Outlook: Long Road Remains for Gay Marriage

Joe Mathews
Irvine Senior Fellow, New America Foundation
Monday, June 16, 2008; 12:00 PM

"This week should be a joyous one for those of us who believe in the right to marry the person you love. A month after the California Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage, gay couples will walk into county offices here and secure the same marriage license to which heterosexual couples such as my wife and I are entitled. ... Gay rights supporters should toast the happy couples, but they might want to wait before raising a glass to the state. The ruling will hardly change California, a place blissfully devoted to its live-and-let-live ethos. But California -- with its dysfunctional politics and government -- may hurt the cause of same-sex marriage. ... For gay couples and their supporters, California could become an expensive, time-consuming quagmire -- gay marriage's Vietnam."

New America Foundation senior fellow Joe Mathews, who wrote "The People's Machine: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of Blockbuster Democracy," was online Monday, June 16 at noon ET to discuss his Outlook article on the tangle of legislative, ballot initiative and legal objections that could leave gay marriage in the state in limbo for years to come.

The transcript follows.

Archive: Transcripts of discussions with Outlook article authors


Joe Mathews: Howdy to all. Marriages start at 5:01 p.m. today. A little bit about me by way of introduction. I was a Los Angeles Times reporter for the past eight years, leaving in March (after the latest round of buyouts) and taking a fellowship at the New America Foundation, a non-partisan group that supports my journalism (but doesn't tell me what to write or what to do--all opinions and mistakes are my own).

I'm not a lawyer and don't have any legal training, so you're getting what you pay for on legal questions. My expertise is in California politics, specifically initiative politics and our governor. I had a book about Schwarzenegger published in 2006.


Washington: The District has been expanding its domestic partnership laws incrementally. Is there any chance Washington actually will allow same-sex marriage, or at least recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages?

Joe Mathews: I don't know the District's politics well. But one would guess, from how you folks vote, is that there's a very decent chance of that -- provided that Congress, which overwhelmingly opposes same sex marriage, can't somehow block the District in this matter. Does anyone know?


Atlanta: I really don't understand why there are so many people who are against marriage between two people. I just look at it legally -- and pretty much logically -- in that I think all the children who are adopted by gay couples (however they come by them) deserve to have two parents who are recognized by the "state." In the community we have created, that is not possible, and that is heart-breaking.

Not to mention the other issues -- as in health benefits from companies, and/or retirement benefits, and the myriad of laws that many people who are married don't even think twice about regarding what they legally are allowed to do because they are married. It's really sad, and I don't know how all that stuff has any effect on any "heterosexual" marriage -- I mean, seriously, what's the big deal?

Joe Mathews: As the piece makes clear, I support same-sex marriage, so it's probably best to ask someone else. But I do have considerable respect for those who disagree with me. And as a reporter who has interviewed lots of people on both sides, I would say that the two sides think about it differently. For those who support gay marriage, they think of the issue as an issue of gay people. There are people out there who would like to get married, and we don't want to stand in their way.

For those who oppose gay marriage, they think about the issue in terms of marriage. They see a culture -- not only in America but worldwide -- that is unhealthy in many ways. Many of the opponents are folks of profound faith who see the notion of faith as under attack not only in the U.S. but in places like Europe and Canada. And I think there's a real sense of offense, of grievance on the anti-gay marriage side when gay marriage supporters -- as the California Supreme Court did -- compare opposition to gay marriage to opposition to mixed-race marriage. It feels for some as though their faith is being equated with racial bigotry.


Santa Clara, Calif.: If the California constitutional amendment passes in November, is it possible the California Supreme Court can overturn it anyway (rule a constitutional amendment "unconstitutional")?

Joe Mathews: The legal scholars I talk to say: almost certainly no. At least, they couldn't overturn it on the substance of what the amendment says-- the people overrule them on this. But the court could potentially find other problems, or be asked to rule on how the constitutional right to marry that it identified in its recent decision can be interpreted in light of this initiative. And here's where the court's answer conceivably could be: the state can't legally recognize any marriage at all. But all this is highly speculative. And I must offer an informed political prediction: when you look at the polling on ballot initiatives, winning initiatives usually have 60 percent or more support five months before an election. (People who decide late tend to vote no). This initiative is split down the middle, which means it probably loses.


