Gay marriage foes running out of arguments

With the passage of a same-sex marriage law in New Hampshire, opponents are in a tough spot

By Alex Koppelman

Published June 4, 2009 11:30PM (EDT)

The past few months have brought some victories to opponents of same-sex marriage, true, but their prospects for success in the future are beginning to look bleaker. True, a majority of Americans still oppose allowing same-sex couples to wed, but the recent victories by advocates of gay marriage have made it clear that the fight is going to become tougher, because their best messages are being taken away one by one, and at an astounding pace.

Until this spring, social conservatives had an easy argument to make: Unelected judges, overruling the will of the people and perverting American democracy, were the ones legalizing same-sex marriage. Then, in April, Vermont became the first state to legalize gay marriage through the legislative process rather than in the judiciary. Maine followed last month.

Still, that left activists with a potent message -- the creeping legalization of same-sex marriage meant that the rights of opponents, especially Christians, would be trampled upon. That argument was most famously distilled in "Gathering Storm," an ad released by the National Organization for Marriage. In it, various actors warn of the consequences of gay marriage: "My freedom will be taken away," one says. "I am part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we can't support same-sex marriage," another says.

But that argument, too, has now sprung a leak. When New Hampshire legalized same-sex marriage on Wednesday, it did so through the legislative process. And the bill passed by the state legislature, and signed into law by the governor, includes specific (and, really, unneccessary -- this would have been the case anyway) language saying that religious institutions can't be forced to marry same-sex couples.

That's left NOM scrambling for a message, and what they've come up with so far is seriously lacking in punch. In a statement denouncing the new law, the group's executive director, Brian Brown, said, "The vote of the legislature sends New Hampshire into dangerous waters. It will not be long before young children are taught in New Hampshire schools that they can marry someone of the same sex if they wish -- that gay marriage is just as good as marriage." That tack might have some success, but it doesn't have the potency of the movement's earlier arguments.

And what Brown said next is really unlikely to get the group anywhere. After the statement pointed out that New Hampshire law does not allow for a direct vote, Brown complained, "It is unfortunate that New Hampshire voters are being denied the right to decide this question themselves. We have no doubt that if voters could decide, they would vote to overturn gay marriage and restore the historic definition of marriage."

If your strategy comes down to telling Americans that their representative democracy is undemocratic, it's probably time to go back to the drawing board.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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