Saturday, July 4, 2015

Long Road to Victory, Part II

Part II: The Democrats Evolve

Happy Independence Day! It's Smackback Saturday here at Bergetoons, and we're reviewing the history of the debate over same-sex marriage. (Part I was this past Wednesday.)

Republicans had no problem forcefully proclaiming that they were four-square against marriage equality from the start, but the issue posed more of a dilemma for Democrats. Gays and lesbians had been shoring up their status within the Democratic party for many years by the time the issue came to prominence; but same-sex marriage did not poll well in the 1990's.

Defense/Definition of Marriage Acts (DOMAs) swept into law across the country; many states passed these as amendments to their constitutions in order to prevent the legal challenges that nearly brought marriage equality to Hawai'i. Fearful for their electoral careers, Democrats went along with this antigay tidal wave. As far as Republicans were concerned, it didn't hurt that these ballot measures brought their right-wing Christian soldiers to the polls in droves.

Having used the issue to electoral benefit in 2002, 2004, and off-year elections, Republicans kept pushing a federal constitutional amendment to limit marriages to one man and one woman This from 2002...

And this from 2004...

In an attempt at compromise, some pro-gay Democrats offered lesbians and gays legal arrangements that were sort of like marriage, but not quite. The state of Vermont was first to pass a Civil Union registry, which made its governor, Howard Dean, a darling to some LGBT Democrats.

"Civil Unions" and "Domestic Partnerships" allowed Democrats to offer some support to gay and lesbian couples while still holding out some hope of not being tarred and feathered in the next election as "destroying the Family." As we'll see in another installment of this series, the religious right and their political allies really had no interest in yielding a millimeter.

Lest we forget, during both of his campaigns for president, Barack Obama was reluctant to voice any support for marriage equality, in spite of a sterling record on other LGBT issues (and in spite of having indicated his "unequivocal" support in a candidate questionnaire for a Chicago LGBT newspaper back when he ran for the Illinois State Senate in 1996). I drew this cartoon in 2011, when he visited the Human Rights Campaign to tout his administration's record.

That changed -- but that's a topic for another day.

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