Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Electoral Strategy of Transcending Bigotry

Well, this will occupy a news cycle or two.

Less than 24 hours after North Carolina became the 30th state to ban Gay Marriage, President Obama himself sat down with ABC's Robin Roberts to announce that he personally supports the practice.

And that is, unquestionably, the right, honorable and progressive thing to do. If you walk through life not being a bigot, it's also a very easy decision to make.

His framing of his new found support through the use of the Golden Rule is a positive as well, so long as you are a person of religion who is at least somewhat open minded about the interpretation of that particular aspect of any religious texts. It's called the Golden Rule for a reason;that reason being that it is the one rule that is common among every religious text. Even a Deist such as myself adheres to it.

That said, every decision, right or wrong, warrants examination to some degree through a political prism. Starting at the top line of the Presidential race, it absolutely distinguishes him from Mitt Romney who not only opposes Gay Marriage but he also opposes Civil Unions. In a country where a narrow majority of Americans appear to support Gay Marriage this is probably not a smart position to take. But no one ever accused Republicans of being smart.

So you could argue that, at a federal level, this is a nice example of a Democrat seizing the offense on a wedge issue that he's out in front of, and doing it fairly effectively. The fact that he's using the bully pulpit of the Presidency to take a civil rights stance is a courageous position to take, especially during the election year.

All of that said, remember that there are three layers to this issue, and all three are worth examining. There are people who support Gay Marriage, there are people who support Civil Unions but not Gay Marriage, and there are people who oppose the whole thing.

Those who oppose everything can easily be dismissed from the discussion, because they're Republicans (and bigots) who aren't winnable voters for Democrats barring some sort of traumatic national level event.

There are those who support Gay Marriage, and those voters tend to lean Democratic and are certainly abhorred by Mitt Romney's stance (provided he doesn't change it) on the issue. On some level, his continued consistent opposition to the issue in Massachusetts as governor more or less sealed his fate and encouraged him not to run for a second term as governor, an election he would have lost.

But the President chose to take a states rights tack in his statement today, and I don't think that was the proper tack to take. Tactically, that tack doesn't really impress anyone who isn't already in opposition. People on the fence relative to Gay Marriage aren't states right's advocates.

Instead, the group of people who support Civil Unions, or the type of people whom you could impress that could get you from 50% support to 70% support, are the ones who don't oppose Gay Marriage personally for Libertarian type reasons, but instead fear that their church will be compelled to marry Gay couples even though they are opposed to it.

The 2009 Maine law (unfortunately overturned by referendum) did a nice job of bridging this divide. While it legalized Marriage between people of the same sex, it explicitly did not compel people who had objections to do so. Now, personally, I would have limited the language in this law to people who conduct religious marriage ceremonies, rather than allowing a train conductor to refuse to wed two people of the same sex, but I think you get the idea.

What this middle group of people, and in a lot of areas, such as North Carolina, Indiana, Missouri and Florida, they are probably sizable enough to make up the difference between winning and losing, are in fear of is having their church be compelled to do something that, though they don't impose for reasons that it does not impact them personally,  does impact their church, their religious beliefs and the corresponding of infringing upon their religious freedom. The mistake the President made today was to not speak clearly to these people that he personally did not support their personal exercise of religious freedom being infringed upon.

What a person who supports a Civil Union but not Gay Marriage is really saying is "not in my church". Which is really, at least in my mind, a private matter anyway. You don't have to get married in a church, or have a marriage certificate signed by clergy to be legally married in your state anyway. Win over these people and this becomes a non-issue at the Presidential level. As it stands, the President's stand, as brave as it is and as right as it is, is a moral winner, but not necessarily an electoral one.