April 4, 2006

"Gay and lesbian people in our country are fighting a mean-spirited movement to harm them and to discriminate against them."

Says Russ Feingold, expressing his support for gay marriage, in response to the referendum on gay marriage, on the ballot here in Wisconsin this fall.

53 comments:

Joan said...

Painting with a rather broad brush, aren't you, Russ?

Does Feingold actually think this is a winning strategy, denigrating everyone who opposes same-sex marriage? Does he care nothing for the majority of blacks who are opposed to it? Does he really think he can win over moderates with this rhetoric?

Feingold has always been described as both principaled and astute, but now both of those characteristics are called into question. I can't see how a public statement like this can be seen as helpful. The people who agree with him were already in his camp. Everyone else can now safely dismiss him as someone who refuses to engage on the substance of the issue, preferring ad hominem attacks on his opponents. So much for Feingold as a serious candidate.

INMA30 said...

I don't see how this brings his principals into question. Perhaps not all engaged in the movement are mean-spirited, but their efforts are discriminatory.

Your comment regarding the majority of blacks is painting with a pretty broad brush. Disagreeing is not the same as "caring nothing".

knoxgirl said...

I'm totally FOR legalizing gay marriage, but I wouldn't characterize opposition to gay marriage as categorically "mean-spirited."

Certainly there are mean-spirited, homophobic asses out there who oppose it on bigoted grounds--but I strenuously object to him making that sort of statement on the grounds that it does more harm to the cause than good.

Elizabeth said...

Does he care nothing for the majority of blacks who are opposed to it?

What does this mean? This is just strange.

Joan said...

Sorry, I left out a few words. (How embarrassing.) I meant to say: Does he care nothing for the votes of the majority of blacks...

Does that make more sense?

Doris said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Doris said...

If you look at Senator Feingold's original statement, it's clear he's not calling all who oppose civil marriage equality mean spirited. He's referring to the anti-gay industry and to the far reach of the specific language in Wisconsin's proposed civil unions and marriage ban, which seriously threatens even existing benefits. This admittedly is less clear in the AP article.

I think I recall that Professor Althouse, when writing about the second sentence, comes to a similar conclusion, as do I.

Of course not all those who oppose marriage equality are mean spirited. But those who author and vehemently advocate ambiguous, deliberately broad language for our constitution -- language that singles out gay people for unfair treatment -- most certainly are.

Joseph Hovsep said...

I don't think "mean spirited" is such a blasphemous or offensive description of the movement to amend the U.S. Constitution and state constitutions across the country for the specific purpose of excluding gay people from marriage. It turns out that the effort to single out gays and lesbians in the constitution as being unworthy of equal marriage rights (and even other private marriage-like rights) comes across as pretty mean to gay people and friends of gay people.

Calling the movement mean spirited is not "denigrating everyone who opposes same sex marriage" as Joan says. I'm sure there are people out there who genuinely think that allowing gay people to marry will bring ruin to this country and send countless heathens to Hell, perhaps even that 9-11 was punishment for American tolerance of homosexuality. There are probably lots of people who think their efforts to amend the constitution to ban same sex marriage is a work of great love. But there are also a lot of people who bristle with anger at the idea that homosexuals should be normalized and allowed into mainstream institutions.

I don't think Feingold is after the "moderate" vote. His dissenting votes on issues like the PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War, and antigay efforts are probably designed to show people that he will stick to his guns even when his beliefs do not represent what most people think. I believe George Bush has been alternatively praised and criticised for precisely the same strategy.

Art said...

Democrats can't call for a timetable to pull out troops because that would be political suicide.
Democrats can't oppose the Patriot act because that would be political suicide.
Democrats can't support gay marriage because that would be political suicide.
If Feingold does manage to become President Republicans are going to be in serious trouble because the kryptonite's stopped working.

