Gay marriage: a matter for debate

The New York Court of Appeals has generously decided that it is up to legislative (and democratic) processes to decide whether gay marriage shall be recognized in New York State.

This may seem obvious. If you want to change the law, there are procedures for doing this: public debates; you may watch the state legislature debate the matter either on TV or from the public gallery. You may read accounts of the deliberations in the media or in the verbatim record. If you do not like the position your state legislator takes, you may vote them out of office.

Yet, to some, the fact that such things are resolved in such an open, transparent and accountable way is to be condemned. I speak, of course, of Howard Dean, Chair of the ironically named Democratic National Committee. While Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean supported civil partnerships, but opposed gay marriages. As a candidate for President he was against gay marriage. A Chair of the DNC he is not only in favor of it, but considers it something which should be, literally, beyond debate. Not only does Dean disagree with his own position of two years ago, he has come perilously close to saying no-one should be allowed to agree with Howard Dean (2004 model).

The DNC’s calls the Court ‘outdated and bigoted’. But the Court ruling depends on democracy – which I consider neither outdated nor bigoted. New York State still has elections – there are some in November – and the democratic process continues.

The problem is Dean’s view that the Court ruling should have ended debate, at least if his side had won. After all, anyone who disagrees with Dean’s current position on this matter – including, of course, Howard Dean, as recently as 2004 – is ‘outdated and bigoted’.

Let us compare the UK and the US on an issue every bit as divisive as gay marriage. In the UK abortion was legalized in 1967 after a debate and an unwhipped vote in Parliament. There have been several attempts to change the law since then. One, which revised the time limits, was successful. But unlike the US, abortion has not corrupted or engulfed the entire political process. Those who disagreed with abortion lost the vote, and have lost several others since. For almost 30 years I have been a member of the Conservative Party. I have never once been asked my view on abortion.

In the US, those who disagreed with Roe v Wade were never allowed to vote. They were not allowed to watch the deliberations and can read only those parts of the transcript which the Supreme Court has chosen to publish. Nine men got to vote on legalizing abortion in the US. No women participated at all.

The only reason there are attempts to amend the US constitution on marriage, and several successful attempts at the state level, is to avoid a recurrence of this travesty. If America wants gay marriage (and I think it should) let there be a debate and a vote.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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