Silver Spring, Md.: This question/comment is only sort of about gay marriage. The international civil service {the United Nations) always has accepted whatever marriage exists in one's home country -- thus a man from a Middle Eastern country can have many wives recognized. What is the State Department's policy? When we have foreign diplomats visiting the U.S., do we say "sorry, only wife #1 counts" or "only the wife in the U.S. at the time counts" (assuming one or two others are at home minding the house and kids)?

Joe Mathews: I don't know the answer to that question, if there's a personnel policy that governs this or has domestic partner benefits. As a general rule, however, the federal law explicitly says there can be no recognition of marriage except marriages between one man and one woman.


Anonymous: I found out last week that my daughter is in a relationship with another woman. She blurted it out and I was shocked ... to say the least. I had no idea. Now what do I do? I love her with all my heart and I want her to be happy and she says this woman makes her happy, so I should be happy too; however, I'm confused. I have more questions than answers. Do I have the right to ask my daughter any questions? Should I tell her father, or should she? Was this her "coming out" or just a phase? I honestly do not know what to do as her Mom, other than to love her and not judge her. Any chatters out there have advice for me?

Joe Mathews: That situation is beyond my area of expertise. I'm married, but haven't yet been blessed as you are to be a parent. I wish you and your daughter nothing but the best.


Washington: I really don't get this article, I think because you're analogizing to the wrong war. Do you really mean to imply that people who favor these rights should skip winnable state battles? Massachusetts was marriage equality's Gettysburg; a victory in California will be like the victory in Atlanta -- it accelerates the process of winning; ending the federal marriage ban is Appomattox -- it's just a matter of time, because the decisive battle has been won.

The GLBT movement has the resources to fight in California and to fight at the federal level (and to do our best in Florida where there's another ballot initiative to ban gay marriage). I predict marriage equality will win in California and lose in Florida, and in time it will win at the federal level. Mostly the history of the U.S. is to open up rights to more people (though sometimes too slowly), and ending federal discrimination against gay marriage is the right thing to do.

Joe Mathews: I don't think they should skip this battle in California or winnable state battles. I think this November initiative is winnable. And I certainly don't presume to tell advocates and lawyers in this battle -- who know this issue far better than me -- how to strategically approach this. My expertise is in California and its politics. With the piece, I simply wanted to offer the perspective that as a state, we're so dysfunctional that they are likely to get bogged down in a very long and expensive battle that doesn't produce all that much (and could produce public relations problems for a very good cause). It may be wiser and more efficient to figure out a way to declare victory in California sooner rather than later, and move on to other states that are less expensive. The strategic idea of gay marriage supporters would seem to be to build victories in more and more states, so when they move on Washington and the federal law, they are in a strong position. I think a long war in California (a war in which I could see them winning battle after battle without quite winning the war) could hurt as much as help.


Princeton, N.J.: Full disclosure: I have a daughter who is married to another woman (in Massachusetts). I am opposed to unfair discrimination in all forms. I never have seen an article so nit-infested as the one in Outlook. The basic fact is that the present situation is unfair. Period. The court in California simply did its job. I would not be unhappy if government got out of the marriage business entirely.

The important point is to protect children. This has nothing to do with marriage. Some people have children without getting married (such as the present writer), and many get married and do not have children. This would also solve many problems caused by trying to give married people special privileges. For example, if all people filed taxes as individuals, there would be no marriage tax penalty or no marriage tax bonus, as we still have today.

Joe Mathews: Your criticism is very fair. It's nitpicking, particularly when you look at the unadulterated good of what's going to start happening today in California at 5:01 p.m. But I did want to offer a strategic perspective, and be part of the conversation about how we get -- as quickly as possible -- to a place in which people everywhere (not just your daughter in Mass. and my fellow citizens in California) can exercise this right.


Arlington, Va.: I'm a liberal heterosexual male. Is the homosexual community making a mistake to push for "marriage" instead of pushing for legal rights in property and inheritance matters?

Joe Mathews: I don't think so. As a married heterosexual male (and politically moderate) who is fairly secular, "marriage" matters. And state recognition of marriage matters. Maybe this is because I love history and have spent many hours as a reporting sorting through old records, but there's just something about marriage, and what it means to family, and history, and having that document in the courthouse or archives that will live there forever. Yes, having all the legal rights is important, and it's significant to remember that because of federal law, the gay couples who begin getting married tonight in California won't have all those rights. But I think marriage because of all the history and tradition.