No: I'm not saying Feingold's Superman but it was the best analogy I could think of at the moment.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Its interesting how concerned conservatives are about what the majority of black people think when same sex marriage comes up. You can probably find stats showing that the majority of Greek Americans, Scientologists and right-handed people oppose same sex marriage. Who cares? If we want to engage on the substance of the issue, let's not start by playing the race card, which is really irrelevant to this issue.

Doris said...

You know what's so surprising about the AP article (the long version, not the one to which Professor Althouse links) isn't that Feingold favors civil marriage equality. When I wrote him asking him to oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment a couple years ago, he responded with a form letter that more or less favored marriage equality then.

What's surprising is that Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I. and Ron Wyden, D-Ore have already come out also in favor of marriage equality. Feingold isn't the first; he's the fourth. (Kennedy's there also, but that's no surprise.)

By the way, here's a link to the original statement to which I referred earlier.

Danny said...

I think with Feingold it was kind of assumed. He would lose his entire support base if he wasn't 100% for equal marriage rights, so it's not like there was pressure on him to clarify his position. Come November this will be a whole different story!

DNR Mom said...

Religion, especially if it's based on bigotry, does not need to dictate law in our land of equality. Kudos to Russ Feingold.

Craig Ranapia said...

Thanks, Russ. I support same-sex civil marriage, but the simple fact is that this proposal (which is legitimately and lawfully on the ballot) is not going to be defeated by self-righteous name-calling. Go out and make the damn argument - and what surprises me most about this issue is that there are any number of CONSERVATIVE arguments (I mean small-government, civil society conservative not Christianist theo-cons in drag) to be made. I've learned from experience that you get support from the strangest quarters - on this issue and many others - when you don't employ the same rhetoric as your opponents.

downtownlad said...

So Feingold claims that the marriage amendment is a "mean-spirited movement to harm them and to discriminate against" gays.

Um yeah. Are people really so stupid that think this amendment is designed to "protect" gays and to "stop" discrimination?

If this is not mean-spirited against gay people, then what is it?

Marghlar said...

I love, in the long article, the state senator (Scott Fitzgerald) who sponsored the amendment, who is claiming that Feingold is playing only to the far left...

Feingold has repeatedly won state-wide elections -- three of them, spaced over twelve years. Fitzgerald has to appease his little district. But, of course, his marriage amendment is motivated purely out of his deepest beliefs, and not as a way to curry partisan political advantage.

This is a stand that will hurt Feingold at the national level, but he is taking it anyway. For that I applaud him.

Joan said...

If Feingold really wants the presidency, he should be going after the moderate vote. He'll need a good portion of it, and all of the traditionally Democratic black vote, to win.

I disagree with the take that I'm "playing the race card." First of all, I'm not the one whose playing, it's Feingold who is the supposed wannabe candidate. Second, it is true that Democrats rely heavily on their black constituents to win elections. Third, it is also a fact that blacks overwhelmingly are against the legalization of same-sex marriage. I was surprised that Feingold would risk alienating an important part of the Democratic voting bloc.

I'm not surprised he feels the way he does. I'm just surprised he expressed his feelings in those particular terms.

downtownlad said...

Joan,

You're shocked that Feingold actually took a stand on principal and didn't stoop to the easy vote-winning tactic of gay-baiting?

I'm shocked too. It's rare that a politician stands up for what's right, rather than what will win them votes.

MadisonMan said...

Third, it is also a fact that blacks overwhelmingly are against the legalization of same-sex marriage. I was surprised that Feingold would risk alienating an important part of the Democratic voting bloc.

Russ Feingold's constituents are not national. I have seen no polling on how blacks in Wisconsin view same-sex marriage. If you can provide a link I'd be grateful.

It seems like many people here think Feingold is running for President. I don't. I think he's being the far-left democrat that will make the true democratic candidate look centrist.

DownWithTyranny said...

I hope this doesn't disqualify him in the minds of too many of the right-of-center Democrats Inside the Beltway who exercize undo influence on the Democratic Party. Feingold's my #1 choice for president... by far.

Joan said...

