The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


Bill Saletan has a pretty good piece on how the case for gay marriage can be made. The secret, he argues, is to emphasize the angle that social conservatives can (supposedly) understand: committment. In other words, to be pro-gay marriage is to be pro-marriage.
Once open, the debate is surprisingly winnable. Opponents of gay marriage will say it's really about homosexuality. But opponents of legal abortion made the same argument—it's really about abortion—and lost. Some anti-gay advocates will say marriage is for procreation. But that position is politically disastrous, alienating singles, infertile couples, and any married person who uses contraception. Other critics will warn of moral chaos. But moral chaos is what marriage prevents. If you want family values, the simplest thing to do is to let people form families.
Saletan makes a number of references to the abortion debate, about how proponents of legalized abortion framed the issue in the correct way: choice. That was probably the last time liberals have ever properly implemented the use of language for political ends.

Anyway, there is one problem, one difference from the abortion debate, and it comes early in the piece, while he's analogizing:
The answer lies in the emerging cliché that gay marriage is the abortion issue of 2004. The analogy is more apt than its purveyors recognize. Abortion started out as a losing issue for the left because Americans found the procedure repugnant. They still do. Yet today the legality of abortion is so untouchable that President Bush conceded last month, "I don't think the culture has changed to the extent that the American people or the Congress would totally ban abortions."

What changed? Liberals persuaded the public to separate abortion from choice. Choice, unlike abortion, is a broadly shared American value. You don't have to support abortion to support choice. A politician can say, "I'm pro-choice. The issue isn't whether you have an abortion. The issue is whether you have the choice."
See the problem? It might take you a sec...

Ah, there it is: "Abortion started out as a losing issue for the left because Americans found the procedure repugnant." Now I completely agree that abortion is a repugnant procedure, and I certainly hope that no one [euphemism]closely associated with me[/euphemism] has to go through it. However, homosexuality, on its face, isn't and shouldn't even be considered repugnant. The way this issue is weighted is different from abortion, in that it also requires a shift in value judgements from our culture regarding the concept itself. Straight sex, it can be argued, is equally as repugnant, or non-repugnant, as gay sex. The same goes for straight/gay couples going out for coffee. Abortion is something anyone would hope they don't have to go through. Is the same true for homosexuality?

That said, 1) I don't think Bill Saletan is homophobic, and in fact he calls himself a "card-carrying advocate of gay civil rights and gay marriage" in a recent article*. And 2) Despite the above paragraph, I still agree wholeheartedly with the political strategy Saletan outlines in his piece. The only thing I'd add is that larger cultural changes still need to be made.

* - Saletan is a political-implications-before-personal-beliefs kinda guy, and it shows in the other article, on the big Iowa Dem event earlier this week:
From the standpoint of the general election, the two most significant moments in this forum went overlooked by the media. The first was the singing of the national anthem, which was performed by the Des Moines Gay Men's Chorus. I'm a card-carrying advocate of gay civil rights and gay marriage, but for the millions of Americans who aren't there yet, entrusting the national anthem to a group of guys in black turtlenecks and neatly trimmed beards is way too in-your-face. It conveys a blindness to cultural reality that bodes ill for the Democratic Party in the red states.
It's okay, Bill, it was a Democratic audience, the chorus was from Des Moines, and besides, how is singing the national anthem "in your face"? Were they hitting on candidates? I just wonder what would have been said if the Chorus had applied to sing the anthem but was rejected.


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