The Most Compelling Political Event of the Year

It wasn’t meant to be political.

In fact, Saturday night, while beautiful, was pretty conventional: two of my dear friends from graduate school were getting married. They are fellow economists who have spent 18 years together; they have supported each other through their careers, each has followed the other to different cities, and they provide each other with support in their personal lives.

The only difference is that Jed and Eric are both men.

In many respects, their wedding followed the script I’ve celebrated as my other graduate school buddies have married. Friends and family were assembled, and the lucky couple were excited and busy hosts, making sure that all the details were in place.

But there were differences. The timing of their wedding had little to do with the progress of their relationship. It is pretty unusual for a couple to wait 18 years to marry. But in this case, their choice reflects the fact that they were legally unable to move ahead until the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Constitution recognizes their right to marriage. And they were forced to rush their wedding ahead of next week’s election, as a ballot initiative (Prop 8) seeks to take away this right by amending the constitution.

And so circumstances dictated that their love and their wedding, while being intensely personal, was also somehow public and political.

In a symbolically loaded part of their ceremony, an African-American friend invited them to “jump the broom.” During slavery, society refused to recognize the rights of many African-Americans to marry. Despite this, marriage — formalized by a couple jumping over a broom — continued to thrive. Today, we recognize those earlier marriage bans as a gross historical injustice.

The thing that struck me about their ceremony was how viscerally it changed my own feelings about gay marriage. I had always supported gay marriage, but it was an abstract, intellectual support; now it’s personal. And so a friend’s wedding became, for me, the most compelling political event of the year.

Here’s an interesting thought: How has the recent wave of same-sex weddings changed the political landscape? There have now been thousands of same-sex weddings, each enjoining scores of invited friends and family to re-examine their thoughts and feelings. There’s a pretty good chance that one of these folks might be the pivotal voter on Tuesday. And I suspect that this is a much more motivating political force than the tens of millions being spent on political advertising.


J

"Every single California Supreme Court Justice has been voted into that position by California voters"

From http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/supreme/about.htm . If you're curious, yes, that's the California Supreme Court's website.

"One Chief Justice and six associate justices are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The appointments are confirmed by the public at the next general election; justices also come before voters at the end of their 12-year terms"

You have never elected a justice to the CA Supreme Court. You've ratified gubernatorial appointments, and have the opportunity to overturn them. If you thought otherwise, you need to read your ballot a little more carefully.

It’s fascinating to me that so many people without any knowledge of how the government is structured, or any understanding of the State Constitution, or even any understanding of how Supreme Court justices are appointed and ratified blah blah blah...

"Are you saying that someone will vote to overturn the decision not on the merits of the issue, but just for the sake of undoing what a judge did, on principal? So they’re just voting “yes” for the opportunity to say, “So there!"

Yes and yes.

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Ellie

I just can't understand what all the fuss is about....If 2 people love each other and want to get married we should just let them. Love is a beautiful thing, and it seems a shame to be constantly attacking people who have found it, purely based on gender.

Thomas Brownback

"Even the counterarguments that homosexuality is not an immutable trait and therefore not deserving of protected class status."

Ironically, positions here have flipped over time. Sartre and Foucault both argued that homosexuality was a choice. Both argued this way in support of sexual freedom. (Sartre in Portrait of the Antisemite, Foucault in History of Sexuality).

Foucault specifically worried that deeming homosexuality an immutable characteristic was the first step towards medicalization, the first step towards treating it as a malfunction that should be corrected.

Really, the choice vs. immutable characteristic question is a red herring. If African Americans could take a pill or undergo surgery to become white, does racism suddenly become acceptable? Clearly not.

Kristine

For those wanted sources cited in studies about children raised in traditional homes, see:

David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (New York: Basic Books, 1995);

Barbara Schneider, Allison Atteberry, and Ann Owens, Family Matters: Family Structure and Child Outcomes (Birmingham AL: Alabama Policy Institute: June 2005);

David Popenoe, Life Without Father (New York: Martin Kessler Books, 1996);

David Popenoe and Barbara Defoe Whitehead, The State of Our Unions 2007: The Social Health of Marriage in America (Piscataway, NJ (Rutgers University): The National Marriage Project, July 2007 ) pp. 21-25;

Maggie Gallagher and Joshua K. Baker, “Do Moms and Dads Matter? Evidence from the Social Sciences on Family Structure and the Best Interests of the Child,” Margins Law Journal 4:161 (2004)

And if any of you wish to just brush these off as right-wing propaganda, please see:

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-blankenhorn19-2008sep19,0,2093869.story written by a liberal Democrat, David Blankenhorn.

