I've always been a bit perplexed with political activists that take a pass on getting some of what they want now, and instead hold out for everything or nothing. The GOP is pulling this now, in the debt ceiling debates, but many on the left are just as likely to do it.
A large segment of gay rights activists would prefer to see gay couples not have more equal rights than they get now, unless they get everything they want. In specific, unless gay couples are given the same rights as married couples and those relationships are called marriage, these people will not support such a measure. In so doing, they are leaving gay couples in several states hanging with less rights than they would have otherwise.
I can see how people get caught up in the labels, since they feel like calling a gay couple's relationship anything but marriage gives them a lesser label. Personally I could care less what the government calls the relationship of a future significant other of mine or anyone else's, I just care that some very important legal rights are conferred on our relationship, as well as those of every other such relationship - regardless of the gender of the two people involved. My political priorities along these lines are the same.
A recent poll from Florida illustrates how this is the case.
Polling data is pretty clear that support for gay marriage is largely a generational issue. In a generation or two, being against gay marriage will be a fringe stance. But as it stands now, just over half of the populace supports gay marriage.
Given how Florida has a large elderly population, it should come as no surprise that it's level of support for gay marriage is significantly lower than the national average. In fact only 37 percent "think it should be permitted," according to a poll released earlier this month from Public Policy Polling.
But if you just change the name, you get a super majority who supports giving equal rights, as long as you call it civil unions. If given the choice between gay marriage, civil unions opposition to any sort of legal recognition of same sex couples, 33 percent support gay marriage, 34 percent support civil unions and only 31 percent oppose anything of the sort.
Too all but a zealot, the answer here is clear. If you hold out until you can get a majority to support calling it marriage, in Florida that will likely mean decades. To promote more equal treatment of same sex couples in states like Florida, pushing for civil union laws that confer the same rights on same sex couples is the best option available. Gay rights organizations in Illinois were smart enough to pick up on this, seeing a political situation where a full gay marriage bill would not have passed, and now civil unions are legal in Illinois.
As society continues to evolve towards tolerance and acceptance, those same activists will likely revisit that law and change it to gay marriage in Illinois. In the meantime though, unlike in states where the gay rights activists will accept nothing less than gay marriage, Illinois gay couples will not be barred from hospital rooms of their loved ones during family only hours, they'll be able to pass on their property to their loved one, they'll be eligible for certain government benefits, they'll be able to buy into better insurance rates through one of their employers if they choose to, they'll be eligible to adopt.
These are real, tangible benefits that all or nothing activists are denying those they say they represent by their legislative inflexibility.
Being a stalwart supporter of gay marriage does not change the fact that is has no chance of passing in most states right now. The only choice available is whether gay rights activists choose to let same sex couples in many states go without a long list of rights because they want everything now - or nothing at all, or whether they go the practical route and get what they can now, as they did in Illinois, and fight for the rest when it is within reach.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.