Marriage ban is not a ‘wedge issue’


In “Voters will decide on gay marriage,” California Democratic strategist Garry South describes the ballot measure to ban gay marriage as “part of a decades-old strategy by California conservatives to use a wedge issue to mobilize support during a presidential election.”

With this week’s announcement that the California Marriage Protection Act will appear on the November ballot, the battle is on to define exactly what all the shouting is about.

Defenders of man-woman marriage paint their battle as a struggle to protect children, traditionally religious people and the mother-father family. Same-sex marriage advocates describe their cause as the latest civil rights movement, a necessary achievement of fairness and dignity for all Californians. And like South, they also suggest conservatives have once again raised same-sex marriage as a “wedge” issue to galvanize voters to come out to the polls in a presidential election.


All but the last point are plausible. The ballot initiatives to protect marriage exist to do precisely that -- protect marriage. They are not part of some cynical conspiracy to help Republicans at the ballot box. Not that you’d know it by listening to gay-marriage supporters:

* Prominent gay-press journalist Kevin Naff recently wrote in the Washington Blade of “the GOP’s cynical use of gay marriage as a wedge issue this year.”

* On CNN, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom explained his decision in 2004 to grant marriage licenses to San Franciscans in defiance of state law: “We’re reacting to the president’s decision to use this as a wedge issue to divide people. I think what he’s doing is wrong. It’s hurtful.”

Newsom told CNN that gays deserved “the same kind of rights that are extended to my relationship with my wife” -- whom, Californians later learned, he cheated on with his friend’s wife. I find it interesting that the four most prominent heterosexual politicians supporting a new definition of marriage -- Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his successor, David Paterson -- have all acknowledged committing adultery, in the latter two cases with numerous women. Shouldn’t that disqualify them from deciding what marriage should be?

The theory that marriage initiatives exist to turn out Republican voters in presidential elections is simply baseless. The marriage measures in the states of Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin all appeared on ballots that did not contain a presidential general election. Eleven state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage did succeed on the November ballot in 2004 -- the same year Massachusetts began granting marriage licenses to same sex-couples and politicians like Newsom started performing illegal marriages that were heavily covered by the media. Those events scared a lot of people who prefer the man-woman definition of marriage into taking political action.

The measures in Hawaii and Alaska were passed in 1998, a non-presidential year in which the Brause vs. Alaska and Baehr vs. Miike court cases threatened to bring gay marriage to the 49th and 50th states.


Despite the paranoia of “marriage-equality” advocates, ballot initiatives to enshrine man-woman marriage in state constitutions are not a political ploy to win elections. They are the only logical response to the constitutional lawsuits funded by the gay and lesbian community that threaten to impose the gay community’s definition of marriage on the vast majority of Americans who prefer the traditional definition of marriage.

If the opponents of these ballot measures really do believe they are more about presidential politics than marriage, let me offer a compromise, which I am certain I can convince my fellow supporters of traditional marriage to accept. If the gay-marriage movement will pursue no lawsuits to redefine marriage in 2011 and 2012, defenders of traditional marriage will support no ballot measures protecting man-woman marriage in the 2012 presidential election.

If that compromise is unsatisfactory, then I’d at least appreciate not being accused of ulterior political motives when I and others like me simply react to the gay community’s lawsuits that threaten our vision of the key institution in a healthy society.

David Benkof is a columnist for several gay newspapers across the country. He blogs at and can be reached at

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