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Friday, August 1, 2003

Uphill battle.

Let's say you have the President and the Pope on one side of an issue. Who do you need on the other side to win — and how will you get them there? That's the basic question for liberal supporters of same-sex couples who are seeking legal recognition for their unions.

The liberal American Prospect's blog, Tapped, reflects on George W. Bush's apparent waffling on the issue:

Tapped has to wonder what the Karl Rove angle is on all this. Our initial instinct was that a fight over gay marriage could be good for the right. To be sure, in general, acceptance of gays in American culture has been growing in recent years, not declining. Slowly, inexorably, conservatives are losing this battle. (One Gallup poll from early July found that 72 percent of people aged 18-29 agreed homosexual relations should be legal, and 59 percent of all incoming college freshmen support gay marriage.) But it's a gradual shift, a process of social acclimation — not a sudden, abrupt shift as occured with the 1960s battles over civil rights for racial minorities. And that means it is prone to backlash if the courts push the law beyond what popular sentiment will accept. Judging from the latest polls, the Supreme Court's recent abolition of anti-sodomy laws has provoked just such a reaction . . . But it's also possible that the White House doesn't see this one as a winner. Americans may not be ready for gay marriage yet, but there's a strong libertarian streak in American culture — in Tapped's experience, on the issue of sexuality, most people in the middle take a "to each their own" kind of attitude.

The backlash issue is the most important one to keep an eye on — and the one where liberal churches in particular need to think strategically. Gay marriage, or civil union laws, will only succeed in the long run when it's perceived as having mainstream acceptance and democratic — not just popular — support.

So the strategic goal for liberal churches should be finding ways to help build support in the larger population. (We can only have an indirect influence on legislation, working through interest-group coalitions, because the liberal churches themselves do not have a mobilized base in any state, or politicians in Massachusetts — where the largest number of UUs live — would show up at every Unitarian church potluck the way they show up for Catholic parish events.) Celebrating same-sex services of union strikes me as especially effective; welcoming same-sex parents to have their children dedicated or blessed in our congregations seems perhaps even more effective. The goal is to help people see that gay marriages are good for the community, that they already exist, and therefore that they deserve legal recognition.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 1 August 2003 at 5:41 PM

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