Potemkin VIle

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.

Huckabee’s Non Sequitur

“Christians who themselves abandoned the primacy of lifelong marriage to follow the divorce and remarriage customs of a secular society have as much to answer for as do those who militantly push to redefine marriage,” Mike Huckabee reportedly says in his new book. Actually, there’s no contest—divorce, while sometimes necessary in light of domestic violence or unresolvable incompatibility, by its very definition renders families asunder and denies children the presence of one of their parents in the home (and, often, in their lives). Same-sex marriage creates or reinforces families and provides children with the added safety and security of two legal custodial parents.

Huckabee may be inching away from some of his worst rhetoric of the past, but he still can’t bring himself to see that gay families are not anti-family.

More. Social conservatives can always count on Mike.

Going for Broke

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. “The court’s announcement made it likely that it would resolve one of the great civil rights questions of the age before its current term ends in June,” says the New York Times.

I believe it would have been preferable if all the appellate circuits had supported the freedom to marry, and for a while it looked like that might be happening—until a November decision from a divided three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati ruled otherwise. The Supreme Court could have requested that the full Sixth Circuit rehear that case and rule, perhaps signaling displease with the panel decision. But that’s not the route the high court took.

Now it will be all (as most court-watchers expect) or nothing (a devastating reversal of the circuits that found a constitutional right to marry).

On a positive note, Time finds evidence Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage. Well, some of them, at any rate. And some is better than none, with more likely to follow, eventually leaving just a hardcore rump of rejectionists. Not that they should be forced to bake us cakes!

More. I’ve made this point before, but the New York Times now agrees:

The news Friday that the Supreme Court will rule on same-sex marriage brought elation from gays and lesbians…. But another group also saw a possible reason to celebrate if the court does indeed rule that way: Republicans.

If the high court resolves the issue as expected in June, it could deliver a decision that has the benefit of largely neutralizing a debate that a majority of Americans believe Republicans are on the wrong side of—and well ahead of the party’s 2016 presidential primaries.

Domestic Partner Benefits Are (Almost) Passé

The Washington Blade reports that the State Department is considering phasing out domestic partner (DP) benefits for unmarried gay employees now that the government can recognize same-sex marriages. There have been some objections raised, but once gay couples are free to wed throughout the nation, DP benefits will have served their purpose and can be dispensed with. This has already happened at many companies in states with marriage equality.

The Blade notes that one gay State Department employee complained: “While it’s great that we can get married much more easily now, my partner and I are not looking forward to being forced into a shotgun marriage due to a policy change that takes away the benefits we were promised.”

But spousal benefits are intended for family units with a commitment to permanency, and hence marriage—two individuals who by dint of legally binding mutual obligations are treated as a collective singular. They aren’t, or shouldn’t be, freebies for shacking up. If you want the benefits of being a spouse, that requires accepting the legal responsibilities of marriage. And that, in fact, was a theme we’ve sounded here at IGF CultureWatch over the decades. Ten years ago I wrote With Marriage an Option, Who Needs DP Benefits?, as Massachusetts was about to become the first state to recognize same-sex marriages (and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of the state’s largest employers, moved to drop DP benefits for state residents).

That 2004 post noted another post, from 10 years earlier, in which I took a critical view of activists demanding that private employers provide DP benefits to both gay and straight couples alike:

How much more constructive it would be if our movement, while pushing for full marriage rights, stopped making alliances with cultural leftists favoring benefits for unwed heteros. As David Boaz advocates in the January 1994 issue of Liberty, a libertarian journal, workers should be told “if you want the benefits of marriage, get married; but if the state won’t let you get married, we’ll be more progressive.” Benefits, he asserts, should not be seen “as one more goodie to hand out,” but “as a way of remedying an unfairness, not to mention retaining valued employees.”

He’s right. Domestic partnership benefits should be a stopgap measure for gays and lesbians until we achieve full marriage rights (based on legally recognized commitments).

That day, thankfully, will soon be upon us.

Finding a ‘Moderate’ Gay Marriage Position as Goalposts Shift

Jeb Bush, the new GOP presidential front-runner (but at this early stage, don’t bet the ranch), weighed in on gay marriage. What he said marks a welcome shift toward moderation in line with statements by other GOP governors of late (including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, among others), and is in marked contrast to earlier Bush statements (actually, in contrast to his statements of just a few days earlier).

Republicans who are not creatures of the religious right like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that a moderate position on gay marriage for most Americans today (as opposed to four or eight years ago) is the freedom to marry.

As reported by the paper of record:

As gay couples began to wed in Florida after a court ruling, Jeb Bush, the state’s former governor and long an opponent of same-sex marriages, struck a conciliatory note on Monday, telling The New York Times that “regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law.” …

Mr. Bush’s comments suggested a tepid acceptance of the new legal status, or at least an acknowledgment that there is little he can do to block it.

