A week after Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean started a national conversation about whether it’s wrong to say something plainly, with no shades of nuance – “I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman,” the verbal version of the Prop 8 vote tally and our president’s personal belief – Prejean’s preamble is still drawing harangues over its accuracy. She said:
I think it’s great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage.
The leader of one gay rights group replied, “Contrary to Miss California’s claim, people can’t choose, gay and lesbian couples don’t have a choice except in a handful of states.”
But wasn’t that Prejean’s point? Given the context of her remarks, and I haven’t heard her clarify exactly what she meant by “Americans,” it seems plausible that Prejean was simply giving a thumbs-up to the democratic process that has produced one gay-marriage victory, by the Vermont Legislature. Arguably, she was even referring to the state courts that enacted gay marriage.
Remember that marriage policy until 1996 was wholly a matter for the states. Even after the Defense of Marriage Act passed, it left untouched state law, simply codifying that the federal government wouldn’t be used as a pawn in a battle over gay marriage in the states. It basically put Congress on record against any future Supreme Court majority that may think about creating another permanent social-policy schism:
“The concern about creating another Roe v. Wade looms large,” said Nathaniel Persily, who teaches law and political science at Columbia. “At least five members of this court, if not more, would probably be reluctant to weigh in on this controversy, especially given the progress that is being made in state legislatures, state courts and public opinion.”
Prejean seems to recognize the same “progress,” although she would probably use a different term. There’s a certain air of inevitability in her words, a recognition that she can’t change the tide, and a crutch in citing her family for her not-especially-controversial views. It may be decades before a majority of states recognize a legal category titled “gay marriage,” but it’s pretty safe to say several are moving toward ever-expanding legal rights for gay couples, including civil unions – which is gay marriage in all but name. (And I have no illusions about the centrality of “name” in this debate.) To my knowledge, these incremental moves state by state have drawn little backlash.
An opponent of gay marriage could use the analogy of putting a frog in room-temperature water and slowly heating the pot until it boils the frog alive. This is why I suspect a lot of Christian conservatives (a rather poor catchall that fails to note several meaningful distinctions) are thrilled when a state court enacts gay marriage – the frog jumps the hell out of the water, evolves a thumb and turns off the stove. The way I read this, Prejean is being assailed for saying states should decide what their marriage laws are. That would put her on the center-left of the Christian conservative spectrum, something I think is lost on her backers.
I would love to ask Prejean what she thinks about the lagging push to enact a federal ban on gay marriage. If she’s in favor, we could at least fault her for her false sincerity.
I’m a tech journalist who’s making a TV show about a college newspaper.