Salon readers debate the political significance of gay marriage in 2004.

By Salon Staff
November 7, 2004 2:31AM (UTC)
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[Read "Did this man cost the Democrats the election?" by Joan Walsh.]

Yes Joan, Newsom was a major factor in Bush's GOTV effort. It's time for progressives who look to the Dems as a bulwark against radical conservatism to get real, real fast.

The difference between what happened in November of 2003 in Massachusetts and February of 2004 in San Francisco was not pointed out in your editorial. One was a legal court decision. I hail that. The other was a local official operating outside his authority in an attempt to expand state recognition of legal marriage. A very public overreach.


That's really what pissed people off. It pissed me off. This man had a responsibility to behave as if he recognized and respected the process, and not to hurt the cause. He chose to have a photo op instead, becoming a figure who would make history if only by thumbing his nose. Progressives of that ilk rarely accomplish more than a short-term adrenaline rush of high-profile quixotic political adventure.

That might work fine for San Francisco. The city might do well by attracting even more of the gay and lesbian community. They won't hurt for this. But what Newsom did drove a stake right into the heart of how mainstream Americans view the Democratic Party, and I can't forgive him for that lack of vision.

By the way, I am an active, I stress active, Catholic from an Irish-American background, who hopes that someday the definition of marriage will include same-sex couples. But living in Michigan, I am realistic about the long road ahead for people's core values to shift.


Our constitutional amendment banning legal recognition of same-sex marriages passed overwhelmingly. It may also, by its wording, roll back the rights civil unions by consequence. This is not just about John Kerry. A whole community here has in effect lost its legal rights.

By overreaching, Gavin Newsom set me and my community back, and might decimate the presence of such a vital, diverse, economically creative group of citizens here in Detroit. I might lose neighbors and friends who make the difference in my neighborhood. An exodus of that scale is truly a reason to mourn.

-- Edward Sweeney


Atlanta was coined "the city too busy to hate" during the Civil Rights movement. Of course, this title was a bunch of hooey -- there were plenty of folks with time on their hands to hate in the ATL. But what's significant about Atlanta's motto is that it was created and adopted by the city's white leaders, who realized that integration -- whether they wanted it or not -- was coming, and the smoother it went the better business would be.

Under the direction of Mayor Ivan Allen (a member of Atlanta's elite, white business community), Atlanta purposefully set into motion the handing over of city power from white leaders to African-American leaders. The one race riot that occurred during this time was quelled by the mayor himself. Because of Ivan Allen's leadership, Atlanta grew in leaps and bounds in the subsequent years, becoming the place to do business in the South, while neighboring Montgomery, once the size and stature of Atlanta, withered into a backwater because of its steadfast resistance to integration.


A controversial mayor at the time, Ivan Allen is now heralded as a visionary who saved Atlanta from cultural and economic insignificance. Though the two cities, San Francisco and Atlanta, have vastly different histories, Mayor Newsom, like Ivan Allen, will be widely viewed as a visionary in 20 years' time. He should be applauded for his stand on gay marriage, and for the benefit that his progressive stance offers to the business community of San Francisco. The Midwestern and Southern states, I fear, will continue to lose their best and brightest because those folks who might bring greater technology and innovation to the red states will instead flock to cities "too busy to hate," like our own city by the bay.

To blame Newsom and gay marriage for the loss of the 2004 election is to align ourselves with the unenlightened, and to stand in the way of progress itself. Fear and prejudice put up a terrible fight when they sense change coming. Let us not join their fight in a shortsighted attempt to appease the ignorant.

-- Susan White


It's a logical error to compare gay marriage in 2004 to civil rights in 1964. A more accurate comparison would be this: Suppose Martin Luther King chose to bring attention to civil rights in 1964 by performing interracial marriages on the steps of an Alabama courthouse? What would have been the fate of civil rights legislation? Would LBJ have won the 1964 election?

The growing acceptance of interracial marriage almost certainly derived from civil rights legislation, but MLK was too smart make it an issue. Gay marriage in 2004, like interracial marriage in 1964, was too much too fast. Unfortunately we sometimes have to drop our idealism and deal with the world we live in.

-- Kelly Madole


I am a 15-year-old high school sophomore in San Francisco, and I am disturbed by people who say that Kerry lost because of gay marriage, that the Democrats should lean more toward the center. To the contrary, I think we should try to elevate the awareness of the voters and stand our ground.

There were more single-issue voters this time than in any other recent national election, and many of them were really just voting against gay marriage. I think this had much less to do with the definition of marriage (since both Kerry and Bush agreed that they see it as between a man and a woman) and much more to do with simple homophobia, which is exactly what its name indicates: fear. Kerry was not willing to alleviate that fear by backing a constitutional amendment, so the voters turned to the candidate who was.

Right now, the GOP controls all three branches of government, and liberals like myself may feel powerless. But hoping that the Republicans destroy the country and get kicked out of office in four years isn't going to get us anywhere. If the voters remain gripped by fear the country is lost. It's our job as citizens to educate and inform and motivate the people so they can rise above fear rather than succumb to it. This is a pivotal time for the nation, and we could destroy ourselves and the world if we're not careful. It's time to bring back that old '80s slogan and "fight the power" -- with votes.

-- Zachary Tomlinson


I am a 24-year-old straight married man, who was raised Catholic but left the church and has recently come back to Christianity. My pastor is Methodist but I'm not sure what I am, if that makes sense. I too am antiabortion personally and pro-choice politically. As far as gay marriage goes, I don't believe in legislative morality, and certainly not on the federal level.

