Last year when an amendment to ban gay marriage was debated in the House, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) gave a passionate speech on the floor. “I take it personally when people decide to take political batting practice with my life,” he said.
It was a sharp retort to the Republicans in congress whose disdain for marriage equality, and their desire to have discrimination written into the constitution, has sadly become a staple of modern-day conservatism. It is not merely a position that legislators take, but a political tool used to scare the population into believing that gay marriage would destroy the "sanctity of marriage" and lead the country into a cesspool of moral chaos. Rick Santorum went so far as to say that homosexuality is a step towards bestiality.
(Being from Massachusetts where gays are allowed to marry, I can report that Santorum's bigoted projections have blissfully not come to fruition)
So now that the Democrats are in control of the legislative branch and look well poised to take the White House in 2008, one might hope that gays would be optimistic that the 14th amendment, which guarantees equal rights for all US citizens, will soon be applied to them.
Not so fast.
Sadly, most of the Democratic candidates, including the three frontrunners, oppose gay marriage. At the recent “You Tube” debate, a couple from Brooklyn named Mary and Jen asked the candidates if they would, should they be elected president, “allow us to be married to each other?" Barack Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton – all seemingly too concerned about the political consequences of taking that stance – had to find a way to say no to the couple. Only Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) could pointedly say “"Mary and Jen, the answer to your question is yes."
Edwards, whose wife Elizabeth has come out in favor of gay marriage, has said he has yet "to cross that bridge yet," Obama observes that "his Christian beliefs dictate that marriage should be between a man and a woman." Clinton "firmly" opposes gay marriage.
The Democratic frontrunner’s refusal to support equality for gays, while disappointing, is hardly a surprise. In 2004, both John Kerry and John Edwards opposed gay marriage, instead giving their support to consolation prize that is the “civil union.”
In 1996, when Bill Clinton passed the Defense of Marriage Amendment, a law that, according to the New York Times, says states and the federal government do not have to recognize gay marriages and unions from other states, Hillary Clinton supported it “without exception.”
This moral paralysis was on display earlier this year when General Peter Pace said that "homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral.” Reporters quickly asked the Democratic frontrunners for their thoughts on the issue. "I am going to leave that to others to conclude," said Sen. Clinton, who clearly didn’t feel she could answer the question without consulting her political advisors first. Obama was likewise frozen, and simply refused to respond to repeated questions about his position on the issue. After a couple days of angry letters, both candidates made statements expressing their disagreements with Pace, but the message was not lost on the public. “[W]hat's a little bigotry in the name of campaign season moderation?" asked Jonathan Stein of Mother Jones.
When the Democrats act with such cowardly trepidation they only serve in helping the anti-gay undercurrent of the modern conservative movement. But there is good news: the young people of this country have shown a tolerance towards gays that is unprecedented. A poll released by Pew earlier this year which surveyed people born between 1981 and 1988 showed that more people supported gay marriage than opposed it, with more than 60 percent believing that gays should be able to adopt children. Both of these numbers are substantially higher than older demographics, and show a sea change in thinking on the issue of gay rights. (It is also worth noting young people are also by far the most tolerant of immigrants, interracial marriage and atheists.)
There was a time in this country when there was so-called serious debate over whether or not women should have the right to vote, or if blacks should subjugated and enslaved. The fact that these issues were once debatable in America is now universally understood as a national embarrassment. And there is every reason to believe, that as young people grow up to become the power brokers of this country, the debate over whether or not gays should be allowed to marry will be viewed in much the same way.
When this day comes, the Democrats who today oppose equal rights for gays will be remembered through the lens of history as enablers of discrimination—from a time when “playing batting practice with people lives” was, sadly, a bipartisan phenomenon.