Alex Blaze

Bad CBS analysis of same-sex marriage, written by the "marriage-focused"

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 17, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: Barack Obama, CBS, Democrats, fact checking, gay marriage, grammar, Harry Reid, marriage, Nancy Pelosi, persuasion, Republicans, richard grenell, Washington, Washington D.C.

I came across an "analysis" piece on CBS this morning that was particularly uninsightful. I'm actually surprised it got the forum that it got. It's focused on a topic that I've been following closely for years - the fight for same-sex marriage - so the factual and analytical issues are particularly glaring.

Also interesting is the fact that I can go back to the marriage politics taxonomy I described a few months ago. The author, Richard Grenell, who's a gay and worked for the Bush Administration, would definitely fall into the "marriage-focused" category. That is, he's concerned with marriage as the primary, perhaps the only (although DADT repeal might get a shout-out), LGBT issue; is more concerned with the symbolic nature of being included in the institution of marriage than the rights that go with it; and is impatient and vocal with the lack of progress in gay rights, seeing his position as self-evident.

It's a political science category; I'm not making a judgment here.

What is at stake, though, is the fact that this person gets a huge audience by writing this analysis, along with the attendant credibility in the eyes of other journalists and pundits that comes with writing for CBS, and he blows it by making many statements that aren't true, aren't convincing, or are just too counter-intuitive to be taken seriously.

Let's start with his premise, which is flawed. He lays out the power that Democrats has now and seeks to blame them for the current lack of progress (makes sense). But he goes straight to DC marriage, which doesn't:

But will Pelosi pass the DC gay marriage bill -- one of her district's most important issues -- before the end of the year? What is she waiting for? She has the power to do it immediately and DC needs Congressional approval to move forward with equal rights for all citizens.

First, where does he get his claim that same-sex marriage rights in DC are "one of her district's most important issues"? I doubt that, since her district is in California. But I haven't seen a poll on that issue and I don't think that there has been one. (This is a key slip when we're looking for whether he sees marriage as important for its rights or its symbolic power.)

More importantly, DC doesn't need Pelosi's approval for their marriage bill. Congress could pass a resolution to block same-sex marriage in DC, but if they do nothing, it becomes a law. DC Agenda explains further:

The bill next goes to Mayor Adrian Fenty, a long-time same-sex marriage supporter who has pledged to sign it. It then goes to Capitol Hill, where it must undergo a required 30 legislative day review by Congress.

Both Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate agree that an attempt by same-sex marriage opponents to overturn the legislation through a disapproval resolution is not expected to succeed in the Democratic controlled Congress. Most Capitol Hill observers expect the legislation to clear the congressional review and become law sometime in March.

The article goes on to explain how Congress might try to overturn DC's marriage law, but each way they could do it requires an act of Congress, not a lack of action. If Congress does nothing, the marriage law will stay.

Grenell continues:

It isn't an overstatement to say that these three Democrats - Pelosi, Reid and Obama - can force any issue to a vote and make that issue a law.

Actually, it is an overstatement. There are 58 Democratic senators, 2 independent Senators who caucus with the Democrats, and 258 Democratic representatives. While those three Democrats mentioned have an incredible amount of institutional power and influence over their colleagues, they don't technically have the power to determine the votes of other Democrats.

Which is important when:

All Pelosi, Reid and Obama have to do is get their own party to go along with their ideas - no Republicans are needed to go along with the Pelosi-Reid-Obama agenda.

Not one Republican is needed to enact new laws. None. Zero.

If the Senate is held to the 60 vote standard, which Democrats show no signs of wanting to lower (even though cloture isn't a Constitutionally guaranteed process but a bizarre Senate formality that could easily be done away with), at least two non-Democrats are going to have to sign on to any Democratic legislation. The fact that there is a fairly large prima donna contingent in the Senate whose arms Reid has proven rather ineffective at twisting makes the task more daunting.

But that doesn't somehow alleviate Republicans' responsibility to vote for this legislation, and there are a few Republicans who cross party lines to support things like domestic partnership rights (as we saw yesterday) or the ENDA.

Then we go back into marriage-focused land:

So why aren't these three Democrats passing new laws and making changes? Where is the gay marriage law they promised when they were put in charge and the Republicans were run out of office?

Obama didn't promise a "gay marriage law." In fact, he was fairly direct during the campaign when he said that he opposed same-sex marriage because "God's in the mix." We might not like his position, but he did warn us that he wasn't in favor of same-sex marriage.

