Should States Have the Right to Decide on Gay Marriage?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
May 10 2012 6:57 PM

The Federalist Question

Should states have a right to decide gay marriage?

(Continued from Page 1)

Will Saletan: But is this really such a break from partisanship? I bet partisanship made a big contribution to it, by convincing Obama he was going to lose socially conservative voters anyway, so why not throw in the towel on gay marriage.

John Pace: Will, you are correct, of course, that some political calculation played into this. And that Obama considered how his statement might help the campaign (or mitigate damage). But it still remains a very important statement regarding civil rights, respect and tolerance. Our acceptance of marriage equality has been teetering around 50 percent for a while now, only recently surpassing it (albeit within the margin of error). I maintain that the president coming out in favor of tolerance and respect on a lightning rod issue of civil rights is just what this country needs. It's going to make a lot of people rethink the issue. It's going to make the issue a topic of dinner table discussion, and provide mom and dad some cover when they say, "Well, yeah, equality really is a good thing." And it's going to energize those already in the choir.

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Brett Verlyn Scriver: My question for you: How do you think this will impact the vote on a constitutional amendment in Minnesota that’s similar to North Carolina’s Amendment 1? Polls are very close here in Minnesota, and many of us are working to keep this ban on freedom to marry out of our constitution.

Will Saletan: The key thing to remember is that with polls shifting (as John noted), one of these states will be the first to vote on the side of gay marriage. Could be Minnesota, could be Maryland—I don’t know. But the undefeated record of conservatives can't withstand the poll shift in the long run.

Dahlia Lithwick: ‎Are you hearing/seeing any shift in tone there after yesterday's announcement?

Brett Verlyn Scriver: I don't know that there is a change in tone per se, but it has been and will be an impetus for conversation for "regular Minnesotans" who don't necessarily follow politics closely, which is a good thing. People should be talking about how the amendment would affect them and their friends and families personally. Here is an example of local media coverage.

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J.P. Pecht: The irony would be if same-sex marriage becomes a wedge issue for 2012 that actually hurts Republicans this time around because it A) motivates Obama's base and B) is supported by a slim (but growing) majority of the general public and independents.

Dahlia Lithwick: I think there is some sense that the Romney campaign is anxious about that very thing.

Will Saletan: Have you noticed all the Republicans screaming and yelling and holding press conferences today to denounce Obama's radical statement? No? Isn't that interesting? You can bet that if the Democratic presidential nominee had said this eight years ago, he'd have been slammed by Republicans the next day. Yet they're keeping quiet or low-toned. Why? Some of it's the economy. But surely a lot of it is that they're no longer sure how the issue cuts.

Claudia Reed Beaudry: Exactly. And didn't I see a poll somewhere that said the overwhelming majority of Democrats support gay marriage, 22 percent of Republicans do, and 57 percent of independents do?

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Wendy Butler: As much as I appreciate the sentiment, it’s an election year and simply more posturing.

Lori Scribner: It's not posturing. Joe Biden did his usual "speak his mind" thing and opened up the issue. The President had to take a stand either way. And if you're not familiar with Biden, the man speaks from his heart. This wasn't staged.

Dan Johnson Wendy: If this is posturing, it's a very gutsy move. I see him losing some of the middle, and gaining nothing. I can't see Romney ever beating Obama so maybe he just figures why not lay it all on the table.

Dahlia Lithwick: ‎I think the gamble was that this would galvanize young voters and the base, weighed against losing some independents. I defer to Will on how that cuts.

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Sheena Garland: I don't think his statements will shift votes but I believe it means something to folks being denied the right to marry. I don't believe civil rights should be put to a majority vote. North Carolina passed this terrible amendment one with the majority of less than 20% of those eligible to vote. This crap passes because those who tend to vote tend to have these views. People need to quit bitching and vote!

Dahlia Lithwick: I think Glenn Greenwald makes that argument this morning when he talks about what this means to those who have been denied this right.

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June Thomas: Is there any way this moves from "I've had a change of heart, this group of people shouldn't be excluded from a rights and responsibilities-conferring institution that is open to others" to "I'm going to repeal DOMA"? That's when it starts to count.

Will Saletan: Don't you think DOMA will be the last thing to fall? Politicians aren't exactly brave. At some point, changes in the culture, public opinion, and state policies will make DOMA so obviously antiquated that they'll take it down. No?

Dahlia Lithwick: ‎That cuts against the Cory Booker argument, right? That civil rights questions should never be decided by popular vote?

Will Saletan: Yeah, I disagree with Booker. With apologies to my liberal friends, I think liberals have a facile habit of declaring this or that to be an obvious issue of civil rights (similar to declaring religion or morality obviously irrelevant). In truth, our notions of what counts as a civil right are constantly, um, evolving. Shouldn't we debate that classification as we go? Case in point: Some people think declaring a right to life for the unborn is a civil rights question. Does anyone here think we should roll over and agree that such a policy shouldn't be subjected to a popular vote?

June Thomas: The truth is I cannot be rational on this topic. I don't see it as a philosophical argument, I see it as straight-up discrimination, and I really don't see why I should have to wait for justice.

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Will Saletan: Thanks for the conversation. I have to head out and get back to work now. I can already hear the next politician evolving!

Dahlia Lithwick: Thank you everyone for the great questions and for reading Slate!

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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