Wonkbook: On gay marriage, what a difference eight years makes

March 26, 2013

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(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)
(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

On November 14, 2004, just a few days after the election, the New York Times ran a story headlined "Groups Vow Not To Let Losses Dash Gay Rights." The article was datelined "St. Louis," and it recounted the first major post-election conference in which gay-rights organizers tried to regroup after an election "when voters in 11 states resoundingly approved amendments to their constitutions against same-sex marriage and gave a majority to a president depicted in one doctored video here as the Wicked Witch of the West."

But for gay rights groups, the situation, in 2004, was even worse than that. Exit polls showed President George W. Bush won reelection because of "moral values," not terrorism or the economy, and moral values was taken, in many quarters, to mean opposition to gay marriage.

And so a November 4, 2004 story was entitled "Some Democrats Blame One of Their Own," and it featured Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Barney Frank scolding San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome for holding highly publicized gay marriage ceremonies in front of city hall. "The thing that agitated people were the mass weddings," Frank said. "It was a mistake in San Francisco compounded by people in Oregon, New Mexico and New York. What it did was provoke a lot of fears."

A story about the unexpected success of Montana Democrats focused heavily on their rejection of gay marriage. "Even Republicans here are tipping their hats to the Democrats for neutralizing difficult cultural issues like same-sex marriage," wrote Timothy Egan. He went on to quote Chuck Denowh, the executive director of the Montana Republican Party. "And on gay marriage, all the statewide Democrats were against it."

The narrative was so firm that arguments that gay marriage didn't cost Democrats the election had to be framed as bold strikes against the conventional wisdom. "Every election year, we in the commentariat come up with a story line to explain the result, and the story line has to have two features," wrote David Brooks. "First, it has to be completely wrong. Second, it has to reassure liberals that they are morally superior to the people who just defeated them. In past years, the story line has involved Angry White Males, or Willie Horton-bashing racists. This year, the official story is that throngs of homophobic, Red America values-voters surged to the polls to put George W. Bush over the top."

For the record, subsequent research backs Brooks up: Gay marriage probably didn't decide the 2004 election. But that's not really the point here. In 2004, gay marriage was considered so electorally toxic that a political party that by and large opposed it was thought to have lost the election because they didn't oppose it enough. The post-election columns were about whether the cause could ever make a comeback, or whether Democrats, in order to compete as a national party, were going to need to follow the Montana example and become not just anti-gay marriage, which most publicly were, but more generally culturally conservative in ways that would better assure voters they were really, truly anti-gay marriage.

And today, as gay marriage comes before the Supreme Court? Politicians can't seem to sign up to support it fast enough. There's the president and the vice president, of course, as well as Sen. Rob Portman. But the more interesting endorsements, in a way, are coming from the kind of purple state Democrats who were considered most endangered by the party's perceived softness on gay marriage. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Mark Warner, of Missouri and Virginia respectively, have both come out for gay marriage, too.

Eight years ago, these were the exact places where the Democratic Party was thought to be uncompetitive because of suspicions that it was really, secretly okay with gay marriage. The position was so unpopular that even insufficient opposition was seen as a huge liability. Today, full-blown support barely raises an eyebrow.

Arguments on gay marriage begin before the Supreme Court today, and we have more on that in Wonkbook, below. But however those arguments go, it's clear who's winning the national argument over gay marriage.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 10 to 11 percentage points. That's the amount by which explaining the individual requirement to purchase health insurance as a "mandate" rather than a "tax" increases compliance. More on the Affordable Care Act and its implementation below. 

Wonkblog's Graph of the Day: The historical tide, as seen through public opinion, on gay marriage.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) as Supreme Court takes it up, the center has its say on gay marriage; 2) how much do we really know about future health costs?; 3) Obama to rally on gun control; 4) is this the endgame for immigration reform?; and 5) a bad economic news roundup for the U.S.

1) Top story: The political center shifts in favor of gay marriage

The Supreme Court begins oral arguments today on gay marriage. Here's what you need to know. "A four-year legal battle to extend the right of marriage to same-sex couples no matter where they live gets its moment before the Supreme Court on Tuesday in historic oral arguments difficult to imagine even a decade ago. The first of two days of oral arguments over what supporters call marriage equality brings the boldest of the claims that gay rights activists will make — that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage that states may not deny." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Q&A: A primer on the the Supreme Court's Prop. 8 caseAdam Liptak in The New York Times.

A sea change on gay rights, and in less than 50 years. "The changes have been so swift that it is sometimes surprising to remember how many gay men and lesbians were until recently in the closet and how many hurdles there have been along the way...The emergence of AIDS in the 1980s, however, lent the movement new energy and urgency. The epidemic propelled many closeted gay men and lesbians to begin identifying themselves publicly and raised the stakes for elected officials who were suddenly facing votes over the use of tax money to respond to a public health crisis." John Harwood in The New York Times.