Boston: If voters pass an amendment to the California Constitution that conflicts with another part of the same document (as the marriage ban might be argued to), does the California Supreme Court have the power to annul it? Are they supposed to give preference to newer revisions over older language? Or would they have to find it violated the federal Constitution in order to overturn it, and would that push the case toward the U.S. Supreme Court?

Joe Mathews: The legal folks I talk to say no. But the court, if it gets the right case, might have to interpret how these different parts of the constitution work together -- the constitutional amendment they've identified that requires equal recognition for gay couples of their unions -- and what this initiative says. With an initiative, there's also the possibility that the court could rule on some more technical grounds--perhaps having to do with the official title and summary given to every initiative measure by the California attorney general. Bottom line: the answer is--probably no, they can't overrule, but this is California, and you never know.


Baltimore: Just a comment -- the only problem you highlight that is unique to California is its ballot initiative system. The court challenges -- whether from polygamists demanding marriage equality, or religious organizations (like Catholic hospitals) demanding the general right not to recognize gay unions -- would be equally likely to arise in Massachusetts or New Jersey. As far as I know, the challenges haven't arisen yet.

Joe Mathews: That's basically right. The other "problem" unique to California -- I put it in quotes because I basically agree with the outcome of the decision -- is that we have this very unusual decision that offers arguments and a new rationale for gay marriages. As I explain in the piece, the arguments the 4-3 majority offered are so broad that I could see legal and political mischief being made out of them.... And I guess I should add that the other institutional problem is our dysfunctional legislature. And the legislature will have to get into this because the court decision changes the law--leaving our lawmakers with the responsibility of cleaning up some things in marriage law and domestic partnership law. As a Californian who studies our politics, I must tell you that you should never underestimate the ability of the California legislature to mess up perfectly good progressive legislation.


Upper Marlboro, Md.: What about civil marriages vs. religious? Many gay people are not only gay, they are bisexual; does this mean they can be married to the same sex and the opposite sex at the same time? I mean, if I am a woman, and I have a wife, can I also have a husband? If not, why not? I think there are many issues that have to be answered before we move in this direction...

Joe Mathews: The Supreme Court decision says -- in a footnote -- that you can't do that because it's decision is limited to the number "two." That is, a bisexual married to two people at once would be practicing polygamy and that's explicitly prohibited in the decision and in state law. The bisexual person could marry whomever he or she wanted regardless of sex, but that person would have to pick one person.


Philadelphia: This is a technical but important question: Does this allow gays to obtain the same marriage document as other couples obtain, or is this a separate document that distinguishes the marriage of gays?

Joe Mathews: It's the very same document, is my understanding. Granting marriage licenses is a county function, but the state document in question has been changed in recent weeks to a gender neutral format. That's at least what's going to be used in Los Angeles County, where I live.


Chicago: Thanks for trying to lay out the anti-gay marriage perspective, but I honestly don't understand why gay marriage, specifically, is their target. If these people believe their faith compels them to protect traditional marriage, then why aren't they going after divorce? Or single parents? Or any marriage that is clearly based on something other than love and the desire to start a family?

It always comes back to anti-gay bigotry because that's the only explanation that makes sense. Until these activists start amending their state constitutions to ban no-fault divorce or marriage between elderly people (i.e. do something to hurt heterosexuals like themselves), the simplest explanation will be the right answer. Thanks.

Joe Mathews: I must confess to having similar thoughts to yours at times. But reporting out this story gives me more respect for the other side. And to be fair, many advocates who oppose gay marriage have worked on some of these other issues, particularly divorce.


New York: This newspaper editorialized that "separate but equal" was an acceptable public policy for homosexuals. You can dress it up any way you want, and put lipstick on it, but this paper is still a Pig.

Joe Mathews: I didn't see the Post editorial on this. I don't think "separate but equal" works on this. There is something profound and special about marriage. Also, I think it would be politically disastrous -- and just plain wrong -- to have an outcome that, in the name of equality, ended state recognition of all marriages. I think liberal seculars would revolt. One of the arguments that opponents of gay marriage try to make is that recognizing gay marriage will somehow undermine all marriages. I don't think that's true -- same sex marriage doesn't by itself affect my marriage one way or another. However, if this ends up with states only recognizing "civil unions", then the gay marriage opponents will be correct -- same sex marriage could end up harming my marriage. (Though one caveat in California -- we allow any adult to marry people--you can actually sign up for permission for one day only to marry people. I've been part of several weddings, including one at home plate at Dodger Stadium, where a friend of the couple married the couple under this power. At Dodger Stadium, the friend was dressed as an umpire).


