Yesterday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker handed down a long-awaited ruling in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case, overturning California's "Prop 8" ban on gay marriage. It was a landmark victory for America's LGBT community, which is largely a traditional constituency of the Democratic party.
So, how did President Barack Obama, the de facto leader of the Democrats, choose to commemorate this victory? Let's go to the statement furnished by the White House to Kerry Eleveld of the Advocate:
"The President has spoken out in opposition to Proposition 8 because it is divisive and discriminatory. He will continue to promote equality for LGBT Americans."
Well, that's just sort of OK, as statements go. But as long as no anonymous sources at the White House gives, say, Politico some other comment that completely undermines this lukewarm support --
Nevertheless, Obama has also publicly opposed same-sex marriage, and a White House aide said the president's position has not changed.
"He supports civil unions, doesn't personally support gay marriage though he supports repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, and has opposed divisive and discriminatory initiatives like Prop. 8 in other states," said the official, who asked not to be named.
Well, that's just splendid. A key voting bloc for Democrats celebrates an important civil rights victory, and the White House heralds the occasion by coupling its enthusiasm for the victory with a reminder that it opposes the actual civil right that's at stake.
"SHORTER" BARACK OBAMA: "Hey, LGBT Community! I'm happy for you, and I'mma let you finish, but marriage between a man and woman is the greatest matrimony of all time!"
Still, it's probably unfair of me to single out the White House and the president for this shameful display of muddle-mouthed lip service. After all, they're just behaving like typical Democrats. Sure, there are individual exceptions, but as a general rule, Democrats treat the LGBT community as a captive constituency. They may not be able or willing to come out in favor of gay marriage, but at least they aren't Republicans, right? Democratic party leaders may oppose gay marriage -- or at least demonstrate a studied unwillingness to take a stand on the issue. But at least they aren't Tom Emmer -- openly hostile to equal rights of any kind and friendly with groups who take a Uganda-esque view of homosexuality -- right? That counts for something, doesn't it?
Well, it does, but not much. Right now, LGBT citizens are trapped in a choice between a party that opposes their very existence and a party that, you know, kind of wishes them well. And so the typical policy among Democrats is to do as little as possible for as long as they can, figuring that if the Republican party never changes its position, they can string along the LGBT community for a long while before they have to lay their marker down and risk the vote of any single voter who opposes gay rights.
Here's the problem with that. Opponents of gay marriage face one insurmountable obstacle: at some point, they are going to die:
[Anyone interested in capturing the "youth vote?" Anyone?]
There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to... well, maybe not "glory" -- but it certainly leads to a moment where your own grandchildren aren't looking at you with shame and dismay as they wonder why you lacked the courage to do the right thing when you had the chance. But there's no evidence that the Democrats want to catch this tide at the flood. What Democrats want to do is wait until it is absolutely, positively, politically safe for them to support gay marriage.
Brave stuff! Of course, it'll do the trick as long as the GOP is locked in a dance of dependence with a "base" that naturally opposes gay marriage. And as long as there isn't a Republican strategist smart enough to look at the graph above and note the obvious way the trend is running, maybe that strategy will pay off!
Steve Schmidt, who was the senior strategist to Senator John McCain of Arizona during his presidential campaign, said in a speech and an interview that Republicans were in danger of losing these younger voters unless the party comes to appreciate how issues like gay marriage resonate, or do not resonate, with them.
"Republicans should re-examine the extent to which we are being defined by positions on issues that I don't believe are among our core values, and that put us at odds with what I expect will become, over time, if not a consensus view, then the view of a substantial majority of voters," he said in a speech.
Oh, that's right! Steve Schmidt, one of the top campaign guys in the game, supports gay marriage. And there's distant signs of thaw between the GOP and the gay community everywhere. There's Laura Bush's open support. There's Megan McCain's tireless advocacy. There's Grover Norquist, a conservative movement big-timer, joining up with GOProud -- the "national organization of gay conservatives" that served as a CPAC sponsor. You might recall, also, that when a conservative activist took to the CPAC stage to decry the alliance between CPAC and GOProud, he was booed off the stage by attendees.
It still seems unlikely that marriage equality will become the law of the land through the advocacy and support of the Republican party. But it's getting less and less implausible. And still the Democrats wait and wait and wait and wait, angling to be the champion of LGBT rights at the last possible second.
But it's possible to wait too long. To speak in glib generalities, the Democratic party is generically seen as the party of civil rights. It's not a mantle it goes out and earns on a daily basis, but nevertheless, groups with authentic civil rights concerns -- African-Americans, Hispanics, women, etc. -- turn out in blocs to vote for Democratic politicians and the occasional bones they toss their way. What happens if tomorrow, the GOP shifts to become unambiguous supporters of gay marriage? Well, let's not kid ourselves -- they lose a lot of votes from their base in the short term. Over the long term, however, it could get interesting if members of those traditional Democratic voting blocs start to see the GOP in a new light.
And if that day comes, believe me, there are going to be plenty of people who are invested enough in the Democratic party to come forward and spin its toxic inaction in the best possible light.
By contrast, I support gay marriage. So don't expect me to be merciful.