Harry Reid voted for the DOMA back in 1996. The most that I can find from him since then was the kurfuffle he got into with the LDS Church when he said that they wasted resources on the Prop 8 fight that they could have given to charity. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Nancy Pelosi is the most supportive of the three, saying that she's OK with same-sex marriage all the way back in 2004. But I still can't find anything that seems like a "promise" to pass same-sex marriage in Congress. Maybe I'm splitting hairs examining the difference between "promise" and "support."

So two out of three expressly oppose same-sex marriage, and one supports it but didn't promise it. How in the world does that translate into "the gay marriage law they promised when they were put in charge and the Republicans were run out of office"? It doesn't. It was all in the author's head, most likely caused by the fact that the Democrats have been promising other LGBT legislation, like ENDA, domestic partner benefits, and hate crimes legislation. For the marriage-focused, that means marriage. For the rest of us, that means just what it means.

The answer, of course, is and has always been that America is not ready for gay marriage. Nearly every public poll taken has shown that the electorate, albeit the public at large, is not ready.

I don't know of a single poll that says that Americans are "not ready" for same-sex marriage. All of them say that Americans disapprove or disagree with same-sex marriage. But that's not the same thing.

I don't know of any poll that even asked if people are in the process of getting ready for same-sex marriage. I suppose they could ask, "Do you agree with same-sex marriage now? If not, will you agree with it in the next 10 years?" That's really the only way to get to the idea of "not ready for gay marriage," and a poll like that wouldn't work for obvious reasons.

Again, this isn't splitting hairs - we really can't predict the future and it's detrimental to the movement to say that it's inevitable for the majority of Americans will agree with us. It breeds laziness and arrogance, neither of which is useful for convincing people to agree with a political position.

Pelosi, Reid and Obama are only reading public opinion surveys when they delay votes on gay issues.

That's something that Grenell really can't know. Are they only basing their opinions on the polls? I don't know, I can't read their minds.

I think it's unlikely. ENDA polls incredibly well - around 90% of Americans support job protections for LGB's and 65% support them for the T. Those aren't bad numbers at all, but a vote on ENDA is still getting delayed.

But did you notice Grenell's frame-shift there? First he says that polls show Americans don't support "gay marriage." Then he says that Democratic leaders are only looking at polls when they delay votes on "gay issues." There's nothing in between the two previous blockquotes; he literally steps from "gay marriage" to "gay issues" without realizing that there might be other issues of importance to gay (not to mention LBT) people.

Which is why he can say it's about the polls. I may just take Obama at his word when he said his opposition to same-sex marriage had to do with his religion, and Harry Reid might just fall into that category as well. Then again, I really don't know and can't know.

Even California, the most liberal state in the nation, wasn't able to get the electorate to see the value of equal rights for all.

He doesn't say how he reached the conclusion that California is "the most liberal state in the nation," or why that's important, either. More importantly, doesn't that contradict his earlier statement that same-sex marriage is "one of [Pelosi's] district's most important issues"? Not exactly, but the fact that it's located in a state that he knows doesn't support same-sex marriage doesn't make his point either.

But the nation's capital has and now needs Pelosi's support.

Yes, but, as described above, the way she shows that support is through inaction. It's very convenient both for her and the people who want to get same-sex married in DC.

But the more that the gay leaders raise money for and give unconditional support to Democratic politicians, the more Democratic leaders are encouraged to take gay marriage voters for granted. Anyone who is still holding out for the Democrats to be the gayest political party is now part of the problem.

What makes it easy to take "gay marriage voters" for granted is the fact that they probably don't exist. Even though gay Republicans love to say that they aren't single-issue voters, most gay Democrats aren't just voting on marriage either. Even social conservatives would tell you that they're not just voting on same-sex marriage, but on issues like abortion and taxes as well. The fact that even LGBT people have other issues on their plate, outside of those issues deemed "LGBT," means that they're going to keep on seeing a reason to vote for Democrats on other issues, so long as they deliver on something (after this year, though I wouldn't be surprised if a whole lot of Democratic generally decide that the party just isn't delivering on much of anything).

I don't know what "the gayest political party" means. I'll agree that we have a two-party system and just look at the Democrats and the Republicans. In Congress, there are three openly gay Democrats and no openly gay Republicans. That's one way the Democrats could be the "gayest political party."

It could also be the fact that there's more support for a broad range of LGBT issues in the Democratic party, from ENDA to domestic partnership rights. It's palpable, and most people in the community know where the more support is. While we may not think Democrats support us enough, that doesn't mean that the Republicans are better.

So those who are "holding out" for the Democrats to be the "gayest political party" aren't part of the problem. Perhaps the donors to the Democrats are, there's an argument to be made there. But realizing that the Democrats are better on LGBT issues is like realizing that the sky is blue.

The more gay marriage is made a political issue the longer gays will be treated as less than and unequal.

