When my son was about one and a half he would occasionally walk over to the bookshelf, toss all of the books from the bottom shelf onto the floor, then put them back (in no particular order of course). Once he had put the books back, he’d scream ‘yay!’, applaud himself, then run over for a celebratory ‘high five!’. He had solved a problem that he had created and I of course went along with it high-fiving and congratulating him, but it did occur to me that I might be creating a monster – or a politician.
The controversy over gay marriage has been aggravated by the Democratic Party’s unwillingness to take a principled position and stick to it. So, laws like the Defense of Marriage Act pass with Democrat support. Prop 8 passes with Democrat silence. And now that public opinion has shifted in favor of gay marriage, Democrats are finding their voices and making arguments that they should have been making all along – and patting themselves on the back for doing so.
This week the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of both Proposition 8, which outlaws gay marriage in California and section three of the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows the federal government to not recognize same-sex couples for spousal benefits like social security in case of death, immigration and joint tax returns. President Clinton signed DOMA back in 1996 and while he had ‘reservations’ about the bill, he still ran ads on southern Christian radio celebrating his role in ‘defending marriage’. Though, as with others, his views have changed in recent weeks and here is what he had to say in a Washington Post Op-ed:
When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that “enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.” Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.
President Clinton’s supposed ignorance of the discriminatory nature of DOMA is about as convincing as his ‘confusion’ over the meaning of ‘is’. Of course he knew that the law was discriminatory when he signed it. President Obama’s views on gay marriage have also conveniently ‘evolved’ in tandem with those of the public, as have Hillary Clinton’s just in time for her prospective 2016 Presidential bid.
Chris Rock once joked that during the worst days of George W. Bush’s presidency, the only subject you could get a straight answer on was gay marriage. So, according to Rock, journalists would ask President Bush when the Iraq War would end or when the economy would improve and he would stumble, mumble and quip his way to a non-answer, but when asked about gay marriage he would reply ‘F**k them fa***ts!’.
Chris Rock was joking of course. George Bush is not on record having ever said that, but to Rock’s larger point there was a time when Republicans were very clear on their positions on gay marriage, but times are changing. In addition to shotgun conversations like Senator Rob Portman who became supportive when he learned his son was gay, prominent Republicans like presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and Jonah Goldberg of National Review are willing to reverse federal discrimination against gays and instead allow the discrimination to happen at the state level. Karl Rove even suspects that there might be a pro-gay marriage Republican presidential candidate in 2016: someone to balance the Old Testament rants of Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, or Mike Huckabee who said a couple of days ago that if Republicans support gay marriage he and other evangelicals will leave the party.
The opponents of gay marriage appear to be losing this week. Their arguments before the Supreme Court are not convincing despite Scalia’s theatrics, Roberts’ browbeating and Thomas’s… well… I’m not sure what he is doing. Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and who knows how many other former opponents of gay marriage are tossing their effigies in the trunk and heading home. Perhaps the change in public opinion can be attributed to what Dan Savage calls the ‘secret weapon’ that gays have at their disposal: the fact that they are born into the straight families, which means that when they come out, their families are forced to confront their prejudices and whatever discrimination they might have advocated in the past. For this, and other reasons, he argues that the most important thing that gay people can do is come out to their families. This is reasonable, but it highlights a leadership void that puts the burden of social change on people who in many cases are not old enough to vote, or defend themselves from convoluted political attacks, or even define their sexuality. Many of these kids are afraid of being bullied in schools or condemned by their local churches. That, in spite of all of this, they and their families are stepping forward and transforming the argument should shame their supposed allies who have been waiting until now to say what they have known to be true all along.