NEWS ANALYSIS BY BOB ROEHR
Gays and lesbians are grateful that the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) was defeated on a procedural vote, but they can take little solace in the substance and tone of the proceedings leading up to that vote.
Social conservatives lost in trying to impose their values on the body politic, no matter how they try to spin the outcome. They also deepened the rifts between themselves and traditional conservatives and moderates within the Republican Party, which will make future attempts at social legislation more difficult.
Most Democrats harped on the fact that, gasp, the Republicans were playing politics with the issue; all the while promoting their own set of political priorities. There was not a lot of defense of the gay community—one of its most loyal constituencies in terms of votes, workers, and dollars—which may signal a rocky future for that relationship.
On the religious right, Sen. Rick Santorum hyperventilated, 'The future of the country hangs in the balance because the future of marriage hangs in the balance. Isn't that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?'
Most of his colleagues simply rolled their eyes in response. They knew that had the Senate voted on the substance of the FMA, rather than on the procedure where it was easier for the Republican leadership to apply some discipline, it would have lost by an even wider margin.
Advocates for the FMA tried to spin the extent of their loss. 'This is only the opening salvo in a long battle to preserve the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman—a battle we are determined to win,' vowed Focus on the Family's founder James Dobson.
But Ken Sherrill, a doyen of gay political science scholars and a professor at Hunter College in New York City, doesn't buy the right's spin. 'What was different about the FMA vote is that it went to the floor without making it through the Judiciary Committee,' because it did not have the votes in committee. 'I don't think that [Majority Leader Bill] Frist can play that game very often.'
'It's over,' conservative gay columnist Andrew Sullivan said on his blog. 'The antigay forces couldn't even muster a simple majority for their constitutional amendment. They have divided their party and tarnished their reputation for fairness—but the Constitution remains intact and unviolated. That's one reason to cheer.'
But beyond the delight of blocking an initiative of their opponents on the right, there was precious little the GLBT community could find reassuring.
'The vote was far from a ringing endorsement for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people,' said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
'Over and over again we heard even our staunchest allies repeating ad nauseam the mantra, 'I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman' or the ever popular, 'While I do not support gay marriage.' Not a single Senator stood up and said he or she was voting against the amendment because marriage is a fundamental right that same-sex couples should enjoy under the Constitution.'
'If the Senate actually reflected and articulated the views of the American public, at least one-third of them would have actually argued for marriage equality and the basic rights of all Americans,' Foreman continued. 'The message should have been that this year's election will not be won on our backs.'
'The marriage amendment was voted down only after a procession of senators promised there were easier ways to stop us from wedding. This is victory?' wrote Chris Crain in an editorial that appeared in the Washington Blade and other Window Media newspapers.
'If 'pro-gay' senators won't defend our equality or our dignity even when they have the votes in the bag, what can we expect when their arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act don't work anymore?'
'The movement for marriage equality, 'led' by the HRC [Human Rights Campaign], is unfortunately suffering from the 'soft activism of no expectations.''
He criticized HRC for 'squandering' more than a million bucks 'on advertisements that never mentioned the 'G' word and instead tried to change the subject to taxes and Iraq.'
HRC employed the same media strategy—avoiding gay content and trying to shift the argument—in 'defending' gay marriage in referendums in Hawaii in 1998 and California in 2000. Neither proved effective and the antigay measures passed.
Crain concluded, 'We will not trick our way to equality while everyone is looking the other way. The case for our freedom to marry is a strong one, and it's way past time we started making it.'
The Kerry/ Edwards Democratic presidential team skipped the FMA vote, the only Senators to do so. The campaign staff said that Kerry was in Boston 'preparing' for the Democratic National Convention, Edwards left to campaign in Iowa. 'That hardly makes them profiles in courage,' the Philadelphia Inquirer said in an editorial.
During the preceding month the Kerry/ Edwards campaign raked in over $600,000 at gay fundraisers in Boston and New York.
The day after the FMA vote Kerry was in Philadelphia at the NAACP convention. He criticized George W. Bush for claiming that a scheduling conflict kept him from addressing that group. 'When you're President of the United States, you can pretty much say where you want to be and when,' Kerry roared.
And, as political scientist Sherrill noted, 'The same holds true for presidential candidates and casting votes on the floor of the Senate. It's all a matter of priorities.'
Those facts seem to be resonating at the grassroots within the gay community.
'Neither Sen. John Kerry nor Sen. John Edwards could be counted on to vote at all,' wrote Chris Jehle in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. 'And I, as a gay man deprived of my right to marry the man I've loved for the past 23 years, am supposed to vote for these two come November? What have they done to earn my vote?'
Perhaps Jehle should be grateful that they are willing to take his money.