The partisan divide over same-sex marriage

Mar 24, 2014

Unless you were trapped underground last weekend, you probably have been following Michigan’s same-sex marriage drama.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman issued an opinion striking down Michigan’s state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages.

Less than 24 hours later, a federal appeals court put his ruling on hold.

In the meantime, several hundred couples rushed to get licenses and marry. Every legal scholar I know believes the legality of same-sex unions will eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Precisely how the court will rule is a matter of conjecture, but we already know that there has been a vast sea change in the way society sees this issue. Half a century ago, consenting adults could be, and were, arrested and jailed for any kind of homosexual activity.

Today, polls show a majority of the nation supports same-sex marriage, and all but a small fringe of religious fundamentalists believe in, at the very least, complete tolerance for gay couples.

Yet what worried me was that reaction to the judge’s ruling seemed at first to break almost exclusively along party lines.

State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, instantly sent out a press release both praising the ruling, and attempting to politicize it, saying “this ruling is a historic moment as the Senate Democrats have been fighting for marriage equality every single day.”

Mixing attitudes towards civil rights with partisan politics is usually not a good idea. The last time we tried that, we got the Civil War.

Meanwhile Gary Glenn, head of the American Family Association and a frequent GOP primary candidate, snarled, “One Detroit lawyer in a black robe doesn’t have legitimate constitutional or moral authority to overturn … natural law.”

Mixing attitudes towards civil rights with partisan politics is usually not a good idea. The last time we tried that, we got the Civil War.

So I was considerably heartened when on Saturday, one of the first couples who showed up to get their marriage license and wed were Greg McNeilly and Douglas Meeks.

McNeilly is a Republican political consultant who was campaign manager for Dick DeVos, when the Amway millionaire ran for governor eight years ago. He was also heavily involved in the successful drive to make Michigan a Right-to-Work state.

He has consistently worked for right of center causes, but he told a reporter this weekend, “Love is not political or partisan,’ and added that he felt it was important to eliminate the stigma of gay people as second-class citizens.”

McNeilly’s comments were clearly heartfelt and sincere, but also good politics, if his party takes them seriously.

Earlier this month, the Pew Research Center found that there is indeed a big partisan divide on the same-sex marriage issue. Nearly 70% of Democrats support it; less than 40% of Republicans do.

But that split nearly evaporates among people under 30. Sixty-one percent of young Republicans favor making same-sex marriage legal, which has huge political ramifications for the future.

How society is moving on this issue is very clear. Young people today may well live to see an openly gay President, or a time when few people will care whether the President is gay or not.

But don’t worry. By the time that happens, I am sure we will have found something else equally silly to divide us.