“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way” – Mark Twain
Yesterday, the state of North Carolina voted to ban not only gay marriage (which it had already banned) but also civil unions and domestic partnerships. The vote was not close, coming down around 60%-40%. As I predicted at the time, the outcome caused great consternation and hand-wringing on facebook. (As my wife noted, “I’m surprised there’s not rioting in the streets in North Carolina, they sure are rioting on facebook.”) Actually, my prediction was that either outcome would cause hand-wringing … a bold call, I know.
The two major complaints I’m hearing, which I will address in turn, are these:  “I thought this state had finally changed” and  “you people are all bigoted homophobes forcing your views on the rest of us.”
The first issue gave rise to the title today. Here I don’t mean that single issue voters change things, but rather that voting on a single issue at a time changes things in a rather dramatic fashion. The reason is that in a general election, where we are choosing representatives, we are often (always?) stuck with “value meal” choices. You can either choose candidate A who holds these 10 positions, 4 of which you like and 6 of which you don’t, or candidate B who holds these 10 positions, 3 of which you like and 7 of which you don’t. People will hold their noses and vote for the lesser of two evils, but they rarely really support the candidate’s full platform.
Consider if you will the case of African American voters (of which there are plenty in NC). African Americans are by-and-large pro-life, anti-gay-marriage, and support school choice. And yet they also overwhelmingly vote Democrat (by about a 10-to-1 margin), the party that is pro-choice, pro-gay-marriage, and opposes school choice. Why? The cynic would say that race-baiters like Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson have successfully sold the “Republicans are racists” mantra. (Side note, I heard a commentator make a nice word play about Al & Jessie – “the Justice Brothers – justice for just us.”) The less cynical view holds that there are aspects of the Democrat platform that African American voters find far more important than their views on abortion, gay marriage, and school choice; and so they vote Democrat. The same could be said about blue collar union voters.
Politicians and pundits will often make the simple and self-deluding mistake of believing that a vote is an act of homage, and that those who voted for you fully support every aspect of your platform and ideology. Referendum voting changes that in a hurry. Stripped of the party-line decision, people vote their position on that given issue and the outcome is far different.
Perhaps there’s something to be said here in favor of direct democracy. While I prefer a republic (“democracy with inertia”) that has very high barriers erected to defend individual liberty, I suspect direct democracy would be better than what we have now. First of all, public policy would likely look more like what the freedom-loving people want. (I actually think that direct democracy would get us school choice, reasonable prohibitions on abortion, and quite possibly legalization of “recreational” drug use – what is immoral should not always be illegal.) Second, it would be better than the corporate-run oppression of freedom in favor of our money masters.
Now, let’s talk about that second major issue, the accusation that those who oppose gay marriage (and civil unions) are homophobes who deny people their freedom. In a vacuum I’d say I oppose the recently passed amendment – not because I find a homosexual lifestyle morally acceptable (I’m a Christian, and the Bible is not anywhere close to ambiguous on this issue) but rather because I don’t hold that the state has any place to interfere in the lives of free adults who choose to enter relationships and engage in various forms of contractual agreements. But you see, that bit about adults being free to enter into relationships and contracts as they will has to cut both ways. If it doesn’t then supporters of gay marriage (or civil unions) are just as guilty of forcing their views on the rest of us and stripping away our freedom in the process.
If a bill allowing gay marriage also contained language that made all people free, utterly free, in their ability to relate to gay married couples as they see fit, then I’d probably be on board. For instance, if a hotel owner, or photographer, or priest could refuse to provide services for a gay couple, for no other reason than that they are gay, then I’d probably support gay marriage (as a legal construct). If business owners were under no compulsion to provide spousal benefits for gay partners if they just felt like they didn’t want to, then that is part of a free contractual interaction between employer and employee and no rights have been violated. Freedom has to mean freedom for everyone.
I think the gay marriage crowd is fighting the wrong fight. They’re fighting a fight for moral acceptance (thus the bigotry accusations). Instead of fighting for a broader definition of marriage, they ought to push for an elimination of state-defined marriage and state-mandated benefits thereof. We should let free people, consenting adults, enter into whatever contracts they see fit (and call it what they want to). I suspect if they took this approach they’d find quite a few right-wing conservatives who agree and would vote in favor.