Saturday, October 4, 2008

Biden and gay marriage

Since the debate, I've had several discussions with people about Obama/Biden and gay marriage, and earlier today I posted a hideously-long comment on my favorite comedian's blog about the same issue. As this is something I both feel strongly about and that I'm trying to work through in my mind, I thought I'd re-post that comment here and explore my thoughts a bit more.

First of all, here's what I said in a comment on Bridget McManus' blog where she was expressing righteous indignation at the response to the gay marriage question:
I was furious with the way that Biden handled the gay marriage question, but I can't say that I was surprised. Obama has made it very clear that he's hedging his bets as far as LGBT issues are concerned, and I think it's part of the Obama/Biden platform that they're for gay rights and LGBT equality but anti-gay marriage as a way to appease their more conservative voters. Personally, I disagree with this strategy, but I understand the impetus; it's idiotic but quite possible that something as minor as open support for gay marriage could cost the Democrats the election and no one wants that to happen.

On the one hand, Biden is openly against "don't ask, don't tell" as a discriminatory policy and wants same-sex partners to have equal rights under the law. A quote from his government website: "Senator Biden believes legal recognition should not be denied same-sex couples. He advocates for re-examining federal laws, including the tax code, to ensure our national laws are not unfair to same-sex couples, and that committed adults who are adopting are not discriminated against because of sexual orientation. He supports letting states determine how to recognize civil unions and define marriage."

So basically he's pro-civil unions and equal domestic partnership benefits (if not "marriage" per se), anti-discrimination and pro-equal rights in regards to adoption. That sounds pretty heartening to me, and I'd like to believe that he'll follow through with that mandate, and encourage Obama to do the same, should they be elected.

On the other hand, the marriage question is an important semantic one, and I completely agree with you that someone needs to stand up for gay marriage rights (that's what I really liked about Hillary Clinton, but alas...). Intellectually, I can understand the need for hedging (i.e. civil unions instead of "marriage") even though it's a complete bullshit dodge and stupid that anyone cares what it's called. But personally and politically, I realize that refusing to call same-sex partnerships "marriage" is a symbolic way of refusing to acknowledge that same-sex relationships are equal and the same as heterosexual relationships.

I don't have much to add to that except an extended version of something that I said to vpass in the comments section of my live blog of the debate. Gay marriage is a huge issue. I am a lesbian, I support gay marriage (not just civil unions), and I do not think that it's okay to suggest that same-sex couples should be satisfied with civil unions so that we don't encroach on the "sanctity of marriage." Be that as it may, gay marriage is not my only concern right now. I want a strong economy, good (universal) health care, intelligent foreign policy decisions, equal rights and pay for women, and equal rights for LGBT people and families. I trust Obama/Biden to provide all that, and not just in contrast to the dire platform of the McCain/Palin ticket.

I'm extremely steamed up over the issue of gay marriage, but, in the grand scheme of things, I cannot pretend that's all that matters. The personal is political, but the political is not always personal. That is to say, I don't think Obama and Biden really are against gay marriage. It's a line that they feel they have to feed us to keep moderates happy (maybe they're right about the necessity of this semantic play or maybe they're wrong--we can't know, and I'm becoming more and more convinced that this election is too important to take that risk, although it's a risk someone needs to be willing to take very very soon).

Obama openly opposes Proposition 8 in California (which would ban same-sex marriage). As for Biden, I'll leave you with this excerpt from Joe Biden's Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert:
Q: In November 2003, you were asked, "Do you believe gay marriage is inevitable?" And you responded, "I'm not sure. I think probably it is."

A: Well, I think it probably is because social mores change. But I don't think the government can dictate the definition of marriage to religious institutions. But government does have an obligation to guarantee that every individual is free of discrimination. And there's a distinction. I think government should not be able to dictate to religions the definition of marriage, but on a civil side, government has the obligation to strip away every vestige of discrimination as to what individuals are able to do in terms of their personal conduct.

Q:So New Hampshire coming out in favor of civil unions is OK by you?

A: Yes. Yes, it is.

Does this really sound like someone who is against gay marraige? Or does it sound like someone who's a politician and can only say the "socially-acceptable" shadow of what it is they actually believe?

What do you think? Frustrating, but politically-wise hedge that we can live with...for now? Or unacceptable no matter what?


Brianna J said...

