My position on marriage licensing of any sort is that it has nothing to do with what is right. Regulating personal relationships is an effort by government to ensure a kind of social order and to streamline certain legal procedures, such as determining the right of inheritance. All governments assert sovereign jurisdiction over the populace yet their procedures for legislating and regulating don’t necessarily pertain to what is right. With that said, governments can pretty much do whatever citizens will let them get away with.
In this case, the citizens said not to do something, but some defenders of “civil rights” had already decided that the citizens weren’t smart enough to make the right choice:
From the outset, campaigners seemed scared of the Californian electorate. As a result, the campaign was evasive, defensive and ultimately ineffective. Gay rights campaigners raised more money than their opponents, yet failed to drive their message home and, of course, lost the vote.
This happens a lot in democracies. The democracy game requires demagoguery, propaganda, appeals to popular vices, and exhortations to outrage. If you can’t whip up enough mass hysteria, there’s just no point in worrying about public opinion. Apparently, the gay marriage advocates couldn’t figure out the grass-roots angle on this issue.
Yet rather than assess their own failings, when Prop 8 was passed the anti campaigners blamed the Mormons (who sent cash from Utah to support Prop 8), and African-American and Hispanic voters, who are apparently too backward and unenlightened to understand the case for gay marriage. One comment poster at the LA Times website captured the mood of many activists after the passing of Prop 8 when he said, ‘the issue should never have been before the voters in the first place. It’s an issue of fundamental rights, not subject to the whims of a mob.’ With such a snooty view of ordinary people, it is not surprising that gay rights campaigners made little headway in convincing the public.
The problem, from a public relations standpoint, is that the gay rights advocates decided to take government marriage licensing as their route to legitimacy. There is nothing particularly populist about government marriage licenses. They were always an afterthought, an attempt to legitimize social norms and religious practices that were already existing.
Yet now the practice of marriage (as with many other practices supposedly exhibiting “moral values” in the modern day) occupies a dichotomous role in American society. It could hardly be described anymore as a popular normative ethic for the majority of the electorate. Rather, it is both an ideal and a pragmatic option. Lifetime single-partner male-female marriage is held up as an unattainable standard of perfection by most people, even while they make personal choices that are short-sighted and situational, which sometimes end up in marriage.
Politically, this means that most public opinion is made up of ideal interpretations and pragmatic apathy. Marriage represents a traditional ideal, a mutated ideal, or a non-issue. Evidently, the gay rights advocates decided that this was an insufficient basis for a popular campaign.
The ‘gay issue’, such as it exists in US politics, is now just another tribal dividing line for the urbane elites: it distinguishes us from them; it is a way for aloof liberals to scorn ordinary people. People do not change their minds by being told they are backward and ignorant. With such a snobby dynamic at play, it is hard to see how the judicial defeat of Prop 8 will do very much for gay rights.
Really, the “gay marriage” route to legitimacy had to eventually come down to the decisions of a few frightened bureaucrats or glory-seeking judges. If they had been more patient, they could have taken over the dwindling “mainstream” Protestant churches in a few more years, thus leaving the legal decisions as relatively uncontroversial acknowledgments of the new religious sensibility. The way it stands now, those churches will turn in the direction that the legal winds blow; but it is obvious which side of the issue is the populist side.
The question remains, is this truly an issue of constitutionally protected civil rights? Is this another case where a minority is being protected against the majority by the rules of the constitutional republic? I don’t think so. Basic human fairness calls for treating all individuals properly, as well as honoring their explicit constitutional and contractual rights. It doesn’t call for legitimizing all of their behavior as righteous and socially valuable.
Separately, the gay rights movement is generally ill-conceived and plagued by self-deception. It would be better for them in the long run to be realistic about their motives and honest about their objectives.