Humanizing the same-sex marriage debate in New York

June 27, 2011, 4:24 pm | Posted by

Earlier this year we blogged about research by Third Way that revealed several keys to building broader support legalizing same-sex marriage. Among the findings was that “…those who have talked to a gay person about marriage are significantly more likely to support marriage for gay couples.”

The way New York’s historic passage of same-sex marriage unfolded appears to strongly confirm this lesson. Sunday’s front-page New York Times story noted that ” [t]he story of how same-sex marriage became legal in New York is about shifting public sentiment and individual lawmakers moved by emotional appeals from gay couples who wish to be wed.” Although the story described the many complex political dynamics of the struggle, a recurrent theme was the personal connections between legislators and LGBT family members and constituents.

Third Way’s research also found that “telling stories of committed gay and lesbian couples who are already doing the hard work of marriage in their everyday life is a great way to convey those similar values.” The coalition that led the campaign in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage – New Yorkers United for Marriage – seems to have taken this lesson to heart. Here are a couple of their campaign spots:

In the final analysis, appealing to values and connecting the political debate to its impact on real couples and families played a critical role in passing the bill.

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Catholic Bishops and Gay Marriage: Dueling Responses from Dolan and DiMarzio

June 27, 2011, 1:48 pm | Posted by

After having spoken out publicly against the marriage bill passed in New York last week, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of New York, gave an interview this Sunday expressing “sadness” at the result of the vote, but also a desire to move on from the issue and foster some kind of reconciliation within the Catholic community:

Dolan’s reasonable response stands in stark contrast to fellow Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn:

Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature have deconstructed the single most important institution in human history. Republicans and Democrats alike succumbed to powerful political elites and have passed legislation that will undermine our families and as a consequence, our society.

In light of these disturbing developments and in protest for this decision, I have asked all Catholic schools to refuse any distinction or honors bestowed upon them this year by the governor or any member of the legislature who voted to support this legislation. Furthermore, I have asked all pastors and principals to not invite any state legislator to speak or be present at any parish or school celebration.

DiMarzio’s call for Catholic institutions to blacklist elected officials is being echoed by members of the Catholic right who are reaching into their presidential campaign playbook to call for Gov. Cuomo to be denied Communion. Here’s canon lawyer Edward Peters:

I see no way, absent a public reversal of his public conduct, that Andrew Cuomo may present himself for holy Communion (per Canon 916), and, if he does present himself, I see no way that a minister of holy Communion may administer the sacrament to him (per Canon 915). Indeed, the only question in my mind is whether the ordinaries of New York should lift from the shoulders of individual ministers the burden of reaching this decision, by making a determination to this effect themselves and, assuming they do reach this conclusion, whether they should announce it publicly or in a personal letter to Cuomo. (Personally, I think a public announcement more befits the markedly public character of Cuomo’s conduct and responds better to the danger of scandal presented to the faithful by his actions).

Both DiMarzio and Peters’s responses are unfortunate appeals to a vengeful bitterness that divides the community instead of working to heal it after such an intense debate.

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What Catholic Bishops Risk Losing in Gay Marriage Fight

June 23, 2011, 2:53 pm | Posted by

Over at Commonweal, J. Peter Nixon has a thoughtful post that raises important questions for Catholic Church leaders engaged in high-profile campaigns against same-sex marriage. It’s a timely topic as Archbishop Timothy Dolan devotes considerable attention on his archdiocesan blog to taking sharp jabs at New York legislators pushing to legalize gay marriage.

Unlike some commentators who lash out against Catholic bishops, Nixon’s tempered warnings echo the sentiments of many Catholics who love their Church but worry that a hierarchy consumed with opposing something most Americans (including a majority of Catholics) now support and view as an historical inevitability weakens the Church’s ability to find a receptive audience for its social justice agenda. “The way in which the Catholic Church loses this particular campaign will have an impact on its ability to communicate the Gospel to younger Catholics, to say nothing of the broader culture,” he writes. Nixon continues:

While the bishops have not only the right but the responsibility to bring Catholic teaching into the public square, they need to do so in ways that do not seem uniquely obsessed with the sins of gays and lesbians. It might have been helpful, for example, if the bishops’ willingness to take on same-sex marriage has been coupled with an equally enthusiastic effort to reform no-fault divorce laws. Given contemporary mores, such an effort would have had almost zero chance of success. But coupling the issues would at least make it clear that the bishops understood that the most serious threats to marriage arise from the behavior of heterosexuals. More fundamentally, I suspect that many young people who grow up within the Church sense that the ways that heterosexuals fall short of Church teaching–fornication, cohabitation, contraception, remarriage after divorce–are, in pastoral practice at least, taken less seriously than the sexual sins of gays and lesbians. While I have no illusions that a more consistent application of the Church’s teaching would be “appealing,” it would at least immunize the Church against the charge of hypocrisy. The emerging generation of young people may not be inclined to adhere to the Church’s sexual ethics, but it would be a measure of progress if they could at least respect them.