I'm opposed to gay 'marriage'. And I'm a lesbian. Let me explain: I oppose all marriage as a legal form.

I don't think that the government should regulate or define marriage in any way. Certainly the federal government shouldn't. Things like inheritance and medical privacy should be redefined in non-marriage related terms. Tax differences for married people are arbitrary and should be refined.

Here's a link to a better explanation than I could even give. (skip to 7:30 or so)

On the other hand, if we must have an 'institution' of marriage, we certainly need to include everyone, but it should only be a temporary measure.

Dr. Jay SW said...

I'd certainly like to see everyone have the same rights regardless of sexual orientation. At the same time, the more I think about what exactly differentiates "marriage" from "civil union," the more I see "legal marriage" as a clear violation of the separation of church and state. Ultimately, if we're to define marriage the way its self styled "defenders" do, as something "traditional" and "sacred," involving people joined together and "sanctified" by some kind of deity, then most of my married friends are not actually married, since their weddings were civil ceremonies without any religious content.

Nonetheless, there's no question in my mind that the attitudes toward gay marriage expressed by Obama, Biden, and Bill (and until very recently) Hilary Clinton before them are, to put it nicely, political expediency, or, to put it not so nicely, political cowardice. Then, I'm even more positive that they know we need to do far more to stop global warming than they dare to suggest, and that, for all they say about how much they respect John McCain, they know even better than we what a lying, mercenary dirtball he is, not to mention that, if John Biden were at all honest with himself, he would have refused to dignify a walking insult to American intelligence like Sarah Palin by debating her.

Ultimately, we live in a society that gives way too much respect to religion, particularly the sexually repressed, bigoted, and unbelievably hypocritical varieties that have somehow been allowed to define terms like "moral," "values," and even "family," not to mention "marriage" in our public sphere. I'd give anything to vote for a viable presidential candidate who would say straight out that we're not going to let these festering assholes shove their ignorant bullshit down our collective throats anywmore. I can dream, can't I?

Unknown said...

As a queer woman, gay marriage is an important issue to me. Who is the government to tell me that my relationships with men are more valid and real than my relationships with women? Why should I have to automatically forfeit thousands of rights just because the person that I fell in love with and chose to spend my life with happens to have a vagina?

I do, however, understand the Obama/Biden campaign and I see their strategy. I do not think that they are inherently opposed to gay marriage at all, but at this point they are picking their issues and doing what they can to win the campaign.

Queers United said...

thanks for shamelessly promoting, good entry. look, im with you its frustrating but at the same token who will bring us closer to marriage equality? obama. no ifs ands or buts. i also think he is for marriage equality just cant "come out" and say so.

Kekla Magoon said...

I wish marriage equality was reality, and not a political debate point. It's sad that the candidates can't speak honestly about their views for fear of losing votes, but it's understandable. Maddening, but understandable, because the broad public support is not there yet.

I find it ridiculous that there are people out there who would not vote for Obama/Biden solely because the candidates support marriage equality, even if the voter prefers all other aspects of their platform. How closed-minded can you be?

But, honestly, I feel the same about the opposite case. If pro-marriage equality people abstain from voting based on this single issue, it's really no better than what the homophobic "values voters" are doing.

Instead of focusing on what politicians believe (or claim to believe), we should be working to change public opinion. That's what the right is doing, and doing well. And that's what changes laws. said...

Brianna and Dr. Jay: I completely agree that "marriage" as such is actually the problem, but of course doing away with marriage as something that is state-sanctioned as well as religiously-sanctioned (when it should only be the latter) is pretty much impossible in this kind of political climate.

Interestingly, my father (who is German) and I were having a discussion about gay marriage the other day and he could not understand why I was so bothered by the semantic difference between civil unions and gay marriage. But then he explained that in Germany everyone, gay or straight, has to get the equivalent of a civil union if you want to be considered a couple under German law. Marriage is something that only happens in church and is not legally binding. Hence, in Germany couples have the same rights under the law regardless of orientation because all couples get the same civil union. The religious marriage ceremony, if you want it, is just icing, and the government has nothing to do with it. And, considering the supposed separation of church and state in this country that's really how things should be here, too (like you said, Jay).

@Kekla: You're totally right. It's just as ridiculous to not vote for Obama/Biden solely because they are pro-LGBT as it would be to not vote for them because they may not be pro-LGBT enough.