When the ruling on same-sex marriage came down, I was in upstate New York, hanging out with my brother, who runs a small construction outfit in a working-class town. His employees are the people Democratic leaders worry about; a generation ago they were called "Reagan Democrats." They make extremely un-PC jokes and insult each other with terms that would make most San Franciscans cringe.
And you know what? They couldn’t possibly care less about same-sex marriage.
"The people in my crew have families to feed and payments to make on their houses," my brother told me. "They don’t care who marries who. It’s the most ridiculous issue in the world." (My brother, who got married on his lunch hour wearing overalls covered with concrete dust, also told me years ago that "marriage is like a horse with a broken leg; you can shoot it, but that doesn’t fix the leg." You get the picture).
Yes, there are gay couples living in his little community. The framers and roofers treat them like everyone else. The construction workers are not remotely disturbed about queers being threats to their traditional values or marriages. And they’re all voting for Obama because they’re sick of the war, sick of the recession, sick of the cost of health insurance, sick of the politics in Washington DC, and ready for something totally different.
I thought about all of that when I came back and read the San Francisco Chronicle stories repeating the old argument that same-sex marriage could be the bane of the Democrats in November. It’s the same thing Rep. Nancy Pelosi says about all kinds of social and economic issues: we can’t go too fast. We might piss off some swing voters.
Sure, you might do that. And I’m not a pollster, and my focus group, as it were, is fairly narrow here. But I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that among rapidly growing numbers of Americans, gay marriage is becoming pretty insignificant as a wedge issue. I used to say that in 20 years, people would look back at this era and wonder what the foes of marriage equality were thinking. Now I suspect we’ll only have to wait 10 years, maybe less, before this is totally accepted in the mainstream of American society.
When somebody like Mayor Gavin Newsom takes the lead on a civil rights issue like this, I think it’s pretty crass to question his motives. But you can’t dispute the outcome: Newsom may have been acting out of pure principle or out of political calculation. But in the end, his career is now tightly tied to an issue that is part of the future. He will never have to say he was sorry about this, and all of the weak and trembling little Democrats who are wringing their hands will all look like idiots one day. One day very soon.
If Newsom wants to be governor, this can only help him but it won’t be enough. My brother’s point is that the country is in a deep recession, the economy is a disaster, economic inequality is ruining the American Dream, and social issues aren’t going to carry the day. A politician who won’t tax the rich to improve the lot of the poor and the middle class, who won’t offer comprehensive economic solutions, who has nothing to say to people who make their living building houses when the housing market is in free fall … that politician’s going nowhere. *