Arlington, Va.: I guess it's good that you have respect for the same sex marriage opponents, because I have very little. If they can't see that their opposition hurts real people, then I don't have much time for them. It is exactly the same as bigotry against interracial marriage was no matter how much they want to protest otherwise. Massachusetts has had same sex marriage for several years now, and as far as I can tell the state hasn't been destroyed. Do you think that as more states allow it the opposition will wane when it is clear that allowing gays and lesbians to marry hasn't resulted in the destruction of society?

Joe Mathews: The answer to that question is yes, I hope so. I do think that one great advantage the pro-gay marriage side has is that there aren't that many gay people. It's a very small minority.


Ottawa, Canada: We have had gay marriages here in Canada for the past two or three years. It's not even discussed much anymore, and seems to be more or less accepted by the vast majority of people. Do you think that this type of acceptance will happen in the U.S.?

Joe Mathews: I think and hope that will eventually happen in the U.S. It may happen more quickly in some places -- Massachusetts and California -- than others (say, Mississippi, which I think is a domino that would only fall after a change in the federal law).


Renton, Wash.: Some questions about the "Governator" here. Schwarzenegger has said he finds the constitutional amendment a "waste of time," but does he have any say in the matter if voters approve it? Is he actively doing anything to oppose it? How does he explain his opposition to the amendment when he vetoed gay marriage legislation twice?

Joe Mathews: I wrote a book about him and have spent more time talking with him than I care to remember, including about this. This is an issue that he doesn't see any real gain for him--and is something of a distraction from what he sees as his mission (and the fundamental problem of the state): getting Californians to focus on their dysfunctional political and budget systems. When he says this is a "waste of time," I believe he's expressing frustration that gay marriage -- and not his budget reform proposals -- will be at the center of the state's political conversation this fall.

As someone who supports gay marriage, I agree very much with his vetoes. Both of those bills were unconstitutional and could have produced adverse court rulings. Why? Because the bills would have overruled the previous statutory ban on gay marriage. that ban was put in place by ballot initiative, so to reverse it, the California constitution requires another vote of the people. By vetoing those bills, Gov. Schwarzenegger acted in the best interests of supporters of gay marriage.

Now, he says personally he opposes it. He has said that repeatedly and to me personally. As someone who has studied his life, and talked to his friends from Austria, bodybuilding, Hollywood (not to mention his aides, many of whom are openly gay), I believe that he is a supporter of gay marriage. But that is supposition


Washington: The charter that established home rule in Washington gives the Congress complete oversight on our legislative actions. If Congress disapproves, then the District cannot enact or execute particular legislation. One example: Years ago the D.C. Council enacted and the mayor signed legislation creating a domestic partner registry. Congress disapproved and prohibited the District government from implementing the registry. It was only a few years ago that congressional disapproval dropped from the city's funding legislation. We now have a domestic partner registry.

The charter also enables the Congress to return to legislation it previously approved (or ignored) and overturn it. Thus one problem with the D.C. Council's possible approval of same-sex marriage in Washington is that Congress might not only overturn that legislation, but might also remember the domestic partner registry and decide to abolish that as well. One of our gay-supportive council members has argued against same-sex marriage in Washington on these very grounds -- instead of trying for the best, let's be quiet so we can keep what little we have. (Now, as an outsider, you can understand why many D.C. citizens consider the District to be the last plantation.)

Joe Mathews: That does sound awful.


Princeton, N.J.: Look, if the state got out of the marriage business, you still could have religious ceremonies (which is where marriage belongs), and people still could have contracts between themselves to share whatever they feel needed to be codified.

Joe Mathews: And in California, you could still have one of your friends (or one of your enemies) get deputized by the state for a day to marry you... However, speaking for myself personally, I want that state sanction. I think it's important. It's part of our history, culture and tradition. I just believe that gay couples should have that sanction too...


Single mom in Silver Spring, Md.: I think anything goes in our society in the U.S. People change spouses like they change underwear. It's rare any relationships are successful, let alone same-sex ones. Men are sleeping with men and women are sleeping with women. And the spare parts in the equation, are usually the kids. I feel very sad about the fact that my partner just pretty much left me with two kids. Call me a bitter old maid, or call me a concerned citizen. I'm still trying to figure out which one I am ... but either way -- why is it that anything goes in relationships these days?

