Sunday, May 18, 2008

Deja Vu or Lessons Learned In Practical Politics by Anthony McCarthy

The gay marriage decision in California coming in a presidential election year carries some deja vu baggage, the one in Massachusetts didn’t do John Kerry any favors. The issue will be used by Republicans appealing to their base of bigots. The irony of having someone like McCain who dumped his first wife running against a candidate, either of whose first marriages seems solid and committed, on the basis of “marriage protection” might carry a few opportunities that Kerry didn’t have but the issue will eat into time spent on stronger ones for Democrats. It’s an issue that would have been better brought in an off-year. But we’ve got what the court schedule in California provided to us.

This time, at least, there is the opportunity to point to the fact that in Massachusetts the issue didn’t lead to broken, woman-man marriages. I’d try arguing that perhaps MA, as the least divorced state, actually was demonstrating how pro-marriage it is by extending the right to lesbians and gay men. I couldn’t find the statistics for the period after the court ruling, but it should be possible to show there wasn’t an epidemic of straight divorce following their Supreme Court decision. Barney Frank’s pointing out that those against equal rights are arguing against people who want to be gainfully employed, have the right to serve their country in the military and have legally sanctioned marriages.

Protecting the decision in California will hinge on lobbying the grass roots, if the bigots get their ballot initiative, which they probably will. This should be an example of the necessity of doing that in the end, anyway. Winning these cases in state courts isn’t really the end, it’s the middle step in the process. It was due only to the peculiarities of the Massachusetts rules governing referendums that prevented the issue of civil rights of a minority being subjected to the whim of the majority. We can’t count on that in many states, we can’t count on the state courts or legislatures in most places. I hope no one is still depending on the U.S. Supreme Court after the increasingly regressive post Warren court. In the end this issue is going to depend on the publics’ acceptance of it and that will not come from anything other than presenting them with the positive reality of individual marriages. It’s encouraging to see that some of the folks in California get it.

"What we've seen in the example of Massachusetts is personalize, personalize, personalize," said Stuart Gaffney, 45, who, with his partner, John Lewis, was a plaintiff in the California case. "When this issue is personalized, people understand it's about our common humanity and about our shared desire to marry the person you love. And when it's more abstract, that works against us."

It’s going to take that approach everywhere and it’s going to be up against the gaudiest, raunchiest images and stupidest things said by self-involved jerks that can be pinned on gay people in general. They will provide the anti-equality side with some of their most useful stuff. But I’ve made that argument here this weekend already.

Note: Look at this as the practical reality of protecting equal rights on the basis of individual cases and contrast it with the lumping of individuals into averages by social science in this article about unequal representation of women in the hard sciences and technology, also in today’s Boston Globe. Which approach do you think is more likely to result in increased opportunities and free choices for individuals and which is going to be used as a tool for propping up an unequal status quo? Notice, when you read the article, how even as the author cites insurmountable complications in gathering data and how they would have had to leave aside some crucial facts in the lives of the individuals purported to comprise their study, the reduction in the end seems simple when it certainly isn't. You're more likely to increase civil rights protection going with individual examples people can see than in providing an oversimplified result of numbers crunching. It's in the individual cases that the inequity expresses itself, not in the lump generalization.