Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On Marriage Equality

Although we haven't said anything about the elections that were going on this year, I'm sure my friends in the States heard something from some pundit or other about the Governor's races in New Jersey and Virginia, or the by-election for New York district 23, where Republican infighting created, until a few days before the election, a three way race between Doug Hoffman (Conservative Party, and endorsed by Sarah Palin and Fred Thompson), Dede Scozzafava (the Republican who supported marriage equality and abortion rights, and that is not a long series of typos), and Bill Owens (who is a pretty conservative Democrat). And, if you didn't know yesterday, by today we know that Republicans won in NJ and Virginia, and Bill Owens won in NY-23.

And we also know that plenty of pundits are going to pontificate about what this "means" for Democrats and for Obama. But we know, in the long run, not much. Democrats either field better candidates with strong progressive values, or their supporters stay home. "Bipartisanship" gets you nowhere when people want the majority party to act like they are in power and accomplish their agenda. If you dither all summer while your key players, or wanna-be key players get paid off by the insurance industry, your base, your activists, and 'get out the vote' people, are going to stay home, because they know. They read the blogs, or even the papers. They're better informed than the general electorate because they are active in politics.

The only election that matters to Obama's administration is the one with the most consequences in human terms: Question 1 in Maine, which challenged a bill passed by the legislature granting marriage equality to same sex couples. Unfortunately, the bad guys won, and we have yet another example of conservatives using the referendum process to prevent the implementation (or explicit denial) of civil rights. It's a victory for conservatives only insofar as they continue their politics of resentment, which hopefully will lead to the Republicans being reduced to a regional Southern party as they drive whatever moderates remain from the party.

But it's also, in that case, a pyrhhic victory. Because eventually marriage equality will win. Young voters overwhelmingly vote for marriage equality, while older voters vote against it. It's the most important demographic for understanding the future of equality, and it also means that, after a loss, as happened in California, progressives won't get distracted by blaming black or Latino voters for their loss. Not only is it bad politics (let the Republicans be the divisive racists, please), but it's false. When it comes to statistics, especially in the 2008 election, I depended on Nate Silver at He writes:
Certainly, the No on 8 folks might have done a better job of outreach to California's black and Latino communities. But the notion that Prop 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge is silly. Exit polls suggest that first-time voters -- the vast majority of whom were driven to turn out by Obama (he won 83 percent [!] of their votes) -- voted against Prop 8 by a 62-38 margin. More experienced voters voted for the measure 56-44, however, providing for its passage. [...]

Furthermore, it would be premature to say that new Latino and black voters were responsible for Prop 8's passage. Latinos aged 18-29 (not strictly the same as 'new' voters, but the closest available proxy) voted against Prop 8 by a 59-41 margin. These figures are not available for young black voters, but it would surprise me if their votes weren't fairly close to the 50-50 mark.

At the end of the day, Prop 8's passage was more a generational matter than a racial one. If nobody over the age of 65 had voted, Prop 8 would have failed by a point or two.
So, do similar numbers hold up in Maine? Yes. Here's Adam Bink at Open Left, as the results were coming in (the No side equals for Marriage Equality):
Update 19: Final numbers are in from [University of Maine]-Orono campus- 81% No, 19% yes. In town of Orono itself, we won 73-27%.
And, overall, 47% of voters in Maine are fine with gay marriage. But, it's a lousy thing to say to my friends whose lives are more affected by this bill to say, "well, just wait, some day their will be marriage equality." Which is why I said that, at the moment, this is the biggest domestic electoral challenge to the Obama administration (I said 'domestic' because the election in Afghanistan is currently the biggest foreign election that the administration must respond to). It's time that Obama uses his abilities and office to change the national debate, which means no more excuses about 'too much' being on the agenda. Too many bigots can point out in bad faith that "it's okay to be against gay marriage because even Obama is." It's time to get serious (for a good start) about repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and he can drive these debates. Yet, it is not just Obama, it is the responsibility of equality supporters within the Democratic caucus to address the issue.

Of course, the "moderate" Democrat would say, this would cost the party some votes. However, I would like to point out, so will doing nothing. Democrats don't deserve votes just because they aren't Republicans. They "deserve" votes if they present some kind of progressive agenda, however limited, that aims at protecting people's rights and making people's lives better.

Update: A similar measure (although for domestic partnerships) was on the ballot in Washington State, and the good guys currently lead 51% to 49, with lots of votes still to be counted.

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