The Red Neck of Democracy II - The RR Strike Back
I have already written about what I hope is the big picture on the USA elections. Like Just Left I hope I have expressed my admiration for the positives of the world's greatest democracy. Equally now, I must declare my liberal values and my opposition to the policies of the present US Government while, of course, acknowledging the legitimacy of its victory and its constitutional right to pursue those policies.
Exit polls and other evidence seem to suggest that it was conservative "Evangelical Christians" who swung the polls to Bush. It would seem that Christians came out to vote (and to vote for Bush) in unprecedented numbers both in the swing states and in safe republican states. On the other side liberals and racial minorities turned out in force mainly in the swing states. The net result was a slight EC gain to the republicans (Iowa and New Mexico captured, New Hampshire lost) but a more substantial gain in the popular vote.
It is easy to adopt an elitist stance and sneer at the "deluded superstitions" of these "moral crusaders" or of Bush voters in general. It's even easier when you read of polls showing that most Bush voters believe Saddam Hussein had deployable WMDs and orchestrated the 9/11 attack on the twin towers. Easier still when a woman tells a BBC reporter she's voting for Bush "because Kerry's daughter is a lesbian". But it's wrong. The message has (Karl Rove and Ruper Murdoch notwithstanding) gone out. The "deluded" voters have been told the truth but they are committed to voting the same way they have always done and use "facts" to rationalise their prejudices rather than to inform their opinions - they were never going to vote for Kerry any way.
Nor are the religious necessarily dumb or morally blind. They may be highly motivated and intolerant of the views of others but they are not all stupid. Jimmy Carter (Liberal, former Democratic president, Nobel Peace laureate and Kerry's intellectual equal) was a born-again Christian from Georgia (and he was defeated by a divorced Republican actor from California - where was the religious vote then?)
What was different this time is that the Religious Right was driven by a single issue to vote and to all vote the same way. That issue was Gay Marriage.
I believe, as do many other bloggers of both the left and right, that a couple's right to have their union recognised by the law should not be dependent on gender. Nor do I believe that the law should maintain the ridiculous fiction that such a "Civil Union" is not a marriage. But I believe that this state must be brought about with the broad consent of the public. We must persuade those of a contrary view that we seek no more than is fair and that their own marriages are devalued less by extending the same right to loving same-sex couples than by heterosexuals who marry wantonly, carelessly or ill-advisedly. Such a change in law, when it comes, should be enacted by parliament rather than judges.
In 2003 the Massachussets Supreme Court (Goodridge) held that laws barring same-sex couples from marrying violated the Massachussets constitution. This led to a vigorous conservative campaign to amend the Federal Constitution. This campaign claims that the present constitution requires all states to give "Full faith and credit" to marriages conducted in any state and that Massachussets can now become the "Gay Gretna Green" of the USA. Others argue that common law allows states to refuse to recognise marriages from other states with different marriage laws. The amendments proposed, however, would override the state constitution so as to nullify the Goodridge decision completely rather than simply preventing its "export" to other states. This amendment gained Bush the overwhelming support of the Religious Right even though it is beyond his power to deliver it. Adding a referendum on the amendment to the ballot in key states helped guarantee that conservatives turned out to vote.
Perhaps there is a simple way forward that will satisfy all (or at least most) parties. Let Congress endorse a minimal amendment which simply formalises the existing common law precedent that a state may refuse to recognise a marriage contracted in another state with different marriage laws where those laws conflict with strongly held local public policy. This does not infringe on the traditional jurisdiction of any state legislature or constitution. The State of Massachussets may accept the Goodridge finding or amend their constitution. Any state may pass its own law on Gay Marriage or Civil Unions in accordance with their own constitution. Those states which do not allow such unions will not be forced to recognise them when contracted in other states.
Such an amendment will, in fact, preserve the status quo intact but removes the (overstated) risk that "judicial activists" might alter it in future. It should be possible to get bipartisan support and hence the 2/3 majority in both houses. The subsequent ratification referenda could coincide with the 2006 mid-term elections and, if successful in 38 states the amendment would be passed. The marital law issues can then be left with the states where they belong and federal elections can go back to being about the things that the federal government does.