Friday, December 24, 2010

Biden: "There's an inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage."

Vice President Joseph Biden said in a television interview Friday that "there's an inevitability for a national consensus on gay marriage."

The vice president, who backs civil unions but not same-sex marriage, weighed in on the issue two days after President Obama acknowledged his position was "evolving."

"I think the country's evolving," Biden said in the interview with ABC News. His comments were not the first time he has suggested the country would eventually accept and support gay marriage. Asked in a 2007 appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" if gay marriage was inevitable, Biden replied that "it probably is."

I think Biden's right -- that same-sex marriage legalization is inevitable given the evolution of the country. I would also call this progress, as Americans and American society in general become more liberal, more accepting of difference and diversity.

Now, it's not clear what a "national consensus" would mean. Perhaps, despite his 2007 comments, such a consensus would form around civil unions but not same-sex marriage, that is, around Biden's own position. But I suspect that the country is ultimately moving towards not some separate-but-more-or-less-equal status for same-sex unions but full marriage equality, with the state (most, if not all, states, that is) recognizing both same-sex and opposite-sex marriages equally.

I would be fine with civil unions if they applied equally to same-sex and opposite-sex partners. Indeed, an argument can be made that the state should do away with "marriage" altogether, replacing it with "civil union" as the state-recognized partnership of two people. There could still be "marriage," but it would be religious, and hence private. You could get "married" by a religious official, for example, but while that religion would recognize the partnership as a "marriage" within its own code, the state would recognize it as a "civil union."

Simply, such partnerships, or civil unions, should be purely secular in nature. While the state should not tell religious institutions what to do, within certain broad parameters, religious institutions should not continue to hold such sway over society.

Anyway, while Obama's views on same-sex marriage may very well be "evolving," I don't expect him to push aggressively for the repeal of the odious Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as I wrote yesterday, let alone for the full legalization of same-sex marriage beyond what some states have done or are doing on their own. Aside from the fact that he has been dragging his heels on gay rights the past two years, whether because of excessive caution (political calculation) or lack of principle (personal commitment), there just won't be any urgency for him to turn his attention to DOMA, not with Republicans in control in the House, with Democrats far from a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, and with more pressing political concerns to attend to in the lead-up to 2012.

A national consensus may very well be forming, and it may very well take the shape of support for marriage equality, but there's still a long way to go for any such consensus to be reflected politically.

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