MadisonMan, I have no statistics on how Wisconsites feel about same-sex marriage, I was only commenting from the perspective of someone looking at Feingold as a potential candidate in 2008. I'm sure his statement will come as no surprise to his Wisconsin constituents.

downtownlad: It's possible to be in favor of the legalization of same-sex marriage without demonizing those who oppose it. Feingold was not compelled to characterize those opposing gay marriage one way or another.

Doris, thanks for posting the links.

Adam said...

Comments like Does he care nothing for the votes of the majority of blacks... furthers the interests of divide and conquer if it reinforces, in the minds of black people, the unsound notion that gays harm society.

Lets just get the oppressed to blame each other for each other’s problems a little more, or worse lets encourage the oppressed to hate each other for no good reason some more. If the oppressed are infighting they cannot resist further oppressive efforts.

Furthermore any attempt at oppression is definitionally mean spirited.

Furthermore any attempt at oppression is definitionally mean spirited. Some might justifiably say attempts at oppression go beyond the province of unkind spirits well in the realm of evil spirits.

peter hoh said...

Remember when the President thought he had so much political capital back in early 2005? Somehow, the federal marriage amendment wasn't on his short list of things to work on.

It was one of the things he mentioned in 2004. And here in 2006, it's on the radar again.

I wonder when supporters of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and/or support traditional marriage will begin to see that they are being used.

Elizabeth said...

Peter, I expect we'll eventually see Bush's two crisis modes merge, and we'll have a color-coded Gay Marriage Alert system from the Homeland Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice department. With the resurgance of the national amendment, we're in Pink Alert, approaching full-on Lavender.

Joan said...

Elizabeth: Hee!

Michael Farris said...

"I wonder when supporters of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and/or support traditional marriage will begin to see that they are being used."

I'm assuming that they're not stupid and realize they're being used, but for whatever reason have decided being used is better than being ignored.

Ann Althouse said...

I said back during the presidential campaign that Bush's support for the amendment was empty. People laid into me for that, but see? I was right.

Mary said...

"I said back during the presidential campaign that Bush's support for the amendment was empty. People laid into me for that, but see? I was right."

So can we take the next step then, and conclude that the President participated in this "mean-spirited movement", only to get re-elected by pandering to fear?

Personally, I don't think that says any more of him. It's akin to flip-flopping really...

Ann Althouse said...

I think Bush was pandering to the social conservatives, but I don't agree that those people are just mean-spirited and fearful.

peter hoh said...

I'll go on record as saying that the politics behind the gay marriage bans are mean spirited. I'll also contend that most of the supporters of such bans are not mean spirited. But those who are using this as a political tool are exploiting two groups of people: those who oppose gay marriage and gays.

Meanwhile, in the 30+ years that abortion has been a hot topic in politics, there has never been a credible effort to use an amendment to resolve the issue. But a few courts find that gays might be entitled to marry, and suddenly a federal marriage amendment is on the table. Is that because gay marriage is a more pressing threat to innocent life than abortion? Or because it's easier to pick on gay people for political advantage?

Joan said...

Peter, maybe if we had known what the impact of universally available abortions would be, there would have been more efforts made to overturn Roe v Wade at the time. But like the frog in the pot with the gradually increasing heat, we didn't realize just how bad it would be until it was way too late.

So now when there are courts more or less randomly deciding to change marriage laws, people are much less willing to go with it and downplay any potential negative effects. We've listened to people tell us for decades that there wouldn't be any downsides to these changes, and we've seen the results.

Menlo Bob said...

Senator Finegold has a persecution complex that resulted from being rejected by two wives. Now he's trying to work his magic on the entire country and expecting a different outcome. Some people never learn.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Regarding blacks and same sex marriage, in November 2005, Equality Maryland and the National Black Justice Coalition published "Jumping the Broom: a Black Perspective on Same-Gender Marriage," which points out, among other things that 14% of gay and lesbian Americans are black, 45% of black same-sex couples reported stable relationships of five years or longer on the U.S. Census (a figure that rivals that of heterosexual couples), and that many of the burdens of same sex marriage bans actually weigh more heavily on black gay couples (e.g., no access to health insurance through your partner). Lots of black organizations and black leaders have come out in support of civil marriage for same sex couples, including CAL-NAACP, John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Carol Moseley Braun, Al Sharpton, Willie Brown, Joycelyn Elders, Coretta Scott King, etc.

