The Democratic Party is going to find itself in a very difficult place this election season. Judges and Supreme Courts from San Francisco to Massachusetts are forcing their hand; gay marriage will be an issue in 2004.
This places me in a quandry that I suspect I share with many Democrats. In general, I am a strong supporter of gay rights. Moreover, I think it’s inherently unfair that in many cases, legal rights available to heterosexual couples (joint tax returns, for example, among many others) are denied to gay people because they’re not married … and yet the law prohibits them to marry.
At the risk of sounding like I’m tossing out the old “some of my best friends…” garbage, I will say that I know several homosexual couples who are more stable and loving and who’ve been together longer than many of the straight couples I know. I don’t think gay couples represent any sort of “threat” to the family. Just like staight couples, there are good matches and bad, and good matches make for good families no matter what.
But I don’t know about gay marriage. Because while there is a legal component to the issue, certainly, marriage is also largely a religious institution. And I don’t think the government ought to be in the business of mandating its will into religious practice. (I am highly uncomfortable with the precedent it sets; once the government can dictate what MUST be practiced or included in a religion, we’ve opened all sorts of nasty floodgates.)
My own conflicted emotions on the subject serve to illustrate how hard it’s going to be for Democrats to dance around this issue in 2004. When even those sympathetic to the cause have mixed emotions, it tells me that the country’s not going to be ready for this, or wish it to become law. And that makes it a loser issue for the Dems this year.
I know the arguments… doing what’s right and doing what’s popular are infrequently the same thing; and you can’t tell people who’ve waited for centuries to wait a few years more. I am sure that there were some Democrats in the 60s who tried to tell Martin Luther King, “Look, I sympathize with you, but the country’s not ready… can’t you wait a little longer – and in the meantime, stop killing us at the polls by making this an issue?” That approach was the easy way out 40 years ago, and I’ll concede that it’s an easy way out now.
But there is a practical truth to admit: if the Democrats endorse and support gay marriage as a party platform or even on a national or state candidate level, 9 times out of 10, we’re going to lose. And I for one do not believe the country can afford four more years of George Dumya Bush. I think Bush’s re-election would be disasterous. This year, the stakes are just too high.
Bush is weak on so many levels; Democrats can attack his rush to war in Iraq (which he was planning long before 9/11), his having at best exaggerated and at worst lied about WMD intelligence in Iraq, his feed-the-rich and screw-the-rest-of-you fiscal policies, his assault on civil liberties, his basic untrustworthiness… we have so many things to point out to the American people that will resonate and will drive people to defeat him a second time. Why on earth would we hand him an issue with which he can invoke the culture wars and distract the public from his innumerable failures?
So where does that leave me? Stuck between what I believe may be right and what I know is practical; between the courageous and the realistic; between following my heart and following my head. Caught between a rock and a hard place.
What’s a good socially tolerant Democrat to do?