Throughout history, same-sex marriage has been illegal. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, so that states could refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Sen. John Kerry opposes same-sex marriage but supports civil unions for same-sex couples. President Bush has about the same position as Kerry, except that he also supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
So it is odd that, according to pundits and readers, even though majorities of voters opposed same-sex marriage, only the GOP is the homophobic party.
In 2000, 61 percent of California voters approved Proposition 22, also dubbed the Defense of Marriage Act, which declared, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." If the GOP is the homophobic party for opposing same-sex marriage, then California is the homophobic state.
On Sunday, Bush guru Karl Rove told Fox News that the president will push for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage because "We cannot allow activist local elected officials to thumb their nose at 5,000 years of human history and determine that marriage is something else."
Rove's point about 5,000 years of history strikes at the heart of the debate. It is insane to blame George Bush for adhering to values dear to Americans since before the American Revolution.
Twenty years ago, same-sex marriage wasn't an issue. According to Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, no nation sanctioned the practice until the Netherlands did so in 2001.
Has same-sex marriage ever happened in history? A spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation referred me to historian George Chauncey, author of "Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today's Debate over Gay Equality."
Chauncey answered that the modern notion of marriage as legally sanctified through history is inaccurate; at times, men and women came together and declared themselves as man and wife, without state or church sanction. Still, societies recognized these unions. Hawaiian kings, he said, had male consorts. Medieval churches interred male couples together.
In other words, if Rove wasn't 100 percent right about marriage over the millennia, he was right about the last thousand years.
That doesn't mean that same-sex marriage is wrong. As Chauncey noted, marriage in the Bible could be defined as a man and his wives and concubines. "One of the reasons marriage has survived as an institution is because it has constantly changed and adapted to changing social realities and moral values," he noted.
But it does mean Rove has a point about the cultural weight of 5,000 years. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein put it, San Francisco's same-sex marriages were "too much, too fast, too soon."
Chauncey noted, "I think all 11 of these (state) referenda initiatives to ban gay marriage passed because there still hasn't been enough time for discussion and for people to understand the reality of lesbian and gay lives and why gay and lesbian couples need the protection that marriage, and only marriage, confers."
The reasons? Many real-life couples must go without Social Security survivor benefits, immigration considerations and other benefits of marriage.
The point of this column: Advocates should stop dismissing everyone who is against same-sex marriage as homophobic or hate-filled. Exit polls showed that 27 percent of voters support same-sex marriage, while another 35 percent support civil unions. These numbers tell you that it is only a matter of time before federal laws recognize the legal rights of gay and lesbian couples.
That is, of course, unless the intolerance of the gay-marriage lobby chases would-be supporters away. When activists frame all opponents to same-sex marriage as bigots and haters, they show themselves to be intolerant of those whose deeply held religious convictions tell them same-sex marriage is wrong.
In 2000, I voted against Proposition 22 because I believe in the benefits of marriage, for gays and straights. But the reaction to this election chills me and makes me wonder if it makes more sense for advocates to push for civil-union legislation now, and marriage later, when the public is ready.
It doesn't help when advocates demonize those who hesitate to change laws that have existed for a long time and that shape American families. It doesn't help when they blame Bush voters for sentiments also shared by Kerry voters. It doesn't help because it shows America that same-sex marriage advocates, who complain about being demonized, are happy to demonize GOP voters when it suits their purposes.