Confession is good for the soul, they say. And, yes, it would be nice if George W. Bush gave it a try once in awhile. On the other hand, I suppose, listening to him blather on incoherently for days on end — as would be required for him to confess to all of his political and constitutional sins — could prove a bit dreary.
So back to the real world, where I think it’s time for me to confess to the sin of timidity on the subject of gay marriage. Here’s what I wrote a year-and-a-half ago in response to the decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that the state constitution required a “marriage equivalent,” such as civil unions, for gays and lesbians, but did not require the use of the word marriage:
Maybe the word marriage can wait
Let me admit up front that as hard as I may try to be empathetic, as a heterosexual I can probably never fully fulfill Atticus Finch’s condition that “you never really knew a man until you stood in his shoes and walked around in them” on this issue. But I still have to say that from the standpoint of political reality, the actual state of the nation as opposed to the one we would like, there is much to commend the compromise reached today by the New Jersey Supreme Court on gay marriage.
My concern, obviously, was that by demanding gay marriage, in the face of widespread popular opposition, the gay community was empowering the Religious Right. And this remains a valid concern today. In many states, opposition to “gay marriage” has led to the adoption of constitutional amendments that not only bar gay marriage, but also civil unions.
This is particularly unfortunate when we remember that the concept of civil unions, giving gay and lesbian couples the legal protections of marriage without the name, has much greater public support than does full gay marriage. Civil union initiatives might well pass in many states if presented on their own merits. Instead, the Religious Right has been able to foreclose this possibility by wrapping the entire issue together under the heading of marriage.
My thought, therefore, was why not start out with civil unions, understanding that over time the transformation to full gay marriage would be inevitable.
But it turns out I was wrong. The popular response to the recent California Supreme Court decision mandating gay marriage proves it.
California voters favor same-sex marriage!
Wow. I was startled, this morning, to see the new Field Poll* numbers on California’s response to its Supreme Court’s marriage decision:
The poll found 51 percent of registered voters favor the idea of allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed, while 42 percent disapprove.
Never before have I seen such a polling result outside Massachusetts–and in Massachusetts, we got majority approval only *after* same-sex couples had been marrying for awhile, and after the shock of the court decision had worn off.
Now, to be honest, I really wouldn’t be surprised to see a constitutional ban on gay marriage adopted by referendum in California, notwithstanding this polling. Further, whatever California does, gay marriage is not going to be politically possible in the majority of states for some time to come.
Still, it’s clear that public attitudes are changing. And this is only happening because gay rights advocates refused to be satisfied with second class citizenship.
So more power to them.
Update: And the news keeps coming:
Gay rights advocates score wins in NY, Calif.
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gay rights advocates had reason to celebrate on both coasts Thursday, with New York set to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and California preparing to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on June 17.
Hours after California issued a directive Wednesday authorizing that date, word came that New York Gov. David Paterson instructed state agencies — including those governing insurance and health care — to immediately change policies and regulations to recognize gay marriages.
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