SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–The California Supreme Court’s decision legalizing “gay marriage” handed homosexuals an historic victory but also placed the presidential candidates –- particularly the Democrats –- in a precarious position.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean issued the most strongly worded statement, embracing the decision in what apparently was his first public statement affirming “gay marriage.”
“The Supreme Court of California today took a step forward in the long march toward protecting equal rights under the law for every American,” he said. “This should not be a matter of politics or partisanship; it is a matter of protecting the rights and dignity of all American families.”
Dean, though, won’t be on the ballot this fall, and liberal activists and bloggers -– as well as conservative ones — were watching closely the statements of the two Democratic candidates, especially frontrunner Barack Obama. The ruling placed the Illinois senator in a bind because he says he opposes “gay marriage” but at the same time is courting the votes of the homosexual community.
Meanwhile -– as conservatives note — Obama has opposed every effort that would prevent the legalization of “gay marriage.” He even supports repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law that prevents the federal government from recognizing “gay marriage” and gives states the right to do the same. Some legal experts believe DOMA’s repeal would force every state to recognize “gay marriages” from Massachusetts and California, assuming that state’s ruling stands.
“Barack Obama has always believed that same-sex couples should enjoy equal rights under the law, and he will continue to fight for civil unions as President,” a statement from his campaign said. “He respects the decision of the California Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage.”
National Review’s Rich Lowry wrote that Obama “might be the first major candidate for president to support same-sex marriage” although he “won’t say as much.” Lowry says Obama is “operationally pro-gay marriage.”
“He respects a decision that disregarded the will of the people in California, as expressed by a 2000 referendum that defined marriage as between a man and a woman; he respects a decision that excoriated his own position of support for civil unions and (theoretical) opposition to same-sex marriage; he respects a decision that rejects the sort of political compromise he extols. It’s like a professed abolitionist in 1857 saying he ‘respects’ the Dred Scott ruling,” Lowry wrote.
Obama’s position is different from John Kerry’s in 2004, Lowry notes. Kerry criticized the ’03 decision by the Massachusetts high court legalizing “gay marriage” and even supported an amendment that would overturn it. Obama, Lowry says, “makes Kerry look like a staunch cultural conservative.”
“Obama opposes a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman,” Lowry wrote. “He opposes the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prevents states from having to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. And he supports activist judges of the sort who find the California court’s reasoning congenial. Obama is a soft-toned cultural warrior, wrapped in the blandishments of change and bipartisanship.”
Obama’s statement also wasn’t good enough for some supporters of “gay marriage,” who want to see the Democrats take the next step in embracing “gay rights.”
John Nichols of The Nation, a liberal magazine, wrote that if a California marriage amendment makes it on the ballot -– as it likely will -– “there is no way that the candidates for president won’t be drawn into the fight.”
“That’s got some Democratic strategists scared,” Nichols wrote. “They think the only way to deal with social issues is to avoid them. Those strategists are wrong. And if Obama and other candidates listen to their bad advice, damage will be done to the party’s prospects.”
Nichols asserts that in 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry’s attempts to “avoid appearing to be overly sympathetic” to homosexual causes helped his opponents “portray him … as a man of fluid principles.”
“The fact is that the Democratic Party has in recent years moved tentatively toward being a pro-gay rights party — just as it moved tentatively in the 1950s toward being a pro-civil rights party,” Nichols wrote. “The process has been slow, and it remains incomplete. But most Americans see Democrats as supporting gay rights, just as they see Republicans as opposing equality. Democrats can’t change that fact. And they shouldn’t try to. Instead, if Democrats are smart, they will embrace the opening created by the California Supreme Court decision.”
Nichols points to Wisconsin, where Kerry won in 2004 by roughly 11,000 votes, but on the same day Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold -– a supporter of “gay marriage” -– won by 330,000 votes.
“The point is that Democrats who campaign from a place of confidence and strength make a better impression — and win more votes — than those who campaign from a place of fear and reaction,” Nichols wrote.
MICH. COURT SIDES WITH CONSERVATIVES –- The Michigan Supreme Court ruled May 7 that the state’s constitutional marriage amendment, adopted in 2004, prevents public employers from offering marriage-like benefits to the partners of homosexual employees. The 5-2 ruling –- a win for conservatives — applies to local governments and universities.
Patrick Gillen, a professor at Ave Maria Law School, said the decision was a “vindication of the will of people in enacting the marriage amendment,” the Associated Press reported. He was a coauthor of the amendment, which passed 59-41 percent.
The amendment reads: “To secure and preserve the benefits of marriage for our society and for future generations of children, the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”
PA. AMENDMENT IN LIMBO -– A proposed constitutional marriage amendment in Pennsylvania appears to be dead after supporters in the state Senate tabled it. The amendment likely would have passed the Republican-controlled Senate, but leaders in the Democratic-controlled House oppose it. The Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Michael Brubaker, said he favored tabling the proposal because, if it passed, it would have been sent to a House committee where the Democratic chairman strongly opposes it, the Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported.
But supporters of the amendment say the California court’s ruling underscores the need for an amendment in Pennsylvania.
“Newspapers across the commonwealth editorialized — and many legislators said — we don’t need an amendment, we already have a law [banning gay marriage]. This [ruling] makes clear that the law is insufficient,” Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, said, according to the Post-Gazette.
The amendment must pass in two consecutive sessions before it appears on the ballot. Even if it passed this session it would not appear on the ballot this fall.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.