Denying gay Americans the right to marry isn’t so much an argument about logic (Do reasonable people support discrimination in any form? Of course not) as it is about morals (My God says marriage is for heterosexuals, and you silly activists will never change my mind). But even as we see evidence that shifting marriage equality’s strategy from the legislature to the court makes sense, the debate will remain raging in state capitol buildings. Except between now and whenever lawmakers decide to approve the M-word for gays, these elected officials won’t be merely influenced by their religious beliefs, but by the real-world concerns of their constituents, like the economy and healthcare. Or so it’s being falsely argued.
Alex Balk, writing at The Awl: “Many of the objections you hear center around religion, but the sorry undercurrent behind the unwillingness to grant the same rights to homosexuals that their fellow citizens already enjoy and frequently abuse is actually one concerning politics and economics, i.e., in These Troubled Times legislators are not willing to take a chance on equality while their constituents are more concerned about jobs and wages. Basically, gays are screwed until the economy picks up again and we all feel so prosperous that we don’t care whether or not two committed partners who happen to be of the same gender want the same benefits as everyone else. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.”
Actually, that is not true.
While the argument makes for some good copy — Balk asks financial blogger Felix Salmon for some future milestones that’ll make voter concerns less arduous for lawmakers to cast pro-gay votes, like when unemployment stabilizes and the Dow creeps up a bit more — it completely misses the bigger picture: Most lawmakers voting against gay marriage are only using “jobs” and “the economy” and “immigration” and “healthcare” as excuses for why they are not giving a nod to eliminating marriage discrimination. Their real reasons, as you might have guessed, come down to religious beliefs, political party politics and power plays, and the powerful lobbies behind the anti-same-sex marriage effort.
Would it be accurate to say all lawmakers who point to these other, more important matters for their delay on gay marriage are lying? No. It’s very likely you’ll find many of them really do believe there’s just not enough time for equality right now. (Obama sympathizers make that argument daily.)
But we’d argue they’re in the minority. As evidenced by the State Senate votes that came New York and New Jersey — which arrived after endless finagling between activists and Senate leaders — most of these lawmakers who testified about the proposed legislation pointed not to their stuffed personal calendars, but to their problem with “redefining” a word. The economy was not on their minds; their faith was. They listened to their constituents, sure, but the outcry was about violating a sacred institution.
In bad and good economic times, lawmakers have found reasons to avoid votes of conscience. And they will always find an excuse to avoid what they claim to be a “hard” (but what we insist is among the easiest) vote. Whether you blame Wall Street or the Fed or the Bush administration for the current recession — and the current excuse pattern — is up to you. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that, should the economy rebound, and healthcare reform controversy die down, and immigration measures go through, that lawmakers’ faith-based belief that gays and lesbians are less than is going to disappear. There will be other reasons for delay: terrorism and two wars; education; the homeless; an exploding star that will destroy Earth in 10 million years.
As Balk writes, there will be no material movement on gay marriage by state legislatures until “unemployment below 6%, Dow at 12000, and deficit less than 3% of GDP.” We’d argue there will be no material movement on gay marriage by state legislatures until cowardly anti-gay officials are removed from office, and perhaps even until we have a president who’s willing to actually throw his support behind equality — but that’s just us.
But as we look toward the months and years ahead, as this “inevitability” of gay marriage snakes its way from sea to shining sea, we should also expect the economy will begin to recover. That won’t be the reason why more states enact marriage equality over the next decade, but it will certainly be a pleasant aside.