Or how about two other liberals:

"Summing up the cross-cultural evidence, the anthropologist Helen Fisher in 1992 put it simply: "People wed primarily to reproduce." The philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell, certainly no friend of conventional sexual morality, was only repeating the obvious a few decades earlier when he concluded that "it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution."

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Ok, so now that I've provided some background let me say I'm not homophobic. I believe same-sex couples should receive some rights (hospital visitations, etc.). Could these rights be granted in civil unions? Yes. But they don't want civil unions -- they specifically DEMAND marriage.

The main reason for opposing same-sex marriage come from the fact that it sets the Church and State on a crash course that can only end in misery for both sides. Look down the road and religions can/will have their tax-exempt status revoked for preaching and practicing what they believe. And that is against the constitution.

To trivialize all opposition to same-sex marriage as bigotry is to simplify an exceedingly complex matter. The legalization of which will affect society on all fronts; religious, educational, etc. It will be one thing that will pull this country apart as religious families pull their children from public schools in droves as homosexuality is legislated to be taught as part of sex-ed classes.

The silliest argument same-sex marriage is "how will these loving people marrying in any way affect your life? it won't." I'm here to say it will. And I will fight to give rights to those who should have them, but I will fight to the death to keep my religious liberties - and no, I'm not a bigot. Yes I love all of my homosexual friends, family members, and neighbors . . . they are wonderful people. And I will most likely support civil unions -- but I will never support same-sex marriage.

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Jeff

A good argument for gay marriage are employer benefits. Say if you work in the public sector (where compensation to families goes by the books), your partner happens to be the legal guardian of a kid (implicitly you're son or daughter), you're the primary breadwinner and receive the best compensation benefits. It's a shame if those crucial benefits could not be extended for your child who needs them.

It just doesn't make sense that qualified people have to make decisions on issues on where to work outside of the work involved, compensation, commute, personal gratification, etc. Employers can significantly miss out on hiring good people. This is a good recipe for brain drain. Obviously, it's not a given that sexual-orientation determines skills, but you can't assume that all homosexuals are unskilled. There is potential for regions/states to lose out on a chunk of a good work force because they're not keeping up with the social times.

I've seen a handful of reports that it's contributing to my home state, Michigan's young brain drain exodus. Though, I have not seen any strong data to back up the claim yet. It is a plausible argument to suggest that a gay who just graduated from U of M is less likely to stay in Michigan (reasons other than Michigan's poor economy) because they hope to start a family one day and don't want to deal with the obvious disadvantages.

It's kind of like the typical economists' stance on immigration, "do whatever it takes to attract the very best." Fortunately, a lot of major firms in the private sector have the right idea and give their gay employees equal treatment in their rules and compensation to ensure they attract the best and/or potentially discrimination lawsuits.

If a social law poses a clear disadvantage to those hiring, those working and more importantly, their children, it's often not worth having. When you're potentially putting children at a disadvantage you're putting society at a disadvantage.

As for Chesapean, you have a point about Justin not exactly being scholarly, but he stated it was personal. The magnitude of the realities of illness, death, lay off/unemployment, discrimination, etc are much apparent when it happens to someone close to you. His post was just to gauge of the political climate of this issue with our thoughts. It's not like he was submitting the post to a journal. What he said had nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. Political conservatism does not imply anything about gay marriage. It's simply a way of governing. There are conservative gays (heh, look who's running Austria). They just feel strongly about the stance the main conservative party takes on it. If Justin said "the fags are causing God to kill our soldiers" or "gays are an important component of the developing creative class which will be the next driving force of our economy" then you could say that's conservative BS or liberal BS.

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adina

I am a Republican Californian who voted AGAINST Prop 8. If it were up to me, the word "marriage" would be a term completely unfamiliar to the law books, altogether. I think that government-contolled marriage financially discriminates against single people.

However, so long as the government regulates marriage, it should be available to EVERY ONE. Adding a provision that addresses marriage to our state constitution would be disastrous and discriminatory.

