Perhaps the biggest surprise about last week’s historic Proposition 8 court ruling is the striking dearth of arguments in support of California’s marriage ban.
Seven million voters supported the ban in 2008, but why?
The Republican administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not only declined to defend the law in court, but even argued against a stay of the ruling so that same-sex couples could begin marrying again right away. The state government’s antipathy resulted in a third party stepping up to defend the law. Attorneys Andrew Pugno and Charles Cooper from Protect Marriage were widely ridiculed for the weak defense they mounted; they called just two witnesses.
As conservative Fox News columnist Margaret Hoover put it, “Surprisingly, the defense’s two lone witnesses also offered compelling reasons to favor of marriage equality. They testified that allowing homosexuals to marry would increase family stability and improve the lives of their children; that sexual orientation is unchangeable; that gays and lesbians have faced a long history of discrimination, including Prop 8.”
On Sunday, attorney Ted Olson, an unlikely gay icon to be sure, appeared on Fox News Sunday to face a grilling from Chris Wallace. Instead, it was Wallace who was roasted, as it became instantly clear that even Fox can’t argue against marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“Where is the right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution,” Wallace demanded of Olson.
“Where is the right to interracial marriage in the Constitution, Chris,” came the reply. “The Supreme Court has said that marriage — the right to marry a person of your choice — is part of liberty, privacy, association and spirituality guaranteed to each individual under the Constitution. … The right to marry is a fundamental right for all citizens.”
Earlier this week, I was interviewed for an hour by the NPR station in Baltimore about the ruling. I arrived expecting to find an anti-gay Republican or someone from the National Organization for Marriage in the green room waiting to debate me on air. Instead, the host said no one from “the other side” would agree to appear. During the show, just two listeners called in opposition to same-sex marriage, both citing incoherent religious views as justification for their opinions.
This silence from the right is not coincidental. Just a few years ago, same-sex marriage and abortion were the two marquee issues that right-wing groups used to draw crowds and, more reliably, donations to their organizations. They have now figured out that attacking gays and lesbians is a real turn off for the independent voters who now decide most of our elections.
“The potential consequence that conservatives land on the wrong side of civil rights history again is the alienation of an entire generation of voters,” Fox’s Hoover wrote. “With polling definitively indicating that Americans under age 30 overwhelmingly favor gay rights, with a majority supporting gay marriage according to the Pew Millennial Attitudes report published in February this year, there are multiple reasons for conservatives to think carefully before digging in their heels against gay marriage.”
Indeed, Republican leaders are ignoring the party’s circus clowns like the four-times-married Rush Limbaugh, who claimed, “the American people are boiling” after the ruling.
Instead, the top Republican candidates for governor and Senate in California — Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina — had little to say. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, long a subject of gay rumors, was also quiet. Even national Republican Party leaders were anxious to change the subject.
“Every indicator that I have … generally speaking is that economic growth and job creation are the tandem issues that will be the principal drivers of voter decision at polls,” said Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins. “What I’m encouraging candidates to do is go out and run on an economic platform, a jobs platform.”
That’s sage advice considering those poll numbers for younger voters. At a time when the GOP is working overtime to permanently alienate Hispanic voters over immigration rights, it is backtracking on opposing gay rights. That’s not to say everyone has given up. Tony Perkins is still out there banging his fundamentalist drum and there have been a few whispers of someone introducing a federal marriage amendment in the House as a result of the Prop 8 decision. But the reaction is a far cry from 2004, when President Bush made same-sex marriage a key campaign issue and 11 states put the issue on the ballot.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have finally been unmasked as mere religious zealots with no reasonable or discernable argument for depriving gay and lesbian couples of the rights afforded to opposite-sex couples.
As U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker put it in his ruling, “Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.”