Explainer: What the polls say on gay marriagePew Research Center.

Sen. McCaskill announces support for same-sex marriage. "“I have come to the conclusion that our government should not limit the right to marry based on who you love,” McCaskill wrote on Tumblr. “While churches should never be required to conduct marriages outside of their religious beliefs, neither should the government tell people who they have a right to marry.”" Diana Reese in The Washington Post.

@BuzzFeedAndrew: Difference between being GOP or Democrat coming out in support of gay marriage. Flood the zone a la Portman. Do it subtlety like McCaskill.

...As did Sen. Mark Warner. "Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has announced his support for gay marriage, making him the second Democratic senator to announce his support Monday, a day before the Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on the topic." Aaron Blake in The Washington Post.

@samsteinhp: Which congressional lawmakers in the Democratic Party oppose gay marriage at this point?

...And how Bill Clinton went from DOMA to gay-rights supporter. "For nearly 17 years since, that middle-of-the-night moment has haunted Mr. Clinton, the source of tension with friends, advisers and gay rights supporters. He tried to explain, defend and justify. He asked for understanding. Then he inched away from it bit by bit. Finally this month, he disavowed the Defense of Marriage Act entirely, urging that the law be overturned by the Supreme Court." Peter Baker in The New York Times.

Explainer: 9 facts about marriage and childbirth in the U.SEzra Klein in The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, also in Supreme Court news, they're taking another affirmative-action case. "The Supreme Court said Monday it would decide whether voters can bar state universities from using racial preferences in admissions decisions, a question that has divided federal appellate courts. The appeal, involving a 2006 voter initiative from Michigan, is in some ways the mirror image of a separate case from Texas currently pending before the court." Jess Bravin in The Wall Street Journal.

@pourmecoffee: I look forward to the day when everyone's marriage, gay and straight, is equally tedious and annoying to hear about to me.

PORTMAN: Coming out. "I support marriage for same-sex couples because I believe that everybody should be treated the same way and have the same shot at happiness. Over the course of our country’s history the full rights of citizenship have gradually been extended to a broader and broader group of people, something that’s made our society stronger, not weaker. Gay rights may be the civil rights cause of the moment, but the movement fits into a larger historical narrative." Will Portman in The Yale Daily News.

TOOBIN: Feel the long arc bending. "Once a society decides that the law must treat a group of people equally in one area of life, it becomes harder—and, eventually, impossible—to justify discriminating against them in others. If gay people can’t be prosecuted for being gay, then they shouldn’t be fired for being gay, either. If they can’t be fired, then they shouldn’t be denied custody of children. And so on, to the issue of marriage. Each of these steps is incomplete under current law, as well as in the real world, but the direction they are taking is unmistakable. This week, we will begin to find out whether the Justices will impede or accelerate that process. But, at this point, not even the Supreme Court can reverse the march toward equality." Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker.

NIMOCKS: On gay marriage, let democracy work, not the courts... "Are we ready to say that all of [the public conversation over gay marriage] means absolutely nothing—that every debate and every voice lent to this nationwide discussion is irrelevant, and surrender it all to a single judicial declaration? Issues of societal consequence—like marriage—should be examined by all of society over the course of decades before the country opts for a radical change to a foundational human institution." Austin R. Nimocks in The Wall Street Journal.

OLSON AND BOIES: ...No, there's a rights violation here, and that requires a court. "For one to say that the Supreme Court should leave the question of marriage equality to the political processes of the states is to say that states should remain free to discriminate—to impose this pain and humiliation on gay men and lesbians and their children—for as long as they wish, without justification." Theodore B. Olson and David Boies in The Wall Street Journal.

ROBINSON: How the Court may walk a blurrier line. "The court could strike down DOMA, taking the position that marriage should be left to the states — which would be consistent with the conservative majority’s reverence for states’ rights...This result, probably the best that can realistically be hoped for, would not end the battle over gay marriage, which is recognized in just nine states plus the District of Columbia. But it would allow the rapid progress toward marriage equality to continue, and it’s pretty clear where this freight train is heading." Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post.

Music recommendations interlude: Alexander Scriabin, "Prometheus: Poem of Fire," 2010.

Top op-eds

JOHNSON: Austerity's children. "When economists discuss “fiscal adjustment,” they typically frame it as an abstract and complex goal. But the issue is actually simple: Who will bear the brunt of measures to reduce the budget deficit?...[T]he people most directly in line for a fiscal squeeze are those who are least able to defend themselves – relatively poor children." Simon Johnson in Project Syndicate.

PONNURU: How to make America a global tax haven. "[Rep. Nunes] suggests a new approach: a “business consumption tax” that treats all businesses the same, whatever their organizational form. Instead of taxing their income, it taxes their cashflow -- income minus expenses, except for interest payments. That way, businesses would no longer write off their investments according to a complicated depreciation schedule. Investments would be tax-free." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.

