Since Vermont Governor Jim Douglas announced his intention to veto the gay-rights bill that looks likely to pass his state’s legislature, he’s been swamped with letters and emails from both sides of the gay marriage divide, some calling him homophobic, others calling him a champion of “traditional values.” We’re the first to admit that Queerty is pretty strident in its support for marriage equality, but rather than scream “Biggot!” at Douglas, we want to talk to him– and to other Republicans who don’t support gay marriage — in the language they know best: Politics.
Dear Gov. Douglas/ Republican Considering Voting Against Gay Rights–
You’ve picked a terrible time and place to stand up against gay rights. A year ago, your decision to veto a historic bill, the first of its kind to be successful, would have outraged gays and lesbians, but barely raised an eyebrow in the mainstream, but times have changed– and will continue to change rapidly. It’s not just that gays and lesbians are energized by the recent loss of marriage in California, though, as you may have noticed by angry hordes of protesters appearing at your public events, it certainly has an impact.
As much as we support and believe in the moral authority and vigor of the gay rights community, the reality is– and will continue to be– that gays and lesbians alone are not a cohesive or organized enough group to win their rights on their own. The hard truth is that gays and lesbians have been fighting for their equal rights for decades and while we’ll continue to develop better and more effective ways to make our case, social conservatives have never had a problem ignoring the complaints of minorities. Put another way, we’re not so arrogant as to believe that the Republican party will pay attention to the needs of a voting bloc as small as the LGBT movement.
This has been the lay of the land now for the last 40 years, but what the Republican party is just now beginning to discover is that the ground has shifted underneath them. George Friedman, founder of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. whose been widely lauded for his ability to predict trends, writes in his book The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century:
“Traditional distinctions between men and women are collapsing. As women live longer and have fewer children, they no longer are forced by circumstance into the traditional roles they had to maintain prior to urbanization and industrialization. Nor is the family the critical economic instrument it once was. Divorce is no longer economically catastrophic and premarital sex is inevitable. Homosexuality–and civil unions without reproduction– also become unextraordinary. If sentiment is the basis of marriage, they why indeed is gay marriage not as valid as heterosexual marriage? If marriage is decouple from reproduction, then gay marriage logically follows. All these changes are derived from the the radical shifts in life patterns that are part of the end of the population explosion.”
He concludes that while “there are movements defending various aspects of this evolution, like gay rights, but the transformation is not being planned. It is simply happening.”
The argument made again and again against gay marriage is that it would redefine the ‘traditional’ role of marriage, but in reality, marriage has already been redefined and has been since women started to become a major part of the work force. We’re well aware that when conservatives rail against gay marriage what they’re really against is the dissolution of the family structure where a woman stays at home raising the children and men work and control the levers of power. This dream, now solely based on nostalgia, is what props up the Republican party, whether it’s called “family values” or “Good Ol’ American values”, but as some in your party are realizing, this world doesn’t exist anymore and short of a Christian version of Al Qaeda taking control of the U.S., it’s never going to return.
This is what should worry you, not the angry gay protesters. Anti-gay positions are being held by a dwindling and aging demographic and for the rest of us, while Republicans and conservatives continue to win in ballot initiatives and legislation narrowly, you’ve already lost the far more important battle of how the narrative of gay rights has been framed. In an earlier time, the idea of two men or two women marrying could be seen as an existential threat to the American family, but in an age where people are marrying later in life, having fewer children and even in the heterosexual community, forming unique family structures, it’s hard to drum up much fear that gays and lesbians marrying represents any real danger to society.
Instead, gay rights are now seen as just that– “rights”, as much a part of the American pursuit of equality as voting rights or equal employment. You may disagree with this perception, but you can’t argue that the debate has shifted from a question of privilege to a question of rights. It might sound semantic, but history being what it is in this country, Americans are wary of voting to strip or deny one of their fellow countrymen their rights.
Even in California, where voters did just that, they only won by a narrow victory and there’s nothing to indicate that anti-gay marriage supporters are gaining any traction. In fact, over the weekend in an unscientific survey taken by state. Sen. William Doyle, 55% of Vermonters said they support gay marriage, 38% oppose it and 7% are undecided.
Four years ago, taking up an anti-gay stance was a no-brainer for Republicans. George W. Bush’s 2004 announcement that he supported a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage was pure political theater designed to give conservative Republicans an easy talking point to whip up voter support, but the times have changed, as McCain strategist Scott Schmidt recently admitted:
“I think the Republican Party should not be seen by a broad majority of the electorate as focused with singularity on issues like gay marriage. The attitudes of voters about gay marriage and about domestic partnership benefits for gay couples are changing very rapidly and for voters under the age of 30, they are completely disconnected from what has been Republican orthodoxy on these issues…Any campaign that would go out and try to demonize people on the basis of their sexual orientation is abhorrent and I suspect that that campaign would be rejected.”
Truthfully, as irritating as Douglas’ veto is in the short term, we’re delighted that it gives us yet another peg to remind people of the fundamental inequality and discrimination gays and lesbians in this country face. Douglas will find himself, through nobody’s fault but his own, a poster boy for intolerance and homophobia– and ultimately, a historical anachronism whose name will be remembered in the future in the same vein as George Wallace.
Republicans may still be winning battles today, but they’re losing the war. Every victory they’re making now further highlights how little they have in common with everyday Americans. We’re not so naive as to think that conservatism is dead in America, but this brand of it is. If Republicans don’t find a way to craft a message that’s more in line with the realities of American life, they may yet get the opportunity to stop gay rights in the short term, but the victories will be Pyrrhic.