Statistically, a larger percentage of black Protestants than white Protestants oppose same sex marriage. In July 2004, the Phil. Inquirer had this to report about the black perspective on same sex marriage: "A national poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in November [2003] found that 60 percent of black respondents opposed gay marriage. A December [2003] New York Times poll put the figure at 75 percent. The Pew poll found blacks less inclined than whites or Hispanics to support gay marriage, with just 28 percent in favor." PollingReport.com reports that the latest figures for the population as a whole is about 40% in support of same sex marriage and 50% against. Despite seemingly strong black opposition to same sex marriage and massive exploitation of the issue in 2004, exit polls show that only 14% of blacks voted for Bush, suggesting that same sex marriage may not be such a pressing issue for blacks opposed to it.

Blacks are a pretty reliable constituency for the Democrats and arguing that the movement to ban gays from marriage is mean spirited is unlikely to push that many of them to reflexively start voting for Bill Frist, but may encourage them to take a closer look at their bedfellows in that movement.

Its also clear that opinion on same sex marriage is moving in one direction, especially among Democrats, which may eventually prove embarrassing to the Hillary Clintons and John Kerrys of the world, but not to the Russ Feingolds.

Michael Farris said...

"I think Bush was pandering to the social conservatives, but I don't agree that those people are just mean-spirited and fearful."

Well the problem is that some aren't but some (maybe a minority, but some) definitely are. (Not to mention the cold-blooded opportunists who don't care but see a chance to rile up the rank and file).

A problem for same-sex marriage advocates is that they have to be really, really _careful_. If they criticize the bad-faith actors, the good faith opponents rush in to defend them and claim the attack was made against them.

Meanwhile, as far as I can tell, there doesn't seem to be any significant blowback against those who use even the most extreme anti-gay rhetoric. Maybe the anti same-sex marriage folks can tut-tut Fred Phelps and his ilk, but that's about it. But those who talk about an agenda about forcing homosexuality down the throats (down the throats!) of upstanding moral Americans don't seem to do their side any harm at all.

Again, not all opponents are mean-spirited folk wanting to harm and discriminate against gay people, but I haven't found any who could be described as kind and wanting to help and support gay people either.

37383938393839383938383 said...

Gay Science

Russ Feingold is not really taking potshots at Republicans or anti-gay rights bogeymen. He is taking potshots at Democratic primary candidates who will not fervently support gay marriage because it would kill them in the general election. Why is Russ Feingold doing so? Because he has little to no chance of securing the Democratic Establishment fund-raisers that Hillary Clinton is currently locking up under the pretense of running for re-election in 2006. (Does she really need $40 million for a nonexistent opponent?)

Hillary is the likely front-runner in the 2008 primaries; Hillary is the "man" to beat. Beating her means securing alternate sources of funding, stealing a sizeable constituency, and opening up a rhetorical line of attack on her that plays well in the primaries yet gives no Republican challenger reason to criticize her if she wins. (Otherwise, Feingold would draw fire from other Democrats.)

What large group of reliably Democratic primary voters has lots of cash and organizational strength? Gays and lesbians. Who isn't being catered to by the run-of-the-mill centrist candidate that Hillary is trying to outflank (Warner/Bayh/Edwards/any-DLC-clone)? Hardcore leftists who, by the way, support gay marriage.

This is a way of energizing the Left and appealing to gay sources of money. If Feingold can come into the primaries with the entirety of the gay vote while swimming in gay money, he'd have a strong base of the primary voters (10-13%?) to rely on and automatically put other Democrats on the defensive.