Joe Mathews: Boy, that's a profound question that I'm not sure I can answer. I got married at 23, am now 35, and as my wife makes clear every day, this is not an everything goes relationship.

Your question does make me think that this issue of same sex marriage will lead to a reappraisal of marriage. And it's possible that reappraisal would take the culture in a more conservative direction.


Lowell, Mass.: I haven't yet read much about the campaign to fight the amendment. Do you know anything about what pro-gay forces are up to? Are they doing door-to-door efforts, voter recruitment drives on college campuses, or what? What effect do you think the presidential campaign will have on the vote? I think that it will be somewhat the opposite of what Republicans hope. Rather than turning out enough conservatives to boost McCain, I think Obama will bring out more young people and liberals, who will tend to vote against the amendment. On the other hand, he'll also likely drive up the African-American vote, and those voters are more likely to favor the ban.

Joe Mathews: They are raising money, and doing fairly well at it, I hear. One failure of California law is that most of the campaign disclosures on donations to initiatives don't have to be disclosed until very close to the election. I'm sure they will do a lot of organizing in churches--the campaign will make religious freedom arguments, I'm quite sure.

I do think that the presidential campaign and the overall political dynamic in California is very favorable to the "no" side of the initiative -- which is the pro-same sex marriage side... We don't have that large an African American vote in the state. The votes to watch are Latinos, and the turnout of young Latinos vs. older, more culturally conservative Latinos. they could swing the election. My gut tells me the "no" side -- that is the pro gay marriage side -- wins, but it'll be close.


Woodbridge, Va.: Two questions. One scholar from Stanford blamed the initiative process for allowing this issue to go on and on. What do you think about that? Is that true -- would the marriage issue be behind Californians if there were not a voter initiative process? Is that a good or a bad thing? I support gay marriage -- or full rights to contract -- but I think the statewide votes on marriage, as much as the results have been so negative, have been helpful in making people confront the issue. Having to vote on it has forced folks to confront it, and as they confront the issue, over time, most folks with come to grips with the need for equal rights. What do you think?

Joe Mathews: Without an initiative process, the issue would be much closer to being settled. There would be other court fights, perhaps attempts to go to the federal courts. But the Stanford professor I quoted, Pam Karlan, is right: the initiative process means this question is open-ended. For example, the state ban the court overturned was enacted by initiative. (That was a statute, not a constitutional amendment like this November's initiative).

In the long run, I suspect -- and hope -- you're right. And people will confront the issue and move to accept gay marriage. In California, however, our initiative system means that we could vote over and over again on this issue. In some other places that have ballot initiatives, there are limits on how often you can bring an initiative. In California, we don't do limits.


Washington: I am a strong advocate for gay marriage. The reason is because inevitably there will be a first gay divorce. Right now the courts favor the female; who will they favor in a gay marriage? Maybe it will help to equalize the courts.

Joe Mathews: What a great question. I should remind you: I'm not a lawyer. And I really don't know enough to offer an opinion. But here's another example of how this issue will require us to address all kinds of questions. (And why California is a problematic venue for this issue, because of the many institutional problems we have with our courts and other branches of government).


Anonymous: I guess I just don't understand why gays don't just (first) press for something not called "marriage," which seems to be the sticking point. Work on a domestic partnership for the shortcuts enjoyed by married couples (power of attorney, inheritance, parenthood) and have it sanctified or approved in a friendly church of choice if desired. If it's done in steps, then maybe once there's a general acceptance of legal domestic partnership, then work on the status being called "marriage." I agree that all who want to should be able to be married, but I think there should be more of an urgency to get some of these legal rights more accessible to everyone. If that means temporarily leaving behind the word "marriage" then that seems like a good first step.

Joe Mathews: That's what gays have done in California over the past decade. They have excellent domestic partnership rights (in matters of divorce, they arguably have a better deal than married couples, because domestic partners don't have to go to court or prove residence in the state before they divorce). But it's not enough for many couples, and understandably so. As some of the other questioners have pointed out, marriage is about family. And the family is at the core of our society and many of our concepts of freedom.


African American Mom in Silver Spring, Md.: Why do people always attach the plight of homosexuals to the plight of people of other races and ethnicities? It's not the same. I definitely was born an African American; it has yet to be proven that gay people are born gay, or that it is normal for a guy to want to sleep with another guy. Stop trying to gain acceptance by latching onto the plight of a race of people who were formerly slaves in this country. If we all slept with the same sex and got married to the same sex, who would make the babies?

