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Loren A. Olson, M.D. Headshot

In Defense of Marriage: Cake

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HUCKABEE TO MATTHEWS

When my daughter announced to my granddaughter, "Grandpa and Doug are getting married," my granddaughter asked, "Oh? Who are they marrying?" My daughter responded that we were marrying each other. After a beat, my granddaughter said, "That's weird." Then, after another pause, she asked, "Will there be cake?"

I can't fault my granddaughter for thinking same-sex marriage is weird; when I first heard several years ago that same-sex marriage was being proposed in Massachusetts, even though I had been "out" for many years, I thought it was pretty weird, too. No reference point existed for this significant social change.

All that my granddaughter needed was reassurance that our marriage was about a public statement of love and commitment -- and about cake -- and that her world wouldn't change. Doug and I had been together 23 years, so he'd been a part of my grandchildren's lives since they were born. The only comment I'd ever heard from my grandchildren that questioned our relationship was once when one of them said, "I didn't know two grown men sleep together."

That our government found it necessary to pass the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is far weirder to me than same-sex marriage. If marriage forms the bedrock of society, surely neither same-sex marriage would be a serious threat to it. More and more people seem to be feeling the same way. A survey by ABC and the Washington Post in March, 2011, found that for the first time over half (53%) of those surveyed support same-sex marriage. Five years ago, just 36% favored it.

Early in 2011, the Obama administration recognized that attitudes are changing and said that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of DOMA. The Democrats, hoping to capitalize on growing public support for same sex marriage, have responded by proposing the "Respect for Marriage Act" that calls for ending DOMA. Although the Democrat's proposal has little chance of passing the U. S. House, even Republican support for continuing DOMA seems to be softening -- except for the presumed Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee.

Although some of the LGBT leadership has been disappointed with President Obama's sometimes wishy-washy positions related to issues important to the LGBT community, his soft support is a long way away from the positions of Huckabee. Jason Linkins quoted Huckabee as saying that Obama "made an incredibly, amazing inexplicable political error" by his decision not to enforce DOMA. At least Huckabee hopes so. His anti-gay positions are central to his message.

Here in Iowa, as Iowans head into their first-in the-nation selection of a Republican nominee for president, a recent poll showed that Huckabee heads the list of potential Republican candidates for president by a slim margin. In 2008, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister with little campaign money, stole the Iowa Republican caucuses from well-funded candidates largely through his appeal to conservative, evangelical Christians.

I haven't heard a groundswell in Iowa of people who feel that their families and heterosexual marriages have experienced a great threat since Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous decision that ruled that limiting marriage to one man and one woman was unconstitutional. The results of a poll of Iowans published the Des Moines Register in February, 2011, showed that 30% of Iowans just don't care much about the issue of same sex marriage.

In the Des Moines Register poll, 32% of those polled favor same-sex marriage. Those who oppose it were 37%. Bob Vander Plaats staked his bid for the Republican nomination for Iowa's governor with a campaign waged to radicalize the conservative base through an obsession opposing same-sex marriage. Apparently, not enough Iowans cared about the issue to win Vander Plaats the nomination for governor. But he did re-invented himself as the leader of a more successful campaign to oust Iowa's Supreme Court judges.

Vander Plaats now appears to be wedded to Huckabee in trying to motivate the 37% of Iowans who oppose same-sex marriage to support Huckabee. That may play well in the Iowa Republican caucuses, but over 60% of Iowans now either support same-sex marriage or just don't care.

The ABC/Washington Post survey predictably found that the weakest support for same sex marriage is among Republicans, particularly evangelical white Protestants. But even in that group, support for gay marriage has increased by double digit margins. Support for same-sex marriage has also increased significantly among Catholics, political moderates, and people in their 30's and 40's. One of the largest increases in support of same-sex marriage (18%) was found among men.

As Jason Linkings wrote, "I think the [Huckabee's] failure to support same-sex marriage is the thing that's becoming the 'inexplicable political error.'"

Politicians like Huckabee and Vander Plaat claim to have a moral authority; they exalt their thinking as if it is a universal truth and they believe they speak for all they seek to represent. Barbara Crafton, an Episcopal priest, wrote, "People think there's only one kind of religious moral vision. People outside faith communities imagine a conservative social consensus within them that isn't there, and people within them often think there should be one, even though there isn't."

Despite the idea that America is plagued by an epidemic of divorce, according to the National Vital Statistics Report, U.S. Census Bureau, the national per capita divorce rate has declined steadily since its peak in 1981. It is now at its lowest level since 1970. Massachusetts, first to adopt same-sex marriage, touts the lowest rate and Iowa isn't far behind. According to the Barna Research Group, divorce rates among conservative Christians are significantly higher than for other faith groups -- Huckabee's Baptists being the highest -- and much higher than atheists and agnostics. Perhaps the energy used to oppose same-sex marriage might better be refocused on making conservative Christians' marriages work.

Crafton noted that the nuclear family idealized by many faith-based communities was certainly not the only family in the Scriptures. Although the family may be a basic building block of societies, families have always evolved throughout the ages.

Undoubtedly as the campaign heats up for the next presidential election -- that happens very early for us in Iowa -- we will undoubtedly hear louder and louder shouts from those on either end of the spectrum concerning same-sex marriage. Those who decide the next presidential election will be the silent ones in the middle, those whose biggest concern may only be if there will be cake.

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