What's more, it is consistent with Feingold's antiwar, anti-national security surveillance, pro-campaign finance reform theme. Russ plans to be a serious contender and pandering for the gay vote is a proof of it.

It is all about the gay Benjamins.

peter hoh said...

Joan, I'm not getting a real answer from you. Are you satisfied that the President ignored the issue of a federal marriage amendment in 2005?

And secondly, how is gay marriage more deserving of a federal amendment than abortion? Is it really "too late" to do anything about abortion through a federal amendment? Or is it just more beneficial for the powers to be to keep the status quo?

Alex Elliott said...

So now when there are courts more or less randomly deciding to change marriage laws, people are much less willing to go with it and downplay any potential negative effects. We've listened to people tell us for decades that there wouldn't be any downsides to these changes, and we've seen the results.

Perhaps we should look at the data from Europe. Out-of-wedlock birthrates have been increasing across the continent, but when you look at the countries that have legalized same-sex marriage (the Netherlands) or defacto marriage (some Scandinavian countries), you find that their out-of-wedlock birth rates are increasing at a significantly lower rate than the European average.

Perhaps legalizing gay marriage strengthens the institution as a whole and retards any other negative effects it's experiencing.

Joan said...

Peter, I think the federal marriage amendment is overkill, and I see it as a tool that the Republicans pull out in election years to secure the base, so to speak. It's manipulative and silly, because it has zero chance of passing.

Is it really "too late" to do anything about Roe v Wade, wrt to an amendment? I'm not sure by what mechanism an amendment to the constitution could be made while Roe v Wade stands. (Clearly, anything I learned in my American Civ 101 course a million years ago has long since left my brain.) In all honesty I'm not that keen on the idea of turning to constitutional amendments for things that should be handled by the states.

That's what it comes down to, for me: abortion rights, and marriage rights, should be left up to the states to decide. The state legislatures, to be more precise.

My thinking on the constitutional amendment aspect of this issue is not a model of clarity. Sorry.

Tony said...

Perhaps we should look at the data from Europe. Out-of-wedlock birthrates have been increasing across the continent, but when you look at the countries that have legalized same-sex marriage (the Netherlands) or defacto marriage (some Scandinavian countries), you find that their out-of-wedlock birth rates are increasing at a significantly lower rate than the European average.

You think government subsidized abortion might have something to do with that? Nahhhhh... Couldn't be.

Travis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
peter hoh said...

Travis, by and large, the "rights" associated with marriage do not cost the taxpayers anything, so I don't get the "we paid so we should be allowed on the ride, too" argument.

Joan, it's been a long time since I took a civics class, too, but I'm pretty sure that an amendment would supersede a Supreme Court ruling.

FWIW, I'd be fine leaving both abortion and same-sex marriage up to the legislatures.

Joan said...

Travis, I've heard that "Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate" business so many times now it's not even funny. So I finally decided to look into it.

According to this pdf file (CDC data), MA does indeed have the lowest divorce rate (through 2002), although D.C.'s rate is a smidge lower, but they're not a state. But what else leaps out from this table? The fact that MA also has one of the lowest marriage rates, with only D.C. and PA showing slightly lower rates.

I think it's great that more couples in MA stay married, but you need to look at both sides and cop to the fact that fewer people marry in MA than nearly anywhere else in the country.

Oh, and that societal destruction we're so worried about? It's not something that happens overnight. Check back in 20, 30, 40 years and let me know how things are going then.

Michael Farris said...

"I think it's great that more couples in MA stay married, but you need to look at both sides and cop to the fact that fewer people marry in MA than nearly anywhere else in the country."

As usual, you're looking in the wrong place. The _important_ figure is what percentage of adults are in stable marriages. If (pulling figures out of my hat) 80 % of state A gets married but half of them divorce within 10 years, then 40 % of the population could be said to be in stable marriages.