Joe Mathews: This is very interesting point, and something I hear a lot in my reporting. Even the California Supreme Court made this comparison. I understand why, but as a political and strategic matter, I think it would be wise for gay marriage supporters to avoid making it. It's better to keep the focus on the human dimension, on gay couples and their profound and important desire to be married.


Re: Arlington, Va.: "Massachusetts has had same sex marriage for several years now, and as far as I can tell the state hasn't been destroyed." Au contraire. It's because of gay marriage that we have the mortgage crisis, the credit crisis, all of the foreclosures, job losses, outrageous fuel prices, high food prices, 47 million people without health insurance, the floods in Iowa, (insert disaster here).

Sarcasm aside, the world has not ended simply because of gay marriage, nor will it. Even if anti-gay marriage people get their way and completely stop gay marriages everywhere, what's next -- stopping certain straight marriages simply because they don't think the people are good for each other? I'm currently dating a man 12 years older than I am. Will they prevent us from getting married because of the age difference?

Joe Mathews: Well, in the spirit of your post, let me say that as a citizen of Los Angeles, I have some seen some age discrepancies in couples that make me think, "you know, there ought to be a law."


Seattle: If the problem is that California's ballot-initiative provisions are too easy to meet, have serious attempts been made to tighten them? Say, go from a set number (20,000 signatures, originally required when the state's population was only 5 million-6 million) to a set percentage?

Joe Mathews: We already have a percentage. We've always had a percentage system. Currently, an initiative sponsor must collect a number of signatures equal to five percent of the number of people who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election. For initiative constitutional amendments, it's 8 percent. (And 12 percent for a recall).

In my work on this subject -- apart from gay marriage -- I've argued the opposite of where I think you're going. Right now, you need $2 million to qualify a measure. I'd like to lower at least some of the signature gathering percentages to bring grass roots groups into it. Right now, it requires big money and the ability to hire paid, professional petition circulators. As far as I know, there's been only one statewide initiative qualified without paid signature gatherers in the past quarter century in California.


Baltimore: How much will the economic argument play in California (or elsewhere in the nation)? My partner and I married last year in Canada, with 25 friends and family members in attendance. This weekend, my best friend is doing the same. I don't know the stats, but I guess a lot of money is leaving the country because of this.

Joe Mathews: I think the argument will prove powerful and will be part of the initiative discussion. The governor of California, while personally opposing gay marriage, is supporting the gay-marriage side of the initiative and is making this economic argument publicly.

We have a tradition in California of making economic arguments on divisive social issues. In 2004, when we had an initiative to establish an institute to fund and conduct stem cell research, the governor and other elected leaders endorsed stem cell research using the argument that this could be an economic boon to California. And the initiative won.


Tampa, Fla.: What happens if a gay couple marries in California, divorces there, moves to a state that has banned gay marriage, and sue each other for alimony? Would the other state give full faith and credit to a California court order requiring one of the former spouses to pay alimony to the other? Also, what would happen if California passed a law that California doesn't recognize marriages from other states that don't recognize all California marriages? Would not this really stress the Full Faith and Credit clause of the U.S. Constitution?

Joe Mathews: Great questions. To your first question, I think it depends on the state. New York has said they're going to recognize marriages in California, for example. In other states, I think you'd have a problem. But again, I'm not a lawyer.

On your suggestion about such a law, that's an interesting idea and might stress the full faith and credit. But I can't foresee the legislature or the people adopting something like that.


New York: I find these predictable "concern" stories as to how gay marriage will backfire on its supporters during the elections, ignoring public polling on the issue, to be grating. Is this just the Republican bias in the corporate media, or are reporters just trying to stir things up?

Joe Mathews: Well, we reporters do like to stir things up.

My interest and expertise is in California, and believe me, our level of governmental dysfunction can create trouble for just about any cause.

But it's not just nitpicking to worry about how we decide divisive social issues. And I worry about expansive court decisions that pre-empt legislative and popular debate on such issues. As we've seen with Roe vs. Wade, such decisions can harden opposition and create all kinds of unintended consequences for our politics. I admit, that sounds a bit academic, and I'm jumping for joy for these folks who are going to get married tonight. But I think it's in the best interests of those couples for all of us who support them to think strategically about this.


