Thursday, November 11, 2004

Don’t blame gay folks for John Kerry’s loss

Don’t blame gay folks for John Kerry’s loss


No sooner had John Kerry given his concession speech than did liberal pundits, media and political alike, jump the gun and lay blame for John Kerry’s loss at the feet of gay Americans.

The argument was that the push for same-sex marriage recognition resulted in a massive turnout by conservative voters motivated to support constitutional amendments
barring gay marriages. The pundits’ position was buttressed by polling that showed just as many Americans cited “moral values” as did terrorism or the economy in
deciding for whom to vote.

According to published reports, in the final weeks of the election Bill Clinton had urged the senator to endorse anti-gay marriage ballot measures in 11 states, a suggestion Kerry refused to embrace. After the election, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Barney Frank and editrix Tina Brown attributed Bush’s victory to gay rights supporters having moved too fast. Brown went so far as to declare in her weekly Washington Post column that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts resulted in the loss of health care benefits for 45 million Americans.

Did the gay community’s push for same-sex marriage legislation cost John Kerry the election? The facts, as opposed to the punditry, say no.

Gary Langer, ABC News’ director of polling, argues that in asking voters in exit polling questionnaires what the most important issue was in their decision (moral values, taxes, education, Iraq, terrorism, economy/jobs and health care), inclusion
of the amorphous concept of “moral values” is comparable to including a concept such as “patriotism.”

The exit polls reveal much about the national attitude toward key moral values: 55 percent of voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases; 25 percent supported gay marriage and another 35 percent supported civil unions. Ergo, a total of 60 percent of Americans support some form of civil recognition of same-sex relationships.

In terms of the popular vote in Ohio, Kerry came two percent closer to victory than did Al Gore in 2000. And President Bush did not gain significantly in the other 10 states with gay marriage referendums. The data cited above are from an exit poll survey co-sponsored by the television networks and the Associated Press.

A final word on gay civil rights. Federal law confers 1,049 benefits to heterosexual couples wed in a civil marriage. Gay people enjoy none of these. The goal of any civil rights movement is to gain equal rights, and that goal is not negotiable according to the timetable of any political party, elected official or political candidate. No one can predict how tolerance will shift. After all, the nation’s most popular Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has endorsed gay marriage. And its highest elected official, President Bush, endorsed civil unions one week before the election. That’s progress in the face of adversity.

JAMES NEAL is a lecturer on politics and media at The New School, where he also sits on the Board of Governors.