Saturday, November 13, 2004

Democrats on Gay Marriage

A lot of commentary has gone into the idea that the ‘values’ voters decided the election and that the Democrats were badly hurt over the gay marriage issue and we need to reach out to some of these folks. Consider that actual concerns over gay marriage range from those who feel that it is a greater threat than terrorism to those who simply are concerned that changing things is risky and don’t see the advantage to making this change. While the democrats will never win over the first set, those closer to the second position can be talked to. However, we do need to frame our message correctly. The problem with our message, I think, can be summed up below.

The main points that we should be putting forth in our message are:

  1. We certainly recognize the very legitimate concern in general that change brings risk. When an institution is generally working changes should be made carefully and with considerable thought. The larger the change the more thought and care is needed before making it. As democrats we may be more willing to take risks than is altogether common, but we do understand the basic concern.

  2. Recognizing this we are not supporting the complete modification of the institution of marriage in all its guises across the country. As democrats we typically feel that this change is worth making, but at this point we see only that two states are making changes to their laws. We approve these changes and are interested in seeing what the outcome is, but each state will have to judge the results in these states and act upon them accordingly. Our only request is that these folks in Vermont and Massachusetts be left alone to make these changes in accordance with their state laws and customs so that we may all learn the actual impact of these changes. No more is requested or expected of any other citizen in the nation.

  3. Also, in the second item, I said "marriage in all its guises". By that I mean that we recognize that marriage is both a religious institution (and as such a matter of deep personal conviction which the state has no business regulating) and a secular institution involving legal responsibilities which clearly the state has a role in. We stand as firmly as anyone that the state has no business meddling in the way any particular church defines marriage or on whom the religious blessing will be granted. We recognize only the possible change in the institution and benefits regulated by the state. This is why among democrats there has been much discussion and advocacy of ‘civil unions’ rather than marriages. We do want to make this distinction clear.

  4. Our reasons for supporting gay marriage or ‘civil unions’ is that we see love and commitment as good things for individuals and for society. We believe that fostering these things is a good thing in itself and that the civil institution of marriage provides the best framework in which to encourage this. We certainly believe that secular law can safely be amended to encourage love and commitment with homosexual couples as well as it already does with the heterosexual. We believe that no damage will be done to heterosexual religious marriage by this change. Nonetheless we favor a thoughtful approach to making these changes.

  5. We also feel that this is a civil rights issue. Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship, a committed union being one of those benefits.

  6. The religious among us do not believe that we can know with certainty God’s judgement on this issue or so that we can render that judgement on our fellow citizens. We believe it is better to support love and commitment through secular law than to try and render God’s judgement. The religious among us tend to believe that it is a sin to try and render God’s judgement ourselves even if we are correct, and a terrible sin to do so if we are wrong.

The above points are the sorts of things that we need to try and communicate, probably with fewer words, but those ideas might help address some fears. I feel that to a great extent the message coming from a large part of the Democratic populace has been more like:

  1. You must be a hate filled religious fanatic and bigot to even think there could be any problem with introducing gay marriage.

This message is not as good at winning votes as many democrats seem to think it should be.

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