IRWIN: In the new Cyprus deal, the seeds of the next European crisis. "If you are a depositor in a European bank, you now have every incentive in the world to move your money somewhere safer, or even to keep it in cash, the minute you detect any hint that your nation could end up in the same place Cyprus did. The next time there is a banking panic in Europe, it will move much faster, and be much harder to control, than those of the recent past, as depositors try to get ahead of future losses and capital controls. And that’s a scary proposition indeed." Neil Irwin in The Washington Post.

SOLTAS: College and culture. "College education is culturally important to a much broader population: the educated. Education encourages education. If your father was a college graduate, you're roughly three times as likely to earn a degree than if your father only graduated high school, holding income constant." Evan Soltas in Bloomberg.

BROOKS: The killing chain. "Let’s say you were writing a novel about a homicide...[Y]ou’d want to describe a long killing chain, a complex series of links leading up to the ultimate homicide. Over the last 25 years, American authorities have tried to interrupt that killing chain at almost every link except one. In a hodgepodge but organic manner, there have been vast changes in proactive policing, mentoring programs, gang eradication programs, incarceration rates, cultural attitudes and so on. The only step in the killing chain that we haven’t really touched is gun acquisition." David Brooks in The New York Times.

CILLIZZA: Bloomberg and LaPierre, two flawed messengers of the gun debate. "Advocates on both sides of the issue could have hoped for more. And that’s not because of what either Bloomberg or LaPierre said but rather how they said it and what they represent to the broader culture, which is not as deeply invested in the issue...Simply put: Bloomberg and LaPierre are both easily caricatured by their political rivals. The ease with which the other side can draw a fantastical image of either a big city mayor pushing his agenda onto you or an angry man clutching a gun and brooking no compromises ensures that the debate over guns — and what our society’s relationship to them will and should be — won’t really ever get started." Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

Religious interlude: The best Bar Mitzvah invite ever.

2) How much do we really know about future health costs?

The gadget that makes our health-care cost projections obsolete. "I’ve asked experts in health technology whether they believe devices along these lines will be commonplace in 25 years. They invariably do. And they’re almost certainly right. Consider how dramatically these devices will change medicine...This is why I don’t put much stock in projections of health-care spending that run 30 or 50 or 75 years into the future." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

How the Affordable Care Act could boost the use of temp workers. "Starting in January, employers with at least 50 workers must offer affordable coverage or pay a penalty. To stay under this limit, some are considering outsourcing jobs to specialists such as Kelly Services, Manpower, Robert Half and Randstad, whose stock prices have soared...By requiring employer coverage only for those who put in at least 30 hours a week, the act appears to create an incentive for companies to do less with permanent workers and more with part-timers, which are the main focus of staffing agencies." Jay Hancock in The Washington Post.

Wonktalk: Happy birthday, Obamacare! Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

Obamacare's most controversial provision. "The requirement that contraceptives be covered without co-payment has drawn more than 147,000 public comments, according to an analysis from the Sunlight Foundation. These are the letters that companies, non-profits and private citizens send to the federal government, hoping to sway the regulatory process. That is more than any other regulatory proposal on any subject, health care or otherwise, the non-profit finds." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

More companies offer workers incentives on health. "The survey, of 800 large and midsize employers conducted by the human-resources consulting firm Aon Hewitt, found that the vast majority of companies, or 79 percent, use rewards like lower insurance premiums to try to nudge employees to improve their health. But increasingly, the survey found, employers are taking the programs a step further, by penalizing employees who do not make healthy choices and linking incentives to measurable results." Katie Thomas in The New York Times.

Study: 111 million hours of paperwork as a result of Obamacare. "In its first three years, President Obama's healthcare law has imposed more than $30 billion in costs and 111 million hours of paperwork burdens, according to a new study from the American Action Forum. The forum, a conservative think tank led by former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said the law will raise premiums and hurt small businesses." Sam Baker in The Hill.

It's a mandate! It's a tax! How word choice affects Obamacare enrollment. "Obamacare’s mandated purchase of health coverage survived the challenge. It may not, however, have gotten off scot free: New research suggests the controversy over the mandate may been a blow to its credibility—and Americans’ willingness to comply...In the first two waves of the research, before and during the Supreme Court hearing, survey participants were more likely to say they would comply with a mandate to buy insurance than a tax penalty for going without. More specifically, the mandate condition increased a willingness to buy insurance by 10 to 11 percentage points." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

The story of Arjit Guha, the student who battled Aetna over colon-cancer coverage, who died last Friday. "Guha has Stage 4 colon cancer, a diagnosis that comes with an 8.1 percent survival rate. Although he has health insurance, a student plan through the university, it has a lifetime limit of $300,000 in medical expenses. Guha has spent all of that, largely on chemotherapy sessions that cost $11,000 each." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Humorous interlude: The Daily Show on political speeches.

