The Facts Machine

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

Sunday, June 20, 2004

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MARRIAGE BEHIND THE CURTAIN

Via Schaller, the Washington Post has a story today by Alan Cooperman, suggesting that same-sex marriage may not be the devisive cultural wedge issue that some of its supporters -- including the president -- had hoped it would become.
Across the country, evangelical Christians are voicing frustration and puzzlement that there has not been more of a political outcry since May 17, when Massachusetts became the first state to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Evangelical leaders had predicted that a chorus of righteous anger would rise up out of churches from coast to coast and overwhelm Congress with letters, e-mails and phone calls in support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

But that has not happened.

"Standing on Capitol Hill listening, you don't hear anything," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, one of the country's most vigorous Christian advocacy groups.

Perkins and other evangelical leaders contend that the outrage is out there. They say it has not been felt in Washington because defenders of traditional marriage are still in shock, or are focused on winning state constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage, or are distracted by the war in Iraq and other issues.

But a few skeptics on the Christian right, as well as many on the Christian left, are beginning to conclude that there is more fervor for a constitutional amendment in America's pulpits than in its pews. And politicians of both parties say the issue has had less grass-roots sizzle than they had expected.

"So far, it's really been a top-down issue," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), a strong opponent of gay marriage who has used his chairmanship of a Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution to hold three hearings on the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment.

Though he is convinced that gay marriage is going to be a "huge" issue, Cornyn said, "what it's going to take is some more bottom-up concern about whether people are losing control of their lives."

Senate Republican leaders said last week that they plan to bring the amendment to a vote in mid-July, a move that evangelicals hope will energize supporters around the country even though the amendment appears headed for defeat. Despite President Bush's endorsement, it is at least 15 votes short of the 67 needed for passage in the Senate, congressional staffers said.
There's plenty more there too, so read.

So the Republicans think that the wedge can better be driven in mid-July, and that people will actually notice. Something tells me that the immediate aftermath of the June 30 transfer of "sovereignty" and John Kerry's running-mate choice are gonna take up a lot of the public's attention at that time. Middle America isn't going to spend much energy on this if they haven't already, especially for a vote that's doomed to fail anyway.

Basically, what worked to some extent in the 90's isn't working now. Extended periods of peace and economic expansion have a way of allowing the American people to relax enough on the big things so that they can get disproportionately riled up about the small things, blowjobs included. Cultural wedge issues don't work as well when the generally-accepted view is that things are not going well.

But going beyond the "do culture war strategies still work" angle, it is important to look at same-sex marriage itself. The problem for opponents of same-sex marriage is that it requires them to act like the Wizard of Oz and shout "pay no attention to that marriage behind the curtain!"

Look, religious conservatives, if you give and go to sermons arguing that allowing gay marriage would lead to the "downfall of western civilization", the apocalypse, and so on, you're setting your own trap. Marriage has been legal for all in Massachusetts for over a month now, and guess what? People are going about their lives quite nicely there, and nobody has yet been smote. All this after so much sound and fury from both sides (particularly the anti-gay right) beforehand. Same thing in Vermont: Howard Dean had to campaign in a bulletproof vest because of the death threats he received after he signed the nation's first civil union legislation, yet now in Vermont, life goes on.

And hey, Rush Limbaugh's steady stream of divorces continues unabated, regardless of developments in the same-sex marriage debate.

After this happens, no amount of strategically-timed votes, fiery sermons or transparently-timed Presidential news conferences can get the vast majority of Americans fully energized or mobilized on an amendment.

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