"Whatever you do, don’t say the 'M' word."
That seems to have been the plan of action for the top three democratic presidential candidates, as they engaged in yet another, so-called “debate” last Thursday night in California.
I say "so called" debate, because it’s difficult to fathom that there has been much of any debate among the candidates at all. When candidates from either the left or the right are allowed only thirty or sixty seconds to respond to a question or an issue - - which is largely the ways things have gone, given the enormous number of candidates running - - it seems more appropriate to call it a "showcase" rather than a "debate."
But that’s a separate issue.
The real story from Thursday night’s “showcase” was the interesting avoidance of the "M" word - - "marriage" - - by Obama, Edwards, and Clinton.
The event was hosted jointly by the homosexual rights activist group "Human Rights Campaign," and the Logo television network, a tv network targeting America’s Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender audience, via subscription satellite tv distributors.
As one might expect, governmental sanctioning of gay-lesbian relationships was a hot issue at the event. But instead of talking about gay and lesbian "marriage," the candidates avoided the word "marriage" altogether, preferring instead to use the words "civil unions."
Despite insinuations that something "other than marriage" is something "less than marriage," Obama, Edwards and Clinton refused to use the "M" word when speaking of same-sex couples. There was plenty of talk of "loving relationships," "rights," "committed couples," "happy American families," and the like. But the word "marriage" was avoided.
Instead, the candidates chose to refer to "civil unions," almost as though the terms "marriage" and "civil unions" are interchangeable. And this begs a couple of different questions.
First, why is it that the candidates refused to put the word "gay" or "lesbian" adjacent to the word "marriage" in a sentence? The answer is easy: rightly or wrongly, talk of gay and lesbian marriage is a political loser just about everywhere in America right now.
Think about the regions of the nation where the sanctioning of same-sex relationships has proliferated, and then consider how that happened. In Massachusetts it was forced by the state supreme court. In Vermont it was brought about by the legislature - - a legislature that incurred the ire of its own constituents and a reprimand by its own state courts. And in San Francisco, the mayor issued "marriage licenses" to same-sex couples that weren’t even valid (he was just "proving a point"), and was eventually reprimanded by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Bottom line: Americans believe that a "marriage" is, necessarily, a relationship between one man and one woman. And however tolerant or accepting our culture has become of homosexuals and homosexual couples, at this point in time we simply aren’t ready to change the definition of marriage.
Thus, referring to "civil unions" is far more politically palatable than speaking of "gay marriage." And it would be a mistake to dismiss this change in terminology as nothing more than semantic gamesmanship.
At the event, Obama even shrugged-off the accusation that he was playing semantic games, stating that while "semantics may be important for some," he is nonetheless focused on granting "legal rights" to same-sex couples.
But this further begs a second question: while the term "civil unions" is more acceptable than "gay marriage," is there any substantive difference between the two?
Thus far the democrats’ proposals for "civil unions" remain generalized and rather vague, and it is difficult to tell how a "civil union" might compare to a "marriage."
We’ll have to wait and see where Democrats go on this issue. But we can probably expect to hear very little about the "M" word, as this debate continues.