Tyler in Sacramento

If the comments on this posting were representative of the California electorate, the discussion would be over as of Tuesday. Unfortunately, the wave of Yes on 8 activism as well as TV ads connecting this issue to education may sway those who vote purely on heresay ("mommy, guess what we learned in school today!" ... Yeah, I know.) No argument for banning gay marriage stands to reason, yet I have seen reason lose the fight in far to many instaces in our society for me to be confident in this case.

Chesapean

Wolfers,

This post is one of the purest examples of Liberal B.S. I have ever seen.

Is the human relationship between the gay friends who married just an "objective object" to be trivialized in such a way? Does their relationship in itself mean nothing more to you than this? Is their "gayness" so significant that their individuality offers nothing else to write about?

How dare you fantacize about something so private in public, fomenting drama, calling it -- without logic or reason -- "the most compelling political event of the year"?

And what evidence do you have that, as you say, "There's a pretty good chance" someone who attended a gay wedding recently "might be the pivotal voter on Tuesday"?

You have no evidence of anything, and the only significance of the event you describe is that it seemed important to you, personally. Important enough to MAKE it into a political statement for which you have an available audience.

Gimme a break.

I'm not taking a position on the question of gay marriage here. I just deeply resent the manipulative, anti-intellectual way this post was put together.

If you think gay marriage is a good thing, why not say: "I think gay marriage is a good thing. Here are my reasons, and here are the facts that support my position"?

Instead, the dialectic you chose is: private epiphany, public posturing, pure emotion. This is the essence of Liberal B.S.

No proper discussion, no proper solution can come from it.

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Julie

This is one of those issues in which I actually support limited government....

One of the underlying values of our constitution is that there is a seperation between church and state. How is the government seperating itself from the "church" if it's defining, by law, what one of its institutions is, marriage? So if a same sex couple gets married in their religious institution, it's not called marriage by the state. But if a heterosexual couple does, then it's called marriage. The government cannot pick and choose what religious beliefs it recognizes.

I agree with Post #22. Just grant civil unions to everyone. This makes it so the government is not defining a religious institution. They're simply establishing and enforcing contracts between two consenting adults. If people want to get married in a private cermony in their religious organization, like people used to LONG before the government got involved in marriage, then they can do that too.

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Joman

I'm going to go on a slight tangent and point out how amusingly appropiate it is that the couple of economists mentioned in this post were married in a ceremony officiated by a M. Friedman.

I wonder if there was a free lunch afterwards....

Holly Martins

@52:

I am stunned and almost impressed by your ability to declaim on the immorality of homosexuality and compare gay marriage to MURDER, and then, in the next breath, say that you're not a bigot.

Just out of curiosity, what exactly do you think the definition of bigotry is?

Naim

I don't understand the opposition side. What will happen if this proposition doesn't pass? Will gay couples be stripped of any rights? Will they gain any rights? It all seems so trivial. As I understand it, gay unions already enjoy all the same rights as a married couple.

Seems to me like the non-religious are trying to take away something that religion invented, just because they can.

Please fill me in.

jeremy

To everyone that is reading this that plans on voting yes on 8 in California: YOU NEED TO THINK AGAIN. The repercussions of not allowing same sex couples to be recognized as spouses are absolutely devastating. Same sex couples that have lived together forever, and might only have each other, are denied the right to visit their significant other in the hospital at critical times, even when he/she is dying. Can you imagine dying alone while the only person you want to be there holding your hand is forced to wait in another room? Gay marriage has nothing to do with labels, traditional or otherwise. It has to do with legal recognition as a couple during the most critical of times. VOTE NO ON 8!!!!

J

"until the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Constitution recognizes their right to marriage"

A lot of support for prop 8 is going to come from people irritated not by gay marriage, but by judicial activism. Whatever other views they hold, most Californians intensely dislike judges overruling ballot initiatives. It'll be interesting to see if any of SC justices get fired in 2010

"I am still wondering how the US military will handle it when the first partnered person signs up…"

If they claim to be homosexual, the military will discharge them, as required by federal law.

MikeM

If the state is going to sponsor marriage (and it does, through tax codes and the rights and privileges of marraige), then it has the burden of ensuring two things:

1- That, in principle, the institution uphold the values of society, maintain social order, and exist as an overall benefit to society.

2- Prevent from entering into it those who would corrupt the institution by not upholding the values of society. Encourage to enter into it those who will.

