain was referring to the poor quality of education available to minorities. It takes special powers of indignation to see this as a derogatory comment on gay rights.

Support Obama, if that's your preference, but turn on your bovine-offal detector.