The marriage front is shifting at a break-neck pace. Even as the Massachusetts Legislature convened an historic constitutional convention that for two agonizing days debated, but thankfully––at least for now––failed to come to agreement on, a constitutional amendment to overturn that state’s high court same-sex marriage ruling, San Francisco snatched center stage from Boston with its mayor’s dramatic decision to issue marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples.
California courts will likely take weeks to sort out the question of whether the state’s nondiscrimination law trumps its marriage statutes that limit unions to one man and one woman, but already a Democratic activist in New York City is arguing that this state’s gender-neutral marriage law allows for same-sex nuptials here and the mayor of Chicago said he’s fine with same-sex marriage licenses being issued there.
As journalists, we at Gay City News are beginning to create score cards to keep track of the various positions being staked out in this evolving drama, and it is useful for everyone in our community to press elected officials on where they stand on the question of full equality for our families.
But as we head into the final two-week stretch before what is likely to be a fateful two-man contest between Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards in ten Super Tuesday states, including New York, on March 2, we need to articulate––and be prepared to judge these two candidates on the basis of––a broad agenda on which our community has been working for years.
In broad strokes, Kerry and Edwards offer many of the same strengths but also similar limitations. Both men support pending––though long languishing–– federal nondiscrimination and hate crimes legislation, and each has promised to overturn the corrosive and dangerous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military policy.
But Kerry and Edwards both hesitate on the issue of same-sex marriage, endorsing instead the civil union option adopted under former Gov. Howard Dean in Vermont in 2000. As with Dean, who has now left the presidential race, the two remaining contenders have adopted increasingly nuanced positions rather than simply saying they would support same-sex marriage in unqualified fashion.
During the past week, Edwards seems to have gained a bit higher ground on this parsing than Kerry, saying, “If California chooses to recognize same-sex marriage, that’s fine, and the federal government ought to honor it, ” a stance first staked out by Dean last summer. It falls short of a full-fledged endorsement of marriage for gay and lesbian couples nationwide, but it allows a state option, and––in an important rebuke to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)––would give such state-sanctioned marriages federal recognition.
Kerry, who alone among those senators running for re-election in 1996, stood against DOMA, and who joins Edwards in opposing a federal constitutional amendment, has allowed himself to get dragged into the festering fight in his home state’s legislature, saying he will not comment on a proposed Massachusetts state constitutional amendment until he sees specific language. We observed last week that he might have come away cleaner had he simply stood firm on the principle of not tinkering with constitutions, federal or state.
The finely honed posturing on the quickly evolving marriage turf, however, is all a little bit of fine print––instructive in what it tells us about the candidates’ instincts, but in no way predictive about how our issues might play out under a Pres. Kerry or a Pres. Edwards.
The fact of the matter is that even if a Democrat is elected president, the Congress is almost certain to stay in Republican hands next year, and our key priorities will still face extraordinarily tough sledding. We will be pushing for an outright repeal of DOMA, even as Republicans, if they have not already moved on the Federal Marriage Amendment, will see new political incentive in pressing forward.
Similarly, though public opinion has shifted dramatically on the question of gays in the military, conservatives will undoubtedly be emboldened by memories of how quickly they routed Bill Clinton on this issue 11 years ago.
We will even face a tall order in passing the basic civil rights measures that we’ve pushing–– and, by the way, bickering about improving––for years.
In the time left before March 2, we need to press as hard as we can for specifics, but we also need to take a measure of each man to judge how strong he would be in the face of what will almost certainly be an angry partisan response on Capitol Hill to the arrival of a new Democratic president.