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June 3, 2009When it comes to the comments of the 46th Vice President of the United States, at this point nothing is really shocking. This week, taking a breath between references to 9/11, Dick Cheney shocked conservatives by sliding in the direction of a to-each-his-own position on the subject of same-sex marriage, saying that, "I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish."
In sadly ironic contradiction to most of his national security and international policy positions, in a speech at the National Press Club Cheney said that "freedom means freedom for everyone," that the issue of marriage should be decided not by the Federal government but by individual states. One could almost hear millions of Bibles thudding to the floor in horror.
Who knows, Cheney's softening may just be an absurd 2012 election ploy - Republicans are so far out of relevance that such tactics wouldn't be much of a gamble - and social barbarians have already drawn a line not to rulings in the five states where same-sex marriage is currently legal or soon will be, but to California's Proposition 8. In the broader sense, however, Cheney's remarks are a perfect symbol for the wildly pitching debate over gay rights in America.
Many people describe politics as a game of follow the leader. For the better part of this decade few have exemplified that notion, in internal politics at least, than Cheney, who spent the last eight years goose-stepping in line behind George Bush, the most unpopular president in recent history and a divider who repeatedly rode the spearhead of an effort to introduce a Federal Marriage Amendment of the US Constitution into Congress. While Cheney never threw his personal support behind Bush's crusade, as someone who has been in Washington since 1969 he knew the value of following, and the political tide was flowing with Bush's evangelical bent.
How fluid the dynamics of politics are. When one side of a debate makes a concession or policy shift to gain ground with the electorate, the opposition is likely to follow at some point; over time, each passing day brings a schematic disadvantage for the side that lagged behind, or simply couldn't see opportunity when it arose. The directional swings are often glacial but can sometimes be dramatic, with many of these moments of change and compromise bringing either elation or desolation for those involved or affected, depending on which side they land on. Politics is certainly a nasty business, and popular opinion is the currency in which it deals.
Cheney's public statements follow a string of such Asterisk Republican* moves made amid the pounding twin hammers of a massive Bush backlash and an imposing Obama high. Within the party there are more Steve Schmidts by the week. Schmidt, John McCain's former chief of staff, stepped out to support an outright GOP endorsement of same-sex marriage a few weeks ago. Like Cheney, Schmidt has built a life on politics, and recognizes the need to float with populist sea changes.
There have been moments when going against the grain has led to not only a step forward for a nation of people, but advancement for civilization as a whole. At other times, inaction has given historians and pundits ammunition for criticism, and simply left many scratching their heads as to why no action was ever taken. And while there has certainly been action in Washington DC -- the massive stimulus packages and corporate bailouts, Cabinet and Judicial nominations and confirmations, and the less obvious but widespread review and reevaluation process -- it has been the non-action on a number of key and divisive issues which, at this point, has begun to frustrate many of us as much as the issues themselves. Indeed, Cheney's remark prompted Newsweek to make the completely meritless claim that he is more liberal than Obama on the matter.
Although it had been a high-profile issue paid plenty of lip service by both sides during the endless 2008 political cycle, when the November 4th elections drew closer and made taking a stand a political necessity, the subsequent and blatant estrangement of both major political parties to the issue of gay rights, and specifically same-sex marriage, was appalling.
The unabashed obtuseness of both Republican and Democratic politicians in regards to gay rights in America is upsetting to many, especially those within the gay community. Wake up, America; it is 2009, not 1969. Wasn't the issue of equality, or at least the philosophical and political debate about it, settled four decades ago, when, alongside other minorities, many gay supporters were already fighting for their civil rights (i.e. the Stonewall Riots)? Apparently not, as it took the United States Supreme Court until 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, to strike down the archaic anti-sodomy provisions that had remained on many State law books. But politics is a business, one with an ebb and flow, and a few years after that landmark ruling and slight step forward came Proposition 8, an initiative to amend a state constitution to affirm that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
The battle over Proposition 8 in California was one of the most expensive state initiatives in American history. The supporters of the initiative had two major financial backers in their section: the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church), both of which put on massive anti-same-sex marriage campaigns in California. In fact, it was recently revealed that the Mormon Church spent more than many thought on the campaign. And while oppositions of the ban had some major financial backers (i.e. Google & Apple), for the most part their support was comprised of politicians which stated that they opposed the measure, yet still believed that marriage is solely between a man and a woman (Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Arnold Schwarzenegger). What gays ultimately had was the support of politicians that qualified their statements of opposition to the measure, with statements of actual support for the spirit of the measure.
As the momentum continued to gather for Proposition 8, and as public opinion in support of the measure continued to rise, the Mormon and Catholic support campaigns were winning the all-important battle of framing the issue. Supporters of the campaign were framing it as a religious issue, and the opposition seemed to have no frame for the issue at all, apart from the fact that they were against the initiative. The gay community looked on, abandoned by people they had either put in office or were supporting in upcoming elections. As the final ballots were cast, the gay community stood once again in the shadows of their failed attempts at full inclusion. The fight for equal rights seemed not only to be halted, but actually regressing.
Although these words have been uttered many times in the past, it's certainly worth repeating: the time has come for a major political party to accept, condone and recognize the Constitutionality of same-sex marriage.
