Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why Gay Marriage Remains a Political Taboo




By Steve Charing



Presumptive Baltimore Mayor-elect Sheila Dixon has been a long-time friend of Baltimore’s gay community. Her communications director, Anthony McCarthy—a familiar and rather high profile figure here—is openly gay. She has had several openly gay staffers since her days on the City Council.

Sheila Dixon, while City Council president, was a key force in enacting a law in Baltimore that prevents discrimination based on gender identity or expression. In that position, Ms. Dixon also pledged to help curb the burgeoning HIV/AIDS infection rate in the city. Her office was routinely involved with Baltimore Pride, and she worked to resolve disputes involving gays and local gay businesses. She also favors civil unions for same-sex couples.

All told, one can accurately describe her as gay-friendly, except for the fact she does not support nor would she sponsor a symbolic Council resolution backing same-sex marriage.

Endorsing same-sex marriage is just a line that Sheila Dixon and many gay-friendly elected officials and candidates refuse, at this time, to cross. From otherwise gay-supportive politicians like Governor O’Malley, a significant number of state legislators, Senators Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski, and all but two of the Democratic presidential candidates, their leap to gay marriage is fraught with obstacles—some religious but mostly political.

Most of these officials advocate civil unions with the full complement of benefits that would accrue. But to get to that next step—full marriage equality—has been a challenge and a source of frustration to proponents of same-sex marriage.

With Mayor Dixon, her affiliation with the AME Church precludes her from backing same-sex marriage, according to a report by the Washington Blade. But I wonder if defying the teachings of her church is acceptable to her if she favors a woman’s right to choose.

Many other elected officials and candidates, including those who are Catholic, use "religious beliefs" as a shield, as well. They are frequently pro-choice, pro-death penalty, pro-stem-cell research and have even divorced. These go against the grain of Church doctrine, but these politicians seem to fall in line with Church thinking when it comes to homosexuality.

The real answer, I believe, lies with political calculation. As polls indicate, the country has not yet reached the point of accepting same-sex marriage. Politicians know this and state their positions accordingly. I suspect that by disavowing such a resolution Mayor Dixon did the political math whereby it was more advantageous to offend those gay voters who believe in marriage equality than to alienate the powerful, influential African-American ministers within the city who strongly oppose same-sex marriage. It’s a hot button political issue that is dominated by religious doctrine.

Within the House of Delegates, only a handful of lawmakers vocally advocate same-sex marriage, with Liz Bobo among the very few heterosexual legislators who do so. Garnering support is going to be important when the Maryland Court of Appeals eventually rules on the constitutionality of the state’s marriage law.

If the court rules favorably, the extreme elements of the legislature, led by one-trick-pony, anti-gay Del. Donald H. Dwyer, Jr., will lead the effort to amend the state’s constitution by having the issue (minority rights) put before the voters.

Same-sex marriage, which had been thrust upon the political landscape by the 2003 ruling in Massachusetts, has been a good one for Republicans during the 2004 election campaign while being a canker sore for the Dems at all levels of government.

No Republican that I know other than those in the Log Cabin Republicans supports gay marriage. Most Democrats fear the consequences of the debate. No one wants to be pegged as someone who is willing to undermine the sanctity of marriage and to be accused of promoting the "gay agenda."

In speaking to a member of Maryland’s House of Delegates, the dilemma for Democrats is illustrative. He supports all rights for lgbt people and has had a progressive history throughout his political career. Yet, he is troubled by the word "marriage," and cannot find a way to embrace it.

It is hard to determine, at this point, what the political fallout will be from the Larry Craig toe-tapping toilet tango incident. Will the voters see his digression as another example of conservative hypocrisy? Or will they take the stereotypical view that gays furtively pursue sex wherever they can? Never mind that at least half of the participants arrested for engaging in public sex are heterosexual.

Or perhaps they will come to the realization that marriage equality and all that would bring would induce gays to seek monogamous, committed relationships. The public, as well as the politicians, must be made to understand that same-sex marriage activists are not seeking religious blessings of marriages; that it is the sole option of religious institutions.

Leadership will go a long way towards shifting public opinion. But it is always about getting elected and re-elected that dominate the words and actions of politicians. It’s unfortunate, but that is the political reality.

When public attitudes change, as they most certainly will over time, then elected officials will feel safe to trust their own beliefs and do what is right. Same-sex marriage will no longer be considered a taboo. To his credit, defeated mayoral candidate Keiffer J. Mitchell, Jr. was unabashed in his support for marriage equality. Hopefully Mayor Dixon and other friends of the gay community will see the light as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was excellent as always. You would think that liberal Democrats in a very Democratic state should be able to take a little more calculated risk in taking tough stands, but I can understand that they want to protect their jobs and bank accounts.

Tim B-ski