While some observers view the recent election as a chance to heal cultural wounds across the country, and some say the Republican Party is preparing to remodel itself to enter the 21st Century, in fact we are now facing the greatest cultural values conflict in our recent history around the matter of same-sex marriages. The fight is between straight and gay, of course. But is is also between right and left, between fundamentalist Christians and others, and -- most important -- between old and young.
The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, November 16, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.
Gay Marriage: The Culture War Has Just Begun
While some observers view the recent election as a chance to heal cultural wounds across the country, and some say the Republican Party is preparing to remodel itself to enter the 21st Century, in fact we are now facing the greatest cultural values conflict in our recent history around the matter of same-sex marriages. The fight is between straight and gay, of course. But is is also between the poorly and the well-educated, between fundamentalist Christians and others, and -- most important -- between old and young.
In the recent Presidential election, three states (California, Florida, and Arizona) permanently outlawed gay marriages, while another (Arkansas) made it illegal for cohabiting adults to adopt children. These follow on numerous anti-gay-marriage state constitutional amendments in previous election cycles (seven in 2006). Popular referendums even in states where gay marriages were declared legal by courts (Massachusetts and Connecticut) where none has been held would vote down same-sex unions, as occurred in California.
Christianity is the greatest opponent of gay marriage in the United States. The Mormon Church and its members were the single greatest force supporting Proposition 8 (the California referendum overturning the California Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriages), leading to protests against the Church itself. Gay marriage is anathema to the Catholic Church and it will not reverse itself, while fundamentalist Protestant sects likewise oppose it.
But gay marriage is inevitable. Young people accept homosexuality in a way their parents can't. In addition, state courts have begun to recognize the logic that marriage is a fundamental right that cannot be denied to people because of their sexual orientation. In other words, gay marriage has the imprimatur of a liberation movement, which is why the recent bans led to immediate protests in California and around the country. These won't stop. And they are being supported by increasingly vocal gay spokespeople like beloved TV host Ellen DeGeneres (who was married to her lesbian lover in California).
Thus, slowly at first, but in a rapidly accelerating process, state after state, and finally the federal government, will accept same-sex marriage. The process could take less than ten years. Yet the impediments and dislocations this will cause are formidable, almost mind-boggling.
In addition to conservative Christian Churches, the other institution to suffer from this national transition is the Republican Party. All of the major figures identified as potential leaders of the party going towards 2012 - Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal (Louisiana's young Governor) and Mitt Romney - favor a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. If John McCain had been elected President, his Supreme Court picks would likely have loaded the Court with justices who oppose gay marriage. The Court already comprises a majority of Republican appointees who would likely ban such marriages, and this kind of decision may come to pass - leading to a horrible and deepening fissure in the country.
As yet, NO presidential candidate has endorsed gay marriage, even though sizable portions of Democratic primary voters do. Barack Obama opposes it due, he says, to his Christian beliefs (although he also opposed Proposition 8). The real reason is because not only nationally, but even in "blue" states, support for gay marriages currently loses more votes than it gains among the general electorate. But this will change - Barack Obama's older daughter will support gay marriage - and it will return as a live issue in the Democratic presidential primaries in 2012. The argument against gay unions is an attitudinal one about human sexual behavior, and these attitudes are changing.
Although the issue will bedevil the Democrats, it dooms the Republican Party. Republicans will fight against same-sex unions for election cycles into the future because the party's staunchest supporters - Southerners and whites with little education and religious fundamentalists - will never let go of it. But it will lose this battle, however bitterly it is fought. Most people will still oppose gay marriage in 2012 - but fewer than in 2008, as fewer will in each following election, until a majority of Americans no longer see it as strange, wrong, or any of their business.
God bless America!