California's Moment

Buried in the rush of election news yesterday was the California court's refusal to stay the civil marriages for gay couples that will start on June 17 and continue throughout the year. This strikes me as a critical decision because it reframes the debate in California. If voters are asked to decide on the abstract question of marriage equality, they respond differently than if they are asked to decide about civil marriages already in existence. Many voters simply do not want to think about this question and resent those who bring it up. If you ask Californians: "Do you favor the right of gay couples to marry?" they will divide pretty evenly. If you ask, "Do you want to undo all these couples' marriages?" they will tend to answer no.

And what's striking is how little furore the decision has actually provoked, and how much more restrained the backlash seems to be in 2008 than it was in 2004. A lot is due to greater familiarity with same-sex married couples, in Massachusetts and Canada. And a lot is due to the fact that we have had these marriages for years now and the world for straight people seems unchanged. Check out this McCain response to Jamie Kirchick yesterday:

I’ve always supported the unique status of marriage of man and woman. I supported a ballot initiative in Arizona, and voted for Defense of Marriage Act. But people of the states should make that decision. We do not have to recognize the decisions of other states.

I agree with it – haven’t read it, but I agree with it – but that’s a decision that the people of California will make.

It is becoming a non-issue. Which means: we win.

 

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