Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why social conservatives are not winning the Gay marriage debate

I agree with social conservatives that our nation needs to focus on traditional family values.   Stable long term marriages are the best medicine for children, adults and our society.  Societal ills such as poverty, crime, mental illness are reduced when children grow up in stable, loving families.

Over a half century ago, state legislatures began liberalizing divorce by allowing no fault divorces.  Courts sped up the process of liberalization by ruling that divorces awarded in no fault states had to be honored in other states under the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause.  By the beinning of the 1970's no fault divorce was allowed in virtually the entire country.  At the same time, the taboo against unmarried couples living together was breaking down. 

Four decades later,  stable long term marriages are the exception, not the norm.  Many couples never marry, and children  often live with several different fathers over the course of their childhood.  

With a few exceptions, social conservatives have been largely silent about these trends.

Social conservatives, however, have been in the forefront of the anti gay marriage movement.  The result was the “Defense of Marriage Act” passed in the 1990’s and signed by President Bill Clinton; and state initiatives banning gay marriage.

Many conservatives blame liberal judges for the legalization of gay marriage, and judges have certainly played a part, like the judges in the 1960’s on the no fault divorce issue.

Here is my analysis of why conservatives are losing the gay marriage fight:  Conservatives have not spent any political or personal capital on the much more difficult problem of the breakdown of heterosexual marriage.  Reversing the trend of low marriage rates and high divorce rates will take enormous political capital, and social conservatives do not appear to have the will.  Indeed, the issue is rarely even brought up in social conservative circles. 

Because social conservatives have failed to defend marriage over the last several decades, their position on gay marriage does not carry much weight with the public.  Despite the name of the 1990’s legislation,  there has been virtually no credible defense of marriage for decades.  That is why gay marriage will likely become the law of the land despite protests from social conservatives. 



  1. You say it doesn't carry much weight with the public - I would say the "public" is not being allowed a say in the matter - or when they are it is overturned by courts. I agree with you that marriage has been devalued in our society becase divorce has become too easy and people are less inclined to work hard to keep a marriage together, but that doesn't mean that courts should be able to redefine marriage from the bench without the public having a say.

  2. And now Obama has announced that his administration will no longer defend the "Defense of Marriage" law passed under the Clinton administration, even though he took an oath to defend the laws of our country...very sad, but entirely predictable.

  3. I heard some statistics yesterday that support my conclusions. The divorce rate among Americans is 24%; among atheists is 21% and among evangelical Christians 27%. Social conservatives have not practiced defense of marriage; they therefore cannot hold the moral high ground when it comes to opposition to Gay Marriage.

  4. Deb - I agree with your analysis (?!) Another factor at work is that folks are more aware of gay people in their lives - at school, at work, even socially - and are less freaked, more comfortable with the fact than they would have been a generation or two ago hence more acceptance.

  5. Well, a broken clock is right twice a day....I'll leave it to you, Dana, as to which of us is the broken clock! :) You are right; attitudes towards gays has changed dramatically. I wrote an article many years ago suggesting that Gays who were fighting for--at that time--civil union status use their victory to show heterosexuals the way to more stable and committed relationships. I don't think anyone paid much attention to that article.