Opinion: Outside of Liberal States, Gay Marriage Supporters Must Bide Their Time

Saturday, July 23, 2011 - 12:38 PM

Gay Marriage (Getty Images)

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.


More in:

Comments [10]

Jack from Paris

"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."

Key word here: SOME. That is, not all. Not equal.

You are against plain-spoken, honest equality when you prefer separate-but-equal double standards like this.

There is absolutely NO sound reason for this position. Which, of course, is why true advocate for equal rights DON'T accept it. Only "split the difference" artificial-middleground moderate grandstanders do.

And, little surprise that somebody who is a "lifelong Republican" as Solomon Kleinsmith has previously described himself would view this half-rights position as politically acceptable or sustainable.

Its not. Its a strategic retreat on the part of embarrassed former Republicans like Kleinsmith who are unwilling to completely alienate their ideological brethren by, you know, actually standing up for what's right.

Also, the phrase is "COULDN'T care less." You've failed to correctly write this idiom numerous times now, as if you don't seem to understand that the point of the phrase is that your care has reached its minimalist state.

A person who writes this poorly isn't likely to apply much logic to their political views, and this shoddy defense of inequality is a great example.

The subtext of this sloppy writing is that gay people are too greedy and don't know what's good for them, and therefore, should take the advice of a guy who thinks that there should be TWO different legal terms for the same thing, simply because it it appeases to most intolerant elements of his former political party.

Nobody with any smarts and self-respect would accept this bad logic, bad politics, and bad faith.

Perhaps Martin Luther King should've agitated for *some* rights, rather than equal rights, and his cause would have been more successful.

Jul. 26 2011 04:33 PM
Mark from St Martin

Whoa...I understand emotion, but geeezzz was that comment laden with it. I reread the article and could not find "you people". I could not find suggestions that gays should takie what can be achieved now and be satisfied.

The whole emphasis of the article was to take what you can now and then work from that as a base for further gains. The focus of the articlenwas on the immediate gains people get to live with...but I also think this tactic gets to the real prize quicker as it brings more people on board with progress.

It's a sad reality in American politics these past few years that the loud zealots are what seem to lead the way.

Jul. 25 2011 08:51 AM
Dr. Brent Zenobia from Portland, OR

Your argument boils down to this: "I'm all for 'you people' having equal rights, but since you're not going to achieve that any time soon, for the life of me I can't understand why 'you people' don't make the best of the separate drinking fountains etc. that are available to you. Admittedly they're rather shabby and you certainly won't catch me drinking at any of them, but why do 'you people' keep insisting on this pie-in-the-sky notion that everybody should drink at the same fountain? Not gonna happen any time soon, so just deal with it."

Ever since Stonewall we have faced "concern trolls" who claim to be our friends, but only seem to want to warn us that we're going too far and getting uppity, and that somebody's gonna smack us down if we're not more careful. And ever since Stonewall we've done just fine for ourselves by ignoring that advice.

If you think civil unions or domestic partnerships are so great, why don't YOU get one?

Jul. 25 2011 06:19 AM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

"That's why it's important to use the term "marriage equality" because civil unions and domestic partnerships don't give you the panoply of rights marriage does. Substitute "black" or "Jew" for "gay" in your analysis and see what you come up with."

This is the same ridiculous response I get every time I say this. People who can't read an article about gay marriage without reading some kind of moral argument between the lines.

I'm not making an analysis, giving any personal opinion or making any moral statements. I'm ONLY pointing out that gay couples would have more rights, in more states, if they did this.

If you're fine with them having less than they would by doing this, and waiting 10, 20, 30 years until most of the states will have enough votes to give full marriage equality... I don't get that, but more power to ya. I'd like 100% equality as well, but I'm not so blinded by my view that I don't see that this is impossible in most states, and that this will be the case for decades in much of the country.

Jul. 25 2011 12:36 AM
Michael Derison from New York

I've advocated for same-sex marriage based on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that states all citizens are entitled to equality on the Federal level. This entails that the Supreme Court recognize the fact that we are all (supposed to be considered) equal and that is what I have discussed in my novel

Jul. 23 2011 05:24 PM
Dave in Northridge from Los Angeles, CA

That's why it's important to use the term "marriage equality" because civil unions and domestic partnerships don't give you the panoply of rights marriage does. Substitute "black" or "Jew" for "gay" in your analysis and see what you come up with.

Jul. 23 2011 11:02 AM
Ned Nickerson from Lake Worth, FL

The word "marriage" is used in so many state and federal laws.
I think there is a concern that civil unions would not have the same rights and privileges as marriage, unless that was very clearly written into law.

Jul. 23 2011 09:36 AM
Victor Purinton from Cambridge, MA

The Supreme Court will eventually declare the denial of marriage to be unconstitutional. I hope it's soon - this is a national distraction and a bit of a disgrace.

Also, it will create a powerful domino effect in other western nations, and this will have far-reaching and beneficial strategic implications. As in, "in your face, militant Islamists." Already, extremists see the New York decision to be a disaster.

Jul. 23 2011 07:20 AM
Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

I didn't say it would be simple. I said it would lead to more states passing more equal laws than otherwise. It'll take a very long time to

And I don't think there is much evidence that people change their minds at the ballot box. I think people who disagree with gay marriage or civil unions are more fired up in their disagreements with it then supporters, so they get out their vote in higher percentages when they come up. This is pretty typical with wedge issues... there is always that segment who comes out in higher numbers when a particular issue comes up.

Jul. 23 2011 01:49 AM

If only it were that simple! Florida, for example, passed an amendment at the same time as California's Prop 8... but like many anti-marriage amendments, it goes further than "defining" marriage to ban any recognition regardless of the name. No civil unions. And a repeal attempt would be fought on the grounds of marriage, by those against no matter what.

For that matter, while people *say* it's just the name and calling it something else would be fine, look at Washington state. Yes, all-but-marriage passed... but barely, despite polls whenever it's not actually on the ballot saying huge majorities are in favor of that arrangement. Large contingents of people change their tune when what they said they would support is actually offered; suddenly they switch from "you can have the rights, just don't call it marriage" to "they're trying to sneak marriage through under another name."

Jul. 23 2011 01:44 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


About It's A Free Blog

Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a blog, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Supported by

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public.  Learn more at



Supported by