Number of Gay People: I must take exception to your passing off as a small number the number of gay people. I understand, based on sociological studies, that there may anywhere between 10 million and 20 million gay people live in the U.S., and that's hardly a small number. Besides, me, my partner and my gays friends here in Arlington, Va., account for a significant number of people to us.

Joe Mathews: You're right and I'm wrong. It's a lot of people. But it's a small percentage of our population. And if you look at the recent New York Times story looking at Massachusetts same sex marriage, I believe you'll see you're talking about a very small number of marriages in that state. Fewer than 25,000...


Seattle: What's your take on county registrars that are refusing to hand out any marriage licenses because of their religious views on the subject matter?

Joe Mathews: The registrars in question -- in Kern and Butte Counties -- are being dishonest. They are saying that they're doing this because they lack the resources to handle the onslaught. As the Bakersfield Californian showed with some great reporting (turning up emails between the Kern County clerk's office and the Alliance Defense Fund, a group in Arizona that does legal work on marriage issues for the anti-gay marriage side), this refusal to solemnize marriages in these counties is a protest and a strategy for trying to galvanize opposition to same sex marriage... One point of clarification: these clerks will still have to hand out licenses, but they won't do the marriage for you.


Polling: Do you know how accurate polls have been in predicting votes on gay marriage amendments? I wonder if this is one of those issues where the yes vote is underrepresented, because people don't want to tell pollsters they favor discrimination. Sort of like the Bradley Effect, where polls find higher support for black candidates than they actually get at the voting booth.

Joe Mathews: Your question is right on. In a number of states, "yes" did appear to under-poll a little bit. But those states are not California. (We have something of a tradition of not holding back our views on most things)... It's hard to trust the polling right now in terms of the raw numbers. The LA Times had a poll showing a slight majority opposing gay marriage, the Field Poll (the poll subscribed to by many other big California papers) showed the opposite (a narrow majority in favor of gay marriage). But what's clear from the polling is the direction things are moving in-- in favor of gay marriage. I do think that, while it may take a number of years in California and a lot of ballot initiatives and lawsuits, we'll have legalization. But I would also be willing to wager that a number of states that aren't yet marrying people will beat us to the punch of final, clear legalization.


Born Gay: Some say that being gay is a choice, but I have yet to meet a single heterosexual person who convincingly has explained how he or she sat down one day and coolly reasoned that being hetero was a choice, and that they sincerely made such a choice. Being gay is not like being African American in many ways, but it is exactly like being African American in terms of being inherent, not something that someone decides on.

If you don't believe that, then just give up being hetero and decide to live a gay life. If somehow making such a choice seems unnatural to you, well, that's how pretending to be heterosexual feels to me. The real issue seems to me to be whether I should have to hide so that you won't feel uncomfortable, or whether I should be able to live my boringly normal life without fear that someone will kill me just because I'm different from them.

Joe Mathews: I agree with you. I can't imagine that this is a choice. But as well as not being a lawyer, I'm not a geneticist.


Pittsburgh: I'm a gay male in a fairly conservative Democratic city. I've been with my partner for four years and would like to have the same rights, but don't know if it's possible sometimes. Most people in Western Pennsylvania would ban gay marriage given the choice. Therefore, I think marriage equality should be at the federal level.

However, I also think it could be about semantics. If we redefined all civil marriages as "civil unions" regardless of whether it's hetero or homo, I think this would appease the conservative religious folk. Perhaps people should consider keeping "marriage" as a term for a spiritual commitment, and let the true separation of church and state speak for itself. What's your thought on this?

Joe Mathews: It won't appease all the conservatives on this issues. Conservatives in the California legislature did not vote for domestic partnership laws... The real problem with that idea is that it could hurt the coalition that is building in favor of gay marriage. Secular straights would lose their right to a state-recognized marriage. And gay marriage supporters need the votes of those folks.


Joe Mathews: Signing off. Thank you to all for the great questions, and I'm sorry I couldn't get to all of them. I'm going to continue to report on the issue and dig deeper.

I'd like to end with my own question. After my story ran in the Post yesterday, I heard from a minister in California who asked this question: if a gay couple is married in California by a minister of a church that does not permit such unions, could that marriage be found invalid? I'd love to know the answer to that question.

And I also hope that the woman with the daughter who came out gets some good advice and finds a way to talk with her daughter.

_______________________ Upcoming Discussion: California Law Professor and Gay Couple on Ruling (, Live Now)


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