On the other hand if only 66 % of State B gets married but only a third divorce within 10 years then a higher percentage of the population then 44 % of the population could be said to be in stable marriages (nb my math figures could be off but the principle remains)

Which state is better off in terms of promoting stable marriages?

Ann Althouse said...

"Travis, by and large, the "rights" associated with marriage do not cost the taxpayers anything, so I don't get the "we paid so we should be allowed on the ride, too" argument."

I think there are great economic benefits, Peter. Where are you getting your analysis?

Joseph Hovsep said...

I'm not sure where Peter is going with his comment, but I agree with Prof. Althouse that there are great economic benefits associated with marriage. Although I admit that many of the economic benefits are hidden because they may be more easily framed as extra burdens on gay couples (spending more money to do things contractually that could be covered by default marriage rules), but there are also lots of extra tax liabilities for couples who can't get married as compared to couples who can get married (no estate tax spousal exemption, gift tax on transfers of more than $11,000 to your partner, tax on health insurance for a domestic partner, etc.). Those are very real costs that burden gay couples who many think should be entitled to equal treatment under the law.

peter hoh said...

I'm in a hurry this morning, but I'll try to give a quick answer. As I have argued in the past, I am for full marriage rights for same-sex couples. I am opposed to bad arguments for these rights.

There are economic benefits to being married. However, Travis is putting forth a consumerist model of citizenship -- we pay taxes but we're not allowed the benefits -- that does not apply to marriage and the primary economic benefits associated with marriage.

The "we pay taxes but we're not getting the benefits" argument makes more sense when applied to the following situation. Families who send their kids to a private school (along with everyone else) pay local property taxes which support the public schools. In some states, parents of private school students have successfully argued that they should receive benefits such as cus service to a private school within their district. In some states, private schools and home-schoolers are eligible to recieve tax dollars for the purchase of some textbooks.

The economic benefits of marriage do not flow out of the public till. Aside from health insurance, the marriage benefits package really comes into play at the death of one spouse. Sure, the ability to tranfer property without a tax burden means less going into the treasury, but that's not to be confused with money coming out -- the implication of the "we pay taxes so give us what we're due."

peter hoh said...

Looking at individual states for marriage rates and trying to figure out causation is pretty silly, in my opinion. Massachussetts has one of the higher per capita incomes around, and the cost of living is very high. This has a selection effect on those who move to the state and those who remain in the state.

peter hoh said...

"cus service" Hee hee. I meant "Bus service."

That'll teach me to type in a hurry.

Fitz said...

Firstly, Mr. Fiengold is angling to be THE left wing candidate in 08. (hence the ridiculous censure motion against Bush threats going nowhere)

Secondly, I think same-sex “marriage” is a mean spirited campaign to undermine a foundational and much beleaguered social institution by agents of the cultural left like radical feminists (who always taught me that it was an archaic and patriarchal structure) who are using a susceptible minority as their latest proletariat in their continued campaign to destroy it.

(put that in your pipe and smoke Mr. Feingold)

Joseph Hovsep said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joseph Hovsep said...

(There was a typo in my above comment, so I fixed it here)

Does Fitz actually think this is a winning strategy, denigrating everyone who supports "same" sex marriage? Does he care nothing for the majority of libertarians who are supportive of it?

So little time, so many foundational and much beleaguered social institutions to undermine.

Fitz said...

Well Joe, Fitz doesn’t really know if it’s a winning strategy or not. Fitz was more concerned; initially at least, in the truth of it. Is the statement largely accurate? Is this the phenomena we a currently witnessing? If not, why not? How is it inaccurate? Were does the supposition fail?
As for the libertarians of the world, how does this fit into any comprehensive strategy of their own? Is this what they mean when they speak of libertarianism? Will they die on this hill? Would they choose to?

Joseph Hovsep said...

Fitz, I think you took me a little too literally. I was being a bit coy based on previous comments that debated whether its fair to call same sex marriage opponents mean spirited and whether that would alienate blacks who tend to oppose SSM but vote for Dems (like libertarians who tend to support SSM but vote Republican).