No matter how many times a conservative explains it, I will never understand why a heterosexual marriage conducted in a courthouse is somehow "holy" and imbued with "great sanctity."

A marriage conducted in a church is holy. One conducted in a courthouse is a legal agreement, no matter how much the two people love each other. No one will ever convince me that two homosexuals, either men or women, having a marriage of this sort is somehow "evil" or "wrong" or an "affront to marriages everywhere." That's ridiculous.

Christianity has to make its own decision on gay marriage, but to me, the government should be allowing it without question. It shouldn't be an issue of debate -- it should be an issue of basic human rights, and treating all people equally.


As for me, I've been married three months, but they've been a very good three months. I can't imagine wanting to take this feeling away from anyone. The fact that so much of the country (including my state of Michigan) doesn't agree has made me feel incredibly sad and lonely. It's good to see other people standing up and saying gay rights are something we can support, no matter who we are, and at any cost. The historical perspective in this article helped me find a little bit of my strength again.

-- Matt Bell

Not endorsing gay marriage isn't "selling out gay people," as Joan Walsh claims. If the Democratic Party is going to ever win elections again, we have to start deciding which battles we are going to fight.

The right doesn't think it's "selling out" when its leaders argue for Social Security "privatization" instead of arguing directly to eliminate Social Security, which is their ultimate goal. They recognize that people aren't ready for massive change -- but they know that by fighting the battle one small step at a time, they will win. The left, on the other hand, wants it all, and we want it now. And if anybody doesn't agree with us, then they can just vote for the opposition.


Well, guess what, they did. There are core values we can't compromise: homosexual people need to be able to gain the secular aspects of marriage through civil unions, and the religious aspects if their church supports them. But the state doesn't have to sanctify marriage for homosexuals in order to give them these rights.

Someday I hope to live in a world where homosexuality is recognized universally as normal and right. But in the meanwhile, the gay marriage issue is causing more harm to our party -- and homosexual couples -- than good.

-- Diane Mastalir

Heroically, Mayor Newsom identified a deep social imbalance and did everything in his power to correct it. While taking a stand on gay marriage in San Francisco might not seem like an act of courage, I would like to believe that Newsom considered the national implications of his plan before moving forward. The mayor acted, and acted decisively. Isn't that the same kind of assuredness so many American's admire in President Bush, even if they don't agree with his policies?

Institutionalized racism was not overcome by counting on federalism. It took Supreme Court decisions, an executive order to desegregate the armed forces, congressional legislation and a president to sign it to push civil rights to the forefront of this country's domestic agenda. Would that we had such courageous leadership in Washington today.

I am afraid that wait-and-see paths to equality will give false hope to those seeking justice. Counting on a younger, more tolerant generation to grow into older, more tolerant voters is a weak strategy if there ever was one. Political identification tends to grow more conservative with age, and the idealism of young voters today might be pushed aside by their concern for personal economics in the future. And, let's face it, the 92 percent of Mississippians who voted to ban gay marriage aren't going to stop teaching their children and grandchildren to hate faggots anytime soon.

It is not liberal, progressive Americans who should be doing the soul searching, it is moderate Republicans who allowed a radical agenda to take over their party who now have a serious question to ask themselves. Are their tax cuts worth the disenfranchisement of tens of millions of Americans?

Instead of decrying a mayor's decision to cure one of society's ills, moderates and progressives of all stripes should be decrying the president's top political advisor for exploiting it.

-- Doug Gordon

The last sentence of Joan Walsh's "Did This Man Cost the Democrats the Elections" is the very definition of a false dilemma. I do believe that gay marriage (and Newsom) cost Kerry the election, I believe the issue should never have been raised, and frankly, I believe it should not be raised again if we don't want to find ourselves someday with an Alan Keyes in the White House.

Don't get me wrong. I'm gay myself and for full equality. But I'm also "reality-based" enough to realize that, like it or not, most people in this country are against gay marriage and that trying to force it on them, either through the courts or through Newsom-style political grandstanding, will turn the issue into a one-way ticket to Washington for even the craziest right-wing politicians (I mean, look at the senatorial election returns!).

This doesn't mean I'm for "selling out" gay people, however. It only means that we finally have to get smart about gay rights and stop running after the shadow while the prey escapes us. Forget about gay marriage. It's a political loser. Go after the rights associated with marriage, and do it in stealth fashion. Send a reasonably receptive Congress to D.C., and get a Democrat into the White House. Then, start lobbying for legislation that will allow any two or more people, regardless of gender, family connections or whatever, to enter into a government-sanctioned covenant that will give them in relation to each other the same rights married people have. Call it something fuzzy and meaningless like "The Healthy Communities Building Act" and sell it as helping those two elderly, impoverished, unmarried Kansas sisters who are still running the family farm alone to watch over each other in their old age.

Et voilá, you have what really matters not only for gays and lesbians, but also for elderly Kansas sisters and whoever else wants to get together to build a family. On the downside, you don't get a government-sanctioned "special day" with pretty dresses and tuxedos, crying mothers, dry cake, and your names on the bridal registry at Pottery Barn. Personally, I think it's a good trade-off. The evolution of popular culture, not politics, will eventually take care of the symbolic aspects of equality.

Obviously, though, no Congress or White House open to this kind of legislation will ever come to Washington as long as a bunch of self-centered and shortsighted gays and lesbians insist on showing up at City Hall in their fineries to get a worthless piece of paper just because it makes them feel good. Or as long as self-promoting politicians are ready to sell out the well-being of this great country (including its gay and lesbian citizens) and of the world for their 15 minutes in the national news. Let's finally grow up.

-- Laurent Cartayrade

Salon Staff

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