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Issue Clash: Gay Marriage

In this Issue Clash, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage debate gay marriage in America.

1. Are the recent laws and rulings allowing gay marriage a sign that Americans are changing their views on the issue?


Maggie Gallagher: Iowa and Connecticut are court decisions. They don't say much about what people think. The legislative push in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and now New York (soon to be followed by New Jersey!) reflects the failure of social conservatives to organize politically, as gay marriage activists have done.
Gay marriage is not high on the list of priorities for voters right now anywhere. Not even in blue states. Politicians are betting they can play to the base without incurring the displeasure of the majority. But I think they are going to be surprised by how tough the battle has been even in these one-party states. That is why I founded the National Organization for Marriage.

Gavin Newsom: Yes, all across our country, communities are reaching the same conclusion that separate is not equal, and that we should not harm our friends, neighbors and co-workers by denying them equal treatment under the law because of their sexual orientation. But, the struggle for marriage equality still has a long way to go. The fight will continue both in the courts and at the ballot box.


Maggie Gallagher: The majority of courts and the majority of people recognize that our marriage traditions are not discriminatory—they have deep roots in real and enduring truths about human nature. Unions of husband and wife really are unique and deserve their unique status in law, culture and society.

Gavin Newsom: Elected Representatives in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have stood up for equality in recent weeks. There have been setbacks. In 2000, California voters rejected marriage equality 62% to 38%, and in 2008 it was defeated again, but this time the margin narrowed to 52% to 48%. Polling shows that younger Americans are much more accepting of marriage equality. They believe, in growing numbers, that their friends, family and co-workers deserve the same rights that straight Americans enjoy. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, "the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."

2. How does allowing same-sex marriage affect American culture?


Maggie Gallagher: When government changes the definition of marriage it changes for everyone—especially if the law says the contrary view is discrimination. Public schools will teach about gay marriage, whether parents like it or not. And scholars are increasingly concerned about the impact on faith communities. Clergy may be protected by the First Amendment but religious schools, charities, fraternal organizations, and small businesses and professionals are not. Law is a pretty powerful thing. Gay marriage will have consequences.
Marriage has its own dignity and purpose and its own mission: bringing together male and female so that children can know and be known by, love and be loved by, their own mother and father. Same-sex marriage is unjust because it is founded on an untruth. Same-sex unions are not marriages.
Gavin Newsom: States that allow same-sex marriage project a welcoming and progressive image of tolerance, openness and diversity that attracts creative people. In these difficult economic times it is crucial that communities do everything in their power to attract creative people. Business thrives where talented people live.


Maggie Gallagher: Only a fairly small minority of same-sex couples actually enter marriages where they are available. What gay marriage will do and is doing is disconnect marriage as an idea from its natural roots, and increasingly stigmatize the people (and institutions) who adhere strongly to our traditional views of marriage. A new poll by the National Organization for Marriage shows that, in Massachusetts, public support for the idea that the ideal for children is a married mom and dad dropped eight percentage points in just five years. Opposition to that idea, meanwhile, leaped six-fold. At the same time, among voters who oppose gay marriage in Massachusetts, 36% percent agreed with the statement, "If you speak out against gay marriage in Massachusetts you really have to watch your back because some people may try to hurt you." Of course people may be imagining this threat, but they are feeling apprehensive and stigmatized.

Gavin Newsom: Marriage equality makes the U.S. a more open and welcoming society. Our gay brothers and sisters want nothing more than to be treated equally under the law. They want to be able to share their wedding day and relationships with their family and friends.

The more Americans have the opportunity to see their gay friends, co-workers and relatives in loving and committed marriages, the more Americans realize that their relationships are no different than their own. Gay marriage in turn is becoming less of the scary wedge issue pushed by the Bush administration. Instead it's becoming more accepted.

3. Is same-sex marriage a civil rights issue?


Maggie Gallagher: No. Here's the difference. Bans on interracial marriage were about keeping two races separate so that one race could oppress the other, and that was bad. Marriage is about bringing together men and women so children can have mothers and fathers and that is good. I mean not to sound like that statue in "Animal House" or anything but it comes down to this: Racism is bad, and marriage is good. Same-sex marriage is profoundly unjust because it misuses the law to require something that is not true: these unions, however great they are in other ways, are not marriages and nobody should be required by law to treat them as marriages.

Gavin Newsom: Yes, same-sex marriage is the civil rights issue of our time. In recent months, Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut and Maine have joined Massachusetts to stand up against hate and injustice, and stand up for equality. In California, we became the first state in the nation to use our constitution to strip rights away from our fellow citizens when voters banned same-sex marriage in 2008. If a simple majority of people can take away the rights of a minority, such as our gay citizens, it undermines the constitutionally guaranteed right to liberty and pursuit of happiness.


Maggie Gallagher: In all of the 30 states where they have had the chance to vote on this issue—including California, Florida and Arizona this November—Americans have made it clear they do not view marriage as discriminatory, bigoted, or hateful. Same-sex unions are not marriage and there is no civil right to insist that others view them as such.

Gavin Newsom: There is a growing realization that marriage equality is the civil rights issue of our time. Separate is not equal. It is really that simple. Civil unions and gay marriage are inherently different.

This is why a Republican-dominated California Supreme Court ruled last year that laws forbidding gay marriage are unconstitutional. In an historic opinion, the Court made its case clearly: an "individual's sexual orientation—like a person's race or gender—does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights."

4. Are civil unions an acceptable alternative to institutionalized gay marriage?


Maggie Gallagher: There are many benefits that could be extended to gay couples without necessarily threatening marriage or religious liberty. But in practice civil unions have not proved a compromise; they've proved a springboard to gay marriage. Gay marriage advocates in Connecticut and California promised that civil unions would not hurt marriage, then they turned around in court and used the fact that civil unions had been passed to say there's no good reason to withhold the title of marriage either. Two state Supreme Courts so far have agreed with this logic. I don't think it should be that way, but that is the way it is right now.

Gavin Newsom: No, civil unions create a separate class of relationships. I did not ask my wife Jennifer for a civil union. I asked her to marry me. Words have meaning. That's why $45 million was spent against marriage equality in California. People understand that marriage is not the same as a civil union or some other rubric that denies equal rights.


Maggie Gallagher: Gay marriage advocates like Gavin sincerely believe that there are no morally relevant differences between same-sex and opposite sex unions and that the people who see a difference are either ignorant or bigoted. So of course civil unions aren't acceptable to gay marriage advocates. Civil unions are an attempt to provide practical benefits to help gay people live their lives without disrupting the meaning of marriage. It's very clear this is not what gay rights advocates want.

Gavin Newsom: Gay marriage does not threaten traditional marriage or require churches to perform marriages. This is a scare tactic that has been supported by millions of dollars in ads in California and other states throughout the nation. By allowing gay Americans to get married it in turn makes marriage stronger by affirming their commitment to their each other.

The opinions expressed belong solely to the participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOW, PBS, or local stations. The facts stated by the participants have not been verified by NOW.

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