“We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue—including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”

The Times further noted:

His remarks were markedly more sympathetic to same-sex marriage than comments he made to The Miami Herald on Sunday as he left a golf course. “It ought be a local decision—I mean, a state decision,” Mr. Bush told The Herald. “The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess.”

Gay rights leaders said they found Mr. Bush’s statement on Monday encouraging. Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a group that has pushed for same-sex marriage, said that “most Republican politicians have been adamant in their opposition and provide no room for evolution.” Mr. Bush “at least is expressing his respect for those who support marriage equality,” Mr. Sainz said. “That’s a big change for Republicans.”

And on this point, I must agree with HRC.

According to a look at Bush’s statement and the responses to it by Business Insider, “Jeb Bush Changes His Tune On Gay Marriage“:

Bush was clearly attempting to strike a moderate tone with his statement. The Miami Herald’s Mark Caputo, one of the foremost experts on Sunshine State politics, described it as having a “neither too-hot-nor-cold Goldilocks quality.” However, it was still a marked shift from his past comments on gay marriage.

LGBT Democrats will complain that tepid acceptance is no longer acceptable. Indeed, according to Business Insider:

“Jeb Bush remains as out of touch as ever with Floridians and voters nationwide on the civil rights issue of our time,” the [Florida Democratic Party’s] chair, Allison Tant, said in a statement. “Bush championed these discriminatory policies as governor, and it’s a shame that he remains determined to stand for the forces of bigotry.”

This, of course, ignores that just a few years ago their beloved Clintons were also opposed to same-sex marriage, as for that matter was Barack Obama, but let’s not get sidetracked into the swamp of LGBT Democratic hypocrisy.

We conclude that accepting the inevitable is indeed a sign of progress for the leading presidential contenders from the nation’s conservative party.

More. Chain reaction: Marco Rubio now says about gay marriage: Courts are weighing in and “whatever the law is, we’re going to abide by it and respect it.” He doesn’t want to be out-Bushed!

I should add that I find it increasingly difficult to take N.J. Gov. Chris Christie seriously, but let’s note that his tone about gay marriage is more antagonistic that the latest statements from Bush and even Rubio. Christie is willing to accept the inevitable in New Jersey but calls on the GOP to continue fighting against the freedom to marry nationally. That attempt to court social conservatives who aren’t going to support him anyway shows, again, how out of touch he is.

Furthermore. Mitt Romney, who apparently still supports a federal constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage nationally, looks likely to challenge Bush for the center right space. So it will be interesting to see how that plays out. The divergence is being noted. The Independent reports:

This week [Bush] also set himself apart from many conservatives (and Mr Romney) on gay marriage. While not fully endorsing same-sex marriage, he said in a statement that rulings by court judges allowing it, as has just happened in Florida, should be respected by everyone. “We live in a democracy,” he said, “and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law.”

The Last Holdouts

Just a few scant years ago, who would have thought that marriage equality could be coming even to Mississippi? Not that the fight there is over. As The Clarion Ledger reports:

Same-sex marriages won’t be allowed in Mississippi while the state defends its gay-marriage ban, a federal appeals court said Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves on Nov. 25 overturned Mississippi’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, but he put his own decision on hold for two weeks to give the state time to appeal his ruling.

On Thursday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Mississippi cannot issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples during the appeals process. But the New Orleans-based court agreed to a quick process for considering the dispute over Mississippi’s definition of who can marry.

The paper also reports that:

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said he voted for Mississippi’s constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and he “absolutely” still supports it.

“This is a constitutional issue with me,” Bryant told reporters Tuesday in Jackson. “You know, the people of the state of Mississippi vote to change a law, and then one federal judge can say, ‘Well, I’m going to overrule that.’ Then what good is the rule of law? What would be next? What if a judge said, ‘We think you ought to legalize marijuana.’ Then does that mean the laws of the state don’t exist anymore?

“So, this is a constitutional battle that I think you’re seeing waged all across the United States, is whether or not the people of a particular state, or the lawmakers that represent it, have the right to make certain laws,” Bryant said.

Recent months have seen a surprising number of conservative GOP governors and other officials acquiesce to the inevitable and accept, if not support, rulings favoring the freedom to marry (including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, among others). But the hard core of the social conservative base, exemplified in Congress by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and by governors such as Bryant and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, will man the guns of the last redoubt.

It matters not the Gov. Bryant’s argument is, well, specious, given that a key role of the judiciary is to overturn “democratically” passed laws that violate the fundamental protections of the federal Constitution. Ours is a republic of separate and distinct branches, some with the power to overrule others, and not a majoritarian dictatorship or mobocracy. Conservatives used to understand and defend that point, to the chagrin of progressives.