3) Obama to bring support on gun control

Obama plans road trip to rally support for gun control. "White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama would travel the country in the coming weeks to rally support for the proposals, written in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead...Separately, Organizing for Action — the political group born from the president's reelection campaign — announced Monday it would hold more than 100 events across the country on Thursday to support efforts to reduce gun violence." Justin Sink in The Hill.

Sens. Paul, Cruz, and Lee threaten filibuster over gun legislation. "Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are threatening to filibuster gun-control legislation, according to a letter they plan to hand-deliver to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office on Tuesday...Conservatives are concerned that once that bill reaches the floor, amendments could stiffen restrictions on gun control." Jonathan Allen in Politico.

Historical interlude: A trove of photos from Vietnam.

4) The immigration reform endgame

Obama swears in new citizens, calls for immigration reform. "President Obama helped swear in 28 new U.S. citizens at the White House on Monday, hailing them as examples of the nation’s strong immigrant history and demanding that Congress “finish the job” on a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws...Obama praised bipartisan efforts in the Senate and House to develop legislation and said he expects a bill to be introduced next month." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

The most active immigration lobbyists are minority groups and universities. "The Sunlight Foundation has done an impressively detailed data analysis of the lobbying on immigration since the last big reform effort in 2007, combing through 6,712 quarterly reports from 678 registered lobbying groups...In total, these groups spent more than $1.5 billion on immigration lobbying between 2008 and 2012." Suzy Khimm in The Washington Post.

Nautical interlude: Building ships-in-bottles.

5) Bad-news corner for the American economy

Goldman Sachs says: U.S. manufacturing won't roar back. "One of the hottest trend stories in recent years has been the idea that U.S. manufacturing is on the verge of a large, permanent comeback...The only problem? This boom hasn’t really shown up in the data — at least not yet. Yes, U.S. manufacturing has expanded and added jobs since 2009 as the sector recovers from the recession. But that appears to be a cyclical bounce-back and not any sort of long-term shift." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

Interview: Robert Z. Lawrence talks with Dylan Matthews about trade with and growth in emerging markets, and its domestic impact. The Washington Post.

In this economy, fresh college grads can get stuck in low-skill jobs for life. "[I]n a paper released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a team of Canadian economists argues that the U.S. faces a longer-term problem...New technologies may eventually revive demand for advanced skills, he added, but an economic recovery alone won't be sufficient." Ben Casselman in The Wall Street Journal.

For older Americans, a deepening debt problem. "The number of Americans age 60 and over in debt is alarming. A recent report by the AARP’s Public Policy Institute and the research organization Demos revealed that Americans over the age of 50 carried substantially more debt on credit cards — an average balance of $8,278 — than those under 50, whose average balance was $6,258. The Employee Benefit Research Institute also found recently that total debt payments as a portion of income for families headed by people 75 or older had shot up to 7.1 percent in 2010, from 4.5 percent in 2007." Carmen Wong Ulrich in The New York Times.

Fed banker explains plan to dial down monetary easing. "William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech the Fed "should calibrate" how much U.S. debt and mortgage-backed securities it buys each month "by allowing the flow rate of purchases to respond to material changes in the labor market outlook."" Victoria McGrane in The Wall Street Journal.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

"Dijsselblowing it" on CyprusNeil Irwin.

Seeing the next crisis in the legacy of CyprusNeil Irwin.

Who wants to break up big banks? The Senate, apparentlySuzy Khimm.

The fights over renewable energy move to the state levelBrad Plumer.

Wonktalk: Happy birthday, Obamacare! Sarah Kliff and Ezra Klein.

9 facts about marriage and childbirth in the U.S. Ezra Klein.

Goldman Sachs: No, sorry, a manufacturing recovery isn't comingBrad Plumer.

Obamacare's most controversial provisionSarah Kliff.

Who are the most active lobbyists for immigration reform? Suzy Khimm.

Interview: Dylan Matthews talks with Robert Z. Lawrence.

How word choice -- "mandate" or "tax" -- affects Obamacare enrollmentSarah Kliff.

Why we don't know that much about tomorrow's health care costsEzra Klein.

A battler for health-insurance coverage diesSarah Kliff.

Et Cetera

Longreads: Track down the centroid of America's population with Jeremy Miller in Orion Magazine. Then look at the role of philanthropy, with a lead piece by Robert Reich and responses from many interesting voices, in the Boston Review.

House and Senate will adjourn for the next two weeksRamsey Cox in The Hill.

How blocking Cabinet nominees became common practiceJuliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Murray, Ryan face "Mission Impossible" in reconciling GOP, Democratic budgetsErik Wasson in The Hill.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail me.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

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