Whether or not they were the civil rights party of 1950s, 60s and 70s, the modern Democratic Party has lost all its bearings and accountability in terms of civil rights in the modern era. Supporting Civil Unions instead of actual marriage for the gay community, although it may be recognized as somewhat commendable nowadays, is actually completely hypocritical. If one were to support civil unions offered by the State, then doesn't it seem logical to simply muster up the courage to say "Me/I/We/Our party supports same-sex marriage"? Yet still the Democratic Party has failed a segment of the population that is becoming more vital to their survival, and the nation's survival as well. From the DNC website:
|"It is not enough to look back in wonder at how far we have come; those who came before us did not strike a blow against injustice only so that we would allow injustice to fester in our time. That means removing the barriers of prejudice and misunderstanding that still exist in America. We support the full inclusion of all families, including same-sex couples, in the life of our nation, and support equal responsibility, benefits, and protections. We will enact a comprehensive bipartisan employment non-discrimination act. We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us."|
Of what benefit is such a statement, if none of the party leaders support same-sex marriage to the full extent possible underneath the Constitution? Supporting same-sex marriage certainly does not mean that it has to be sanctified by the church; it merely means that the marriage has to be recognized by the State. When our forefathers proclaimed that church and state would remain separate, they meant just that. The Constitution is very clear in the First Amendment, when it states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Same-sex marriage is predominately a religious issue, not a state issue. When all else fails, for reference there is also the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, which clarifies that "All men are created equal"?
Legally, the Church has no say in marriage, which is why the State can implement such things as common-law marriage. Few churches could be expected to expediently embrace the marriage of homosexuals, should same-sex marriage provisions be enacted by a city, state, or (gasp), contrary to Dick Cheney's wishes, the Federal government. Churches and faiths have their own doctrine by which they follow, and they are not held complicit to every law state or federal governments pass, especially one relating to this issue. It is not only Republicans, the low-hanging fruit from which the Huffington Post and their ilk like to sort out the rotten apples, contradicting their Patriotic duty to support the ideals of the American Revolution, but also the Democrats who are being extremely hypocritical in their position on the issue, denouncing the significant historical doctrine that is relevant to the discussion.
Not only should the blame for the unending marriage "debate" be spread around amongst the major parties, it should be handed down as well. There is no secret as to why the Democrats haven't done their usual knee-jerking to counter-step Republicans on this issue and come out in full support of same-sex marriage. It is the votes that matter, and the American people simply haven't made up their mind on the issue. According to Gallup, a slight majority of people in America who have decided, 57-percent, do not support the full inclusion of same-sex marriage. Compared with a staggering 68-percent opposition to the idea just twelve years ago, those numbers show a clear and strong move of public opinion. (Had the poll been taken in the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the numbers would have been even more drastically slanted).
For those voters who have made up "their" mind on the issue, the results are largely divided along party lines, and in a system where blind political obedience has becoming de rigueur on both sides of the aisle, a show of support from one major party could easily tip the balances in favor of same-sex marriage. Though still risky for individual politicians, especially at local and state levels, Democrats could tip the mass of the national argument by hitching their donkey to the cart of truly equal rights.
Shifting back to the right, there has been no shortage of punditry pointing out the irony that support for same-sex marriage wouldn't even be out-of-step with cornerstone Republican policies. An easy, face-saving catch-all is, oddly, in the "family values" stance they have appropriated for most issues; most likely, being gay is likely a biological phenomenon that comes from the family itself.
Although the full explanation remains elusive, there is valid scientific evidence the brains of gay and straight people are hardwired with their sexual preference before birth. Where there is quantifiable research on the subject, most evidence looks to biological influences to explain a good deal of homosexual behavior. Should we not let science guide not only our precision battlefield weaponry, but also our understanding of the family? Homosexuality is biological, and nothing is more familial than biology. When it comes to being gay, just as Essie Mae Washington-Williams' segregationist father and Trig Palin's Down Syndrome, there is no choice involved in the matter. Dick Cheney can attest to that.
It should be a no-brainer for Republicans to quickly and easily frame the idea of same-sex marriage as support for family values. Some people may refute this idea, but the case can certainly be made, and politicians have been changing course ever since established politics came into being, with contemporary politicians sharing in the tradition (i.e. John Kerry; John McCain; Barack Obama). Wikipedia even has a historical perspective on the practice.
To justify their newfound stance on same-sex marriage, all the Republican Party would need to do is bring it right back home, into the churches. When all else fails, utter some quotations from Jesus -- Matthew 7:12 "Do for others what you would like them to do for you"; or Matthew 5:44 "Love your enemies"; or Matthew 5:6 "God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will receive it in full" or Mark 3:35 "Anyone who does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Republicans, who pride themselves on their Christian faith and values, can scarcely continue to ignore the words of their Lord and Savior. They can also ill afford to remain entrenched on an ever-shrinking plot of social real estate. Just consider their House and Senate numbers. With their own players switching sides out of a sheer reluctance to have their political futures "decided by that jury" of antiquated, detatched conservative notions, the Republicans would do well to carve into an increasingly important segment of the population. The ones who have woken up to the fact that America's legal positions on the right to same-sex marriage must be reconciled with the national understanding of liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
People have much maligned the Republican Party the past few years, and, conversely, praised the Democratic Party. Increasingly this seems to be purely out convenience, laziness, and/or of a lack of options to do much else. However, whichever party finally accepts and proclaims that homosexuals deserve the same rights as heterosexuals will truly take the next step forward in politics, a step away from history and toward continued relevance. The recent legal moves in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Maine should be a clear indication to all national politicians that the tide is shifting.
The decision to go against the grain is certainly difficult, especially for career politicians who, in America, have in recent decades become elected officials almost universally in the vein of Jimmy Carter, with their faiths at the center of their public persona. Politics is their job, and they all have constituents that, by and large, match that faith. In this economy, job security is everything, even in politics. Arlen Specter can attest to that.
But same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue, and as such is not one that should be bound by the authority and/or irrationality of faith or religiosity alone. The pure and elegant concepts of justice, fairness, and equality must prevail in this matter. Only through rationality and reasoning can Americans continue their founding tradition of separation between church and state, and equal rights for all.
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