Well at least they were civil. Before the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) this week, seven of nine Democratic candidates for President supported some extension of marital rights to gay couples, akin to Vermont’s “civil unions.” However, were they for “gay marriage?” Only the three candidates who might garner one percent of the vote among them, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol Mosley Braun came out for full marital status for gay couples.
The HRC’s executive director Ellen Birch was understandably happy about the policy support. Extending more rights to people identifying as gay and lesbian is after all what the organization spends money to achieve. However, what are we to make of the fact that the serious candidates are unwilling to support gay marriage?
No doubt polls have informed them that only 39% of Americans support gay marriage. However, this number has grown 13% since 1996 so one might view the trend line as pointing to eventual majority acceptance of gay marriage before the next president’s term is up. So what else might motivate the tepid Democratic reaction to marriage benefits and responsibilities being extended to same sex couples?
Let’s look at the words of two of the leading candidates. According to news accounts, Senator John Kerry said, “I do not support (gay) marriage itself because . . . of how I view the world culturally, historically, religiously…” Senator Joe Lieberman echoed Kerry’s sentiment, saying, “Marriage has a special status in our culture, our heritage, our history.”
With current polls giving them cover, these two candidates expressed rationale that seems quite sound. There is something to be said for the argument that marriage in our culture is something special, worth upholding as it is, the union of a man and woman. For all the talk about equality of gays and straights, these presidential hopefuls see that there are basic differences between gay and straight couples that cannot be obscured by rhetoric.
History, culture, religious tradition and even biology all give testimony to the nature of marriage as the celebration of the complementarity of the sexes. Honoring mother and father is something that can only be done when the parents are a woman and a man. If it is homophobic to make this observation, then nature itself is homophobic, along with the probable next Democratic candidate.
There is something derivative about even the most idealistic same sex couple that is not generally true of opposite sex couples. One of the rights that the HRC wants as a consequence of marriage is joint parental recognition. However, to have children, somewhere, somehow an egg and a sperm must “wed” and the rest is studied in child development class. Our laws concerning marriage have reflected this objective truth. There is a demonstrable difference in marriage between an egg carrier and a sperm provider than a union of two of either of the same.
I rarely agree with John Kerry or Joe Lieberman. But on the issue of gay marriage, I think they are historically, culturally and religiously correct and might agree with Paul Stookey’s ‘Wedding Song’ that proclaims, “a man shall leave his mother and a woman leave her home, and they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.”
Now, if only they were a little less civil about civil unions.