That the left often supports government overreach of dubious legality, and that these expansions of federal executive power do not involve the protection of fundamental liberties but far more often violate individual rights, confuses things. Fair enough, a pox on both partisan houses, as both left and right, conservatives and progressives, Democrats and Republicans are too often power-grubbing hypocrites, if not downright cesspools of corruption.

Nevertheless, recognition of the right to marry is coming, even in Mississippi, if not with a 5th Circuit ruling, then when the Supreme Court inevitably weighs in. And this expansion of liberty, despite the opposition of local majorities, is fundamentally and constitutionally sound.

The Catholic Church’s Ongoing Marriage Muddle

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, has a softer tone in his opposition to gay marriage, but he lacked a convincing argument this week on CBS’s “Face the Nation” (view clip here, after ad) as he tried to explain the Roman church’s opposition to gay marriage because it’s necessary “to protect mothers and fathers who come together to continue the human race.”

When asked by interviewer Norah O’Donnell about gay parents, he returned to the need for “legislation that supports, protects and upholds those who take the risk to bring children into the world”, but not for gay couples who are raising children, because they are “not bringing children into the world to preserve the human race,” or at least are not bringing children into the world “through their own love,” which is what deserves the state’s protection.

Church representatives had an easier time when they could just declare homosexual relations a sin and be done with it. Instead, the kind of convoluted argument Archbishop Cupich puts forward is going to be increasingly unconvincing as more gay couples become parents, even assuming that one were to accept the view that childbearing is the only legitimate rationale for state-recognized marriage.

Australia and Finland Move Forward

On the international scene, there’s good news from down under: ruling Liberal party leaders will shortly decide whether to allow their members a conscience vote on a recently introduced marriage equality bill. As Reason reports:

“Want to hear a senator introduce legislation legalizing government recognition of same-sex marriage in a speech that also invokes the names of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwing von Mises? You’ll have to go to Australia for that, mate.”

Liberal Party Prime Minister Tony Abott remains opposed to allowing gay people the freedom to marry (but will likely acquiesce to allowing a parliamentary vote). Also opposed to marriage equality was former Labour PM Julia Gillard, although she now says that gay marriage seems inevitable.

And more good international news. Finland is set to become “the last Scandinavian country in which gays and lesbians can legally tie the knot if the measure receives final approval,” the Washington Blade reports. And right on Putin’s doorstep, that’s sure to unleash fresh rage from Russia’s gay-hating despot, whose tyranny has driven many Russian gays to seek asylum in the U.S.

More. Putin surrounded by deviant nations! Poland gets its first openly gay mayor in elections with record number of LGBT candidates.

The Sixth Circuit

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati ruled 2 to 1 against the freedom to marry (full decision here).

The decision overturns lower court rulings favoring marriage equality in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky, and makes the 6th Circuit the first appeals court to uphold state bans since the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

With a split among the circuits, a practical question is whether the cert petitions/responses will be filed quickly enough for the Supreme Court to consider the matter this term, or whether it’s pushed to next fall (meaning ruling June 2016, which would be right in time for the presidential election). Many expect the latter, which could be unfortunate. The slow spread of marriage equality through the circuits has proceeded without any real backlash to speak of, with even conservative GOP governors accepting the verdicts. In fact, many took note of a significant GOP shift during the midterm election campaigns.

Another possibility: for marriage-equality proponents is to seek en banc review by the entire circuit. If that were successful, the move through the circuits could continue without risking a bad Supreme Court ruling, or even the backlash engendered by a good one.

More. Dale Carpenter analyzes what’s wrong with the Sixth Circuit decision (with links to earlier posts in his series of critiques).

Marriage Equality and the Liberty Movement

While the freedom to marry for gay people is often framed as a victory for big-government progressivism (by both progressives and conservatives), Grover Norquist writes that it’s actually part of a wider trend of increasing liberty—which includes marijuana legalization, gun ownership and home schooling—and that the liberty movement draws from the political left and right (while rejecting aspects of both). As Norquist observes:

The relevant dividing line is not right versus left or Republican versus Democrat but the expansion of individual liberty versus whatever and whosoever stands in the way. …

Thirty years ago there were laws actually criminalizing gays…. Once unthinkable, now gay marriage appears inevitable. Attitudes toward gay Americans have shifted dramatically. Yes, the courts drove some of these changes, but public opinion has also shifted dramatically over the decades.

The drive for gay rights has moved quickly, and yet when some politicians have demanded that gay rights means a Christian florist or minister has to participate in a gay wedding against his religious beliefs, the pendulum appears to stop and may swing back. Why? Because freedom of religion then trumps “you do what I want.” The team that frames its side as “defending and expanding liberty” will win.