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The Politics of Defending DOMA

February 28, 2011

Buried at the end of a TPM story following the DOJ’s refusal to defend DOMA in certain federal courts is a tidbit about the politics: John Boehner and Barney Frank agree on how this one plays.

Here’s TPM:

“It strikes me as something that’s just as raw politics as anything I’ve seen knowing that a lot of people who believe in DOMA are probably not likely to vote for him and pandering to the other side on this issue,” he said.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) made a similar argument to TPM last week, putting the two in agreement on the political side of DOMA at least.

What Frank said was, “I got some indication they were thinking about their position and I urged them to go ahead with it …  People who will be angry at the President over this won’t vote for him anyway.”

On my reading, and maybe just because it’s what I already said, it’s more than just an absence of a problem.  There’s a fundamental shift in the glacial pace of change here.  Obama has stopped saying stupid things about marriage and has begun punting by saying his views are “evolving.”  In US politics, where leaders don’t lead, he’s not ready to say he’s for equality, but it has become politically disadvantageous to be against it.  And the GOP, who are spoiling for big fights on reproductive freedom and organized labor, have not jumped at the chance to defend DOMA.  Boehner is openly saying that this was done to stick him with the job of doing it.  It’s not just that Obama pays no price for this; it’s that it’s an active disadvantage for the GOP. 

Boehner’s party, already firmly on the wrong side of a huge demographic shift in the electorate on immigration reform, has a base that demands that they also defend the last foxhole in the war or make same sex marriages legally less valid nationwide.  (If the current challenges to DOMA succeed, then a same sex marriage in Vermont will be just as valid as an opposite sex marriage in Vermont, as far as the entire federal government is concerned.  Discriminating will be state by state.  To me, if the federal government doesn’t recognize same sex marriages, there’s an asterix next to some states’ recognition — but if the feds recognize whatever the state will solemnize, then to me whether equality is the law in five states or forty nine, the states that don’t allow same sex marriages are the ones with the weird, different requirement.)  The generational tidal wave is in favor of GLB equality (not the absence of the T — I really wish all the prominent GLB orgs and personalities were focused and committed on trans issues) makes this a set of positions and arguments that don’t help the GOP drive turnout any more, and could push young, affluent voters away from them that they’ll need to win elections over the coming cycles.

Nobody whose primary concern is winning nationwide elections wants to be the side that’s against marriage equality anymore.  That’s not being for equality, but it’s a weathervane.  They feel the wind, and they’re telling us how it’s blowing.

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