Last fall, I urged Catholic leaders to read American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Harvard professor Robert Putnam and Notre Dame political science professor David Campbell. The authors’ research, examining the intersection of religion and politics over the last half century, offers critical findings about why a growing percentage of Americans – particularly twentysomethings – now identify their religious affiliation as “none.” Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Putnam and Campbell specifically identify vigorous opposition to same-sex marriage as a position driving younger Christians away from churches.

Very few of these new “nones” actually call themselves atheists, and many have rather conventional beliefs about God and theology. But they have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics…Just as this generation moved to the left on most social issues — above all, homosexuality — many prominent religious leaders moved to the right, using the issue of same-sex marriage to mobilize electoral support for conservative Republicans. In the short run, this tactic worked to increase GOP turnout, but the subsequent backlash undermined sympathy for religion among many young moderates and progressives.

Catholic bishops and other Church leaders play a vital role in advocating for a moral economy that serves the common good, defending workers’ rights, lobbying for comprehensive immigration reform and urging political leaders to address climate change. Maintaining this moral witness and relevancy in the public square will only grow harder if Catholics who value their faith’s commitment to justice and the common good perceive the Church as becoming primarily a culture-war institution fixated on sexuality.

For another thoughtful read on this issue, check out David Gibson’s post: The Church’s real marriage crisis?

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National Organization for Marriage Admits Flawed Methodology, Fails to Justify It

June 22, 2011, 12:50 pm | Posted by

National_Organization_for_Marriage.gifIn the final days before the New York State Senate vote on expanding marriage rights to same-sex couples, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) released a “flash survey” claiming to show that 57% of New Yorkers think “marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”

As Dan explained last week, this poll makes the same mistake as the Alliance Defense Fund’s recent poll on marriage which asked about opinions on the definition of marriage rather than the more relevant issue of legality.

But that’s not the only problem with this poll. As others have already noted, its sample size is tiny (302 people out of a state population of 19.3 million), and its respondents aren’t very representative of the state population, skewing older, more conservative, and more likely to be married (all demographic indicators of lower support for same-sex marriage).

Attempting to respond to the criticism, NOM took to its blog to justify its flawed methodology. Admitting the poll’s sample is skewed, they rationalized that their findings should still be taken seriously because their sample matches the age demographics of nationwide voters in the 2010 mid-term elections.

NOM doesn’t explain why they think a nationwide demographic is applicable to a New York-specific issue, especially when the state’s demographic turnout in the 2010 mid-term elections wasn’t as conservative as the nationwide average. New York exit polls showed that 28% of New York voters self-identified as liberal and 32% identified as conservative. In the nationwide House exit poll, 20% self-id’ed as liberal and 42% identified as conservative.

And, as an off-year election in a Republican wave year, the 2010 voter pool is not a very good predictor of future election demographics, particularly for the next election New York legislators will face in 2012 with an incumbent Democratic president back on the ticket in a reliably blue state.

Of course, all this raises two important points:

  1. If NOM wants elected leaders to truly act in the best interest of all New Yorkers, shouldn’t they base their argument on something other than a tiny, unrepresentative sample of voters? NOM’s suggestion that this skewed sample’s opinions constitute a compelling argument shows that they’re appealing to political calculation rather than moral principles.
  2. If NOM does want to make a purely political argument for state senators to vote against the marriage bill, they’re not giving very good political advice, given that their skewed sample doesn’t map onto the New York landscape very well and has questionable relevance going into the 2012 election.

As New York senators decide how to vote on this bill, it’s pretty clear they should ignore this poll.

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Spinning the data on same-sex marriage, ctd.

June 20, 2011, 5:53 pm | Posted by

Zack Ford at Think Progress flagged Public Opinion Strategies’ methodology memo for the ADF’s same-sex marriage poll, which contains several interesting revelations. The survey screened out people who “write your own blog or frequently comment on blogs regarding political issues,” and it included an issue-battery question asking whether “legalizing same-sex marriage” should be “an absolute top priority, a high but not top priority, a medium priority, or a lower priority or do you think this should not be a priority.” That question still doesn’t get at the legality issue in a way that’s comparable to the Gallup, CNN, Washington Post/ABC News and Public Religion Research Institute polls, but it’d be interesting to know why ADF didn’t release the results.

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