Friday, October 03, 2008


Here's a sign of progress: In a Presidential debate in 1996, in fielding a question about gay rights, Bob Dole dodged it by saying that he personally was not prejudiced and that he didn't think discrimination against gay people was appropriate. He also said, however, that he didn't want to give gay people (the broader notion of LGBT had not then, and probably still hasn't, made it into mainstream parlance) "special rights," which was an artful though misleading way of disguising the fact that he opposed extending anti-discrimination law to cover sexual orientation.

In last night's VP debate, Joe Biden essentially said that he favored complete formal equality except for the term marriage. Biden actually referred to married same-sex couples in his initial answer but in responding to the follow-up, he made clear that he and Obama oppose govt-recognized same-sex marriage. Sarah Palin was a bit cagier. She gave a Dole-like answer in referring to her personal views ("tolerant"), and said the government shouldn't outlaw same-sex partners visiting one another in the hospital, which, of course, is not the issue. The question is whether the government should require that same-sex partners be given the same rights as straight spouses in such matters. She also said that she worried that extending too many rights to same-sex couples would lead to marriage rights, thus suggesting that she would stop substantially short of full-fledged equal-in-all-but-name rights for same-sex couples.

This leaves the state of play short of where I'd like to see it: an equal right to marriage and everything else. Still, it's worth marveling at how much progress has been made. The center-left position of those not running for President is to support same-sex marriage. (E.g., Gov. Paterson). The center-left position for Presidential (or Vice Presidential) candidates is now to support full equality via civil unions but to oppose the use of the word marriage. The centrist position for moderates not running for President (see, e.g., Gov. Schwarzenegger) is to support, or at least not oppose, same-sex marriage rights. And the position of a Republican Vice Presidential candidate who was added to the ticket to appeal to the religious conservative base is to support some, though not full, movement towards an anti-discrimination norm.

That is quite substantial progress. At this rate, I would bet that by 2016 or 2020 the latest, the Democratic Presidential candidate will support same-sex marriage, while the Republican will at least support full civil unions. If I'm wrong, I'll blog about it then.

Posted by Mike Dorf


Adam P. said...

What's interesting about the Obama/Biden platform re: same sex marriage is that, in terms of administration policy, it might actually be identical to the Patersonian view.
The federal government is unlikely under either view to mandate states grant same-sex marriages, nor would it itself issue state marriage licenses. So the main issue is whether the federal government would treat couples in same-sex marriages valid in states the same as married couples for purposes of taxes, survivorship, employment benefits, etc. Whether a President supports "marriage" for gay couples or giving the same rights to same-sex partnerships as opposite-sex married people would be the same in this respect.
This presumes a repeal of DOMA, which didn't come up tonight, but which Obama has supported before (Biden voted for DOMA; neither of the 2 iL senators at the time did).
Of course there is the bully pulpit and the symbolism of the President's support of gay marriage, but gay marriage is unlikely to come to a state because the President thinks its a good idea.
For supporters of LGBT equality, this may be a wise political stance by Obama/Biden. More American voters would be alienated by a pro-gay marriage vstance, and it may not help LGBT people much at all.

Paul Scott said...

Except that Biden is such a terrible debater that Palin's answer was left sounding good to anyone that heard it. Biden and the Moderator even appeared (though I think the moderator did so in a tone that sounded sarcastic to me) to claim that their positions were the same.

Biden's answer was clear and unequivocal in terms of legal equality (though not on social equality, but then as the Federal government does not have anything to do with the act of marriage/social unions, that is probably the right stance).

Palin's was obvious to me - she is as anti-gay as she can be under today's climate. However, neither Biden nor Gwen Ifill pressed her for clarification.

Frankly, I thought the debate could/should have show Palin Palin's ignorance on a number of issues, all of which were dropped by Biden and/or Ifill.

Paul Scott said...

The following no-doubt violates copyrights:

Tam Ho said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tam Ho said...

I believe it was in discussing universal healthcare when Palin asked whether we really want the federal gov't to run anything given the shoddy job it's been doing in the past 8 years.

This is like a parent who feeds a child only extremely spoiled food, and then claims that nutrition is not only unnecessary, but in fact, adverse to child development and health. "Do you really want me to feed you, given the way you get violently ill every time you eat?"

Biden's failure to seize upon the opportunity to point out the opportunistic nature of this response would be a huge debating blunder but for the fact that he had so many other ridiculous things to respond to; I think he actually began his answer with "I don't know where to begin."

Does Palin know where to begin? You betcha! No matter the question, begin with tax cuts, and the accompanying spending cuts, all under the umbrella of job creation.

This handy dandy flow chart probably helps.

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