What does that even mean? The issue of same-sex marriage has been politicized since the mid-90's, with the most ballot initiatives going on the ballot to ban it in 2004. It's been plenty politicized, and yet five states plus DC have legalized it. If anything, perhaps it should be more politicized instead of less, since when it wasn't politicized, no one was talking about it.

But that doesn't change the fact that Grenell doesn't really even explain what means to be a "political issue." It's a law, and enacting laws is an inherently political process. Unless he means that it shouldn't be a partisan issue, as he continues:

Equal rights should not be a partisan political issue -- so why are all gay leaders in one political party?

Why? Perhaps because one party is willing to host a Stonewall anniversary reception, while the other is threatening boycott of their biggest yearly convention if gays are allowed to help pay for it. Perhaps because one party is debating the month in which an ENDA vote will happen, while the other is saying gay men who work with children are pedophiles. Perhaps because the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee had to become Democratic for even Republicans to vote for a domestic partnership bill, while Republicans are mum on whether gay Ugandans should be executed.

Gay leaders aren't all Democrats, but there's a reason they steer in one direction when it comes to party: the playing field itself is already partisan and it's impossible to ignore. While the "gayest" party (I know it's supposed to be comparative, not superlative, since Grenell isn't telling us to all vote Green, and I tried to ignore it since I'm not grammar-checking the thing) isn't all that great or responsive to our needs, the only alternative is a party that's homophobic for the sake of being homophobic. One wants to ignore us, the other wants to offend us.

He closes with:

Nancy Pelosi doesn't have to pay attention to gays because there is no price to pay for ignoring them.

I don't know why we're back to Pelosi all alone again, but here we are. Is it possible that Grenell just has an issue with her?

Maybe I'm just a nerd, but I read stuff like this every day: the facts don't really matter, I'm just a gay citizen trying to argue for what I think is right. I usually read "I want marriage so bad I don't care what I say!!!" in between the lines. Maybe it's just me, but I think if we could raise the level of our debate, we'd have a better shot at convincing people.

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Raise the level of debate? Has a single word of your article been about raising the level of debate? He's a loyal Republican. It's his job to be a mouthpiece for the Republican think-tanks irregardless of his sexual orientation. You're a liberal Democrat. It's your job to pick apart his comments. Neither of you has said a thing that raises the level of debate above pure partisan politics.

And as I recall, not to long ago you were down on gay marriage as a hopelessly misguided cause to begin with. So why now this sudden desire to convince people otherwise?

A. I'm not a Democrat.
B. I don't think Grenell was speaking from the perspective of a Republican, but as a gay man and a same-sex marriage advocate
C. We can argue about whether explaining why someone's argument for something I agree with is productive or not, but it's not partisanship. That's just not the definition.
D. I'm in the same place on marriage as I was before (and that I described lengthily in the linked taxonomy before the fold).

I fall somewhere between Marriage Progressive and Marriage Focused. For the immediate purpose I'll line up behind marriage focused. From Alex's analysis, I'd say that Grenell is kicking us in the teeth.

Unlike Alex I *am* a Democrat, although that is at this point more out of habit than strong conviction. Although after reading Dr. Weiss' article this morning, there was a temptation to wander down the the board of elections and register Green. Of course had I done so I would have been playing to Grenell's hand.

Sure this discussion is politics. What isn't? If we don't take part in politics, we might as well all stay home.


So much for raising the level of debate.

I'm generally in support of this little run at fisking.

What is causing LGBT rights issues to be so polarizing is the effect of the Religious Right on the Republican Party. They are politically powerful beyond their means enough to effectively slow the progress of equal rights in the United States. Gay Republicans are ideologically opposed to Democrats, which is not the point of any civil rights movement, but it presents a unique case of cognitive dissonance. Gay Republicans are quick to point out disappointments from the Democratic Party while dismissing criticism of the Republicans for doing hardly anything to nothing at all. This is called deflection. As long as the Religious Right has a hold on the Republican Party, it is largely a waste of time to try and change the RNC, while persuading some Republican moderates to see things our way is definitely a worthwhile cause for gay Republicans to pursue.

Fact of the matter is, every single legislative victory in the United States has come at the hand of members of the Democratic Party. No Republican majority in any state has ever advanced a gay rights issue. Those absolutes speak volumes. The reason is perhaps not because Republicans are so anti-gay, but that they must present themselves to be for the few Religious Right voters to whom that matters. Even if it's for a few percent, they will generally still oppose gay rights legislation by and large. As you stated in this article, a Gallup poll taken in 2008 did show that 90% of Americans approve of non-discrimination legislation for LGBs. Talk about standing on principles! Now only if we could mate Republican obstinacy with Democratic gay rights initiatives :)