Nevertheless, one of the values of our society is to not discriminate against members of a group simply because they are members of a group - when they don't exhibit negative attributes that may be associated with that group. For instance, black people should not be denied mortgages because the lender believes black people come from low income areas. Nor should women be denied equal work or equal pay simply because an employer believes women do inferior work. These are among the values of our society, we hold the practice of commerce to them, and marriage should not be excepted.

Any institution recognized and sponsored by law, whether it's called marriage or not, should promote civil equality as much as it should promote family stability, child welfare, etc. These are among the values of our society. If marriage does not exist to uphold these values, it should not be recognized by law - it should be recognized by religious institutions only. These values are the only justification for the state to sponsor marriage.

With that said, it is a threat to these values when two parties do not enter marriage in full good faith, as understood by our society. For the sake of social welfare, marriage should be the foundation of a healthy household - particularly if children are involved. This is true of "traditional" marriages as well as same-sex marriages. Marriage should be a good faith commitment to be a permanent contract.

The more rational opponents of same-sex marriage fundamentally want to raise the bar for marriage (and certainly for divorce) or at least keep the bar high. They believe that opening the door to same-sex couples lowers the bar to the institution of marriage to those that would corrupt the institution (burden #2). But what they've done is profile homosexuals as not entering marriage in full good faith. Yet this is in violation of our civil equality values.

If maintaining the sanctity of marriage is the goal, we should prevent a man and a woman from getting married just until they change their minds and get a divorce with as much fervor as we would a gay couple whose primary motive for marriage is a state-sponsored validation of their sexuality. Both are a corruption of the values supposedly upheld by marriage.

If this is not what we seek to do with the institution of marriage, then I object as a citizen to the sponsorship of its practice by my government.

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sol

I really don't understand gay marriage. I have nothing against it, but I simply don't understand it. The purpose of marriage is to create a stable, committed nest so that the children enjoy a stable, caring and providing environment, that would otherwise be uncertain. Love doesn't have a thing to do with marriage - they don't ask you if you love each other in order to give you a license...

Since the law should apply to the general case, couples that cannot or don't want to conceive or adopt will still be "allowed" to marry.

Gay couples, if we admit they cannot conceive, simply don't need the marriage.

This is how I see it. But if my gay friends decide to tie the knot and it makes them happy, I'm happy for them.

oh, and in the same way I don't understand gay marriage, I don't understand those who want to ban it as if it were the doom of our society. That's just stupid.

Dave Henderson

@13

I don't believe that the law ever compelled any church to give up anti-miscegenation (race mixing) beliefs. When the SCotUS overturned the anti-miscegenation laws, only the civil authorities were forced to recognize inter-racial marriage and the same should be true for any form of marriage which any particular religious organization finds objectionable to its belief system.

In fact, I often argue that as a matter of equality before the law the state should either stop codifying marriage or permit all forms of marriage between persons deemed to have the capacity for consensual relationships.

Another way to recognize the rightness of this thinking is to understand that the US has 2 forms of marriage which overlap if the marriage is between a heterosexual couple married by a member of a religious organization. The 2 forms are sacramental and civil. If you are a Roman Catholic and you marry at City Hall or the County Magistrate, etc., are you married according to the Church? No, the Church only recognizes marriage within the confines of the Mass. If you happen to be a UU and are a homosexual couple, most UU churches will happily perform the marriage ceremony and consider you to have a valid marriage in the eyes of your god, but will the state recognize that marriage? Only in certain, jurisdictions.

I don't have a problem with religious institutions refusing to marry or recognize marriages outside of its faith doctrine; I won't practice that faith or worship in those institutions. But I do have a problem with the civil authorities practicing the same forms of discrimination.

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cy

Ben/13 - hetero elderly and infertile couples can't "reproduce in a natural way by themselves" either. are their relationships less legitimate in your eyes as well?

S. Heaton

I also believe that state marriage violates church and state separation. I believe that two people of sound judgment have the right to contract as they will and that the govt should uphold that contract. If you want an event with religious rites, all the better, but do it under the auspices of your place of faith.

econobiker

And with gay marriages come gay divorces...and more legal fees for the lawyers. Oh so this population can have the same divorce "fun" that the hetro population has for years...

I think nothing political is related to the subject unless it is to reinforce that the supposed conservative notions that keeping government out of our personal affairs is a good thing.

I am still wondering how the US military will handle it when the first partnered person signs up...