Gay marriage politics, as New York joins the party

Two weeks after the California Supreme Court injected gay marriage back in the national discussion by legalizing gay marriage, New York State joined the party last night when recently promoted Governor Paterson issued a directive instructing state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere (read: California, Massachusetts, Canada and a few European countries). In other words, a couple married in Boston will be allowed to file a joint tax return in New York even though they are not able to get wed in the Empire State, making it the only state which does not allow gay marriage but recognizes those of other states.

Eliot Spitzer and now David Paterson are both favorable to gay marriage, but the state Senate, still controlled by Republicans by the tiniest of margins, blocked the legislation introduced by Spitzer intended to legalize it. Without the backing of the legislature, issuing a directive to recognize out-of-state marriages is the only move Paterson could have made.

This development changes the national debate a bit, since an important reason given by advocates of constitutional amendments banning gay marriage at the state level is that states who are against gay marriage might be forced to recognize those performed in "hippie" states with loose morals like Massachusetts and now California. That is also one of the main rationales for the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 and signed by Bill Clinton. But here is now the first state that recognizes out-of-state marriages, and does so voluntarily, without any court injunction (in fact the New York court system already ruled against cases that demanded the legalization of gay marriage).

These recent developments are creating two widely diverging state of affairs within the same country. On the one hand are states that are coastal states that are taking a very progressive position and in which gay couples now have most if not all of the rights reserved to straight couples. On the other hand are states like Virginia and many of the places that passed gay marriage amendments where gay rights are worsening, as many of the rights that gay couples were able to claim until recently were undermined by the amendments that were supposedly concerned with gay marriage but that banned all sorts of other arrangements, making it impossible for couples in states with "super-hate amendments" to have any sort of rights.

Electorally (this is, after all, an electoral blog), this creates a curious situation: If gay rights become so differentiated regionally, will the issue have as much of an impact in states that now have strong constitutional provisions against gay marriage and that are thus not at risk of having their supreme courts rule in favor of it? The only way in which gay marriage could be introduced in places like that is if the federal Supreme Court intervenes and, given the court's composition, that is unlikely to happen before many decades.

In brief, the GOP might have overplayed their hand. The reason abortion remains so powerful an issue is that it is still legal everywhere, even though Republicans had many chances to actually do something about it (given how many Justices they appointed over the past thirty years, the road to an anti-Roe majority was open to them). But with constitutional amendments taking the issue off the table in many states, gay marriage is unlikely to replace abortion as the wedge issue the GOP will use to hammer Democrats. Not to mention that the amendment's defeat in Arizona in 2006 showed that the tide might be turning.

As for the more progressive states, the shift in public opinion is even more obvious as gay rights are now increasingly removed from the realm of issues the GOP will even think of exploiting given that it is they who would come to look regressive. The latest Field Poll, California's most trusted and reputable pollster, found this week that a majority of Californians now favor gay marriage: 51% versus 42%. That's a stunning turnaround from past years, as it was 30% support in 1985, 37% in 1997 and 44% in 2006. Among the 18-29 year old age group, 68% support gay marriage, suggesting that its recent emphasis on social issues contributed to the GOP's losing its grip on an entire generation.

The Field Poll also finds that a majority of Californians would oppose a gay marriage amendment if it makes its way to the November ballot, striking a blow to Republican hopes that they can overturn the Supreme Court's decision at the ballot and confirming that the referendum is not likely to influence the presidential election or threaten Obama with the loss of California's 55 electoral votes.

Update: As a new New York Times article reveals, it looks like David Paterson will be remembered as a key player in the gay rights movement given the obstinacy with which he advocated these issues since the 1980s.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home