Same-Sex Marriage: North Carolina, President Obama and Voters

MS. DIANE REHM

10:06:56
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A Gallup survey this week found 50 percent of Americans support legal same-sex marriage. Compared with a decade ago, national attitudes have shifted strongly toward acceptance of same-sex unions. But social conservatives are skeptical of the surveys. Many say they don't predict what voters will do. Yesterday, voters in North Carolina approved the measure to ban same-sex marriage. Twenty-nine other states had taken similar action.

MS. DIANE REHM

10:07:36
Joining me in the studio to talk about legal rights for gay and lesbian couples: Michael Cole-Schwartz of the Human Rights Campaign, Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center, and Maggie Gallagher of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. You're invited to take part in the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.

MR. MICHAEL COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:08:15
Good morning.

MR. MICHAEL DIMOCK

10:08:15
Good morning.

MS. MAGGIE GALLAGHER

10:08:15
Good morning.

REHM

10:08:16
And before we begin our conversation with guests in the studio, we're joined, by phone from Raleigh, N.C., by Brian Brown. He is president of the National Organization for Marriage. Good morning to you, Brian.

MR. BRIAN BROWN

10:08:36
Good morning.

REHM

10:08:37
Give us an idea of exactly what the vote was about yesterday.

BROWN

10:08:46
Well, the vote was on a marriage protection amendment that clearly defines marriage is the only recognized domestic legal union in the state of North Carolina. And obviously, we have the results now, and, overwhelmingly, the voters of North Carolina voted for the amendment by 61 percent, which is clearly a landslide. So it was a big day for those of us who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

REHM

10:09:12
I realize that marriage is key as far as the amendment is concerned. What about other rights, for example, insurance? What about being able to speak for a partner at the hospital? What does the amendment say or not say about that?

BROWN

10:09:38
Well, there was an attempt on the part of the opposition to basically fabricate a number of scenarios and claim that somehow people were going to be robbed of benefits, first of all, and then these patently false claims that somehow domestic violence wouldn't be prosecuted. There was one deputy district attorney that actually came out and said that, but that was strongly rebutted. Thirty law enforcement officials, district attorneys and judges wrote a statement saying that this was simply not true.

BROWN

10:10:13
It doesn't affect domestic violence. And also, Durham County came forward, the district attorney, and said it wouldn't affect benefits that the county gives to employees. So those were simply false claims. What this does is say that the state does not -- the state is not going to redefine marriage. It protects the state from judges doing that and states that that is the only domestic legal union.

REHM

10:10:42
Yeah.

BROWN

10:10:42
So, yes, you wouldn't have civil unions or domestic partnership recognized on the state level. But North Carolina doesn't currently do that anyway, so it keeps the status quo.

REHM

10:10:53
And that's what interests me since North Carolina already had a law banning same-sex marriage. Why ban? Was a constitutional amendment necessary?

BROWN

10:11:07
Well, one word, Iowa. There are more states that are good examples, but in Iowa, it was quite clear Iowa law said that marriage was only the union of a man and a woman. And then a number of activist judges decided at the Supreme Court level to say we don't care what Iowa thinks. We're going to short circuit the democratic process and impose our will, our understanding of marriage, upon Iowa voters.

BROWN

10:11:34
And so the people of North Carolina said, we don't want that to happen here. We want to protect our understanding of marriage from activist judges, and, therefore, we're going to amend our state constitution. And that clearly is a way to stop judges from redefining marriage. So that's why it was critical, and that's why we're so happy with the result.

REHM

10:11:56
All right. When I asked you earlier about insurance in elect, you talked about domestic violence. But what about the notion that same-sex partners should have the right to insurance and perhaps other benefits that heterosexual, married couples enjoy?

BROWN

10:12:21
Oh, you don't need to redefine marriage in order to talk about benefits. Currently in North Carolina, employers can continue to give benefits to whomever they choose to give benefits to. The second part of the amendment makes clear that this does not affect private contracts or those -- or benefits that a company might want to give to its employees. So, again, what opponents of this amendment wanted to do was to make it about anything other than marriage.

BROWN

10:12:52
One of their main campaign managers said that, that she knew that the people of North Carolina strongly believe that marriage was the union of a man and a woman, so they attempted to do that. They attempted to run ads that didn't mention marriage. They brought up these benefits claims. And they are simply false. As I just said, employees in North -- employers in North Carolina can continue to give benefits to their employees as they see fit.

REHM

10:13:20
All right. And, Brian, there are tons of polls out there saying a growing number of Americans, perhaps as many as 50 percent, support same-sex marriage. But I gather you're skeptical of those polls. Explain why.

BROWN

10:13:41
Oh, I'm more than skeptical. We -- anyone just needs to look at the facts, and I think many folks who support same-sex marriage, and many elites especially, are out of touch with the people. And they want their wish to be true, so they ask questions that are quite biased. And they don't really look seriously at the results. All you need to do is to look at the polling in each of the states that passed valid initiatives protecting marriage before the vote and what the actual vote was.

BROWN

10:14:15
And the polling before the votes under-polled support for traditional marriage by -- on average 6 percent, sometimes much higher, so the polls are fundamentally flawed when you look at what does the polls say and what the vote is. Even having said that -- you bring up the Gallup poll -- the Gallup poll before this Gallup poll said that support for same-sex marriage was at 53 percent. This one says 50 percent. So even using that example, that is a slide.

BROWN

10:14:49
If we look back at the votes that have happened recently, it was 52.5 percent for traditional marriage in California. It was 53 percent in Maine. Then it was 56 percent to defeat the judges in Iowa that -- for same-sex marriage at Iowa. And now in North Carolina, we're at 61 percent. So I think that this notion that somehow same-sex marriage is losing support is just not borne out by the fact.

REHM

10:15:16
All right. And, Brian, I'd be interested in your definition of elites.

BROWN

10:15:25
Well, again, I mean, all we need to do is to look at most of the mainstream media, you know, obviously many, many college professors, academics, journalists. If you simply look at the Proposition 8 vote in California, every major newspaper came out against Proposition 8, and yet the voters of California passed Proposition 8. So there's a big divide between a lead opinion and opinion of the people.

BROWN

10:15:59
When all of the newspapers are saying one thing and the people are saying something else, I don't think it's tough to realize that there's a big divide and that the people of this country, when you have a vote where every single time it's been put to a vote the people have said, we know what marriage is. Marriage is unique and special, and it's the union of a man and a woman. That's now 32 for 32.

REHM

10:16:25
All right. So what you're saying is that the so-called elites who are reporting on these numbers are, in fact, lying?

BROWN

10:16:40
Well, lying is a strong word. I...

REHM

10:16:42
Well, sure, but, I mean, that's what I'm trying to really understand when you talk about so-called elites.

BROWN

10:16:52
Well, I'll give you an example that may not reach the level of lying, when you ask the polling questions on marriage. If you ask the question and use the word illegal, do you believe that same-sex marriage should be illegal, or if you ask the question, do you believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, those two different framings of the question are going to get you very, very different results.

BROWN

10:17:20
When you say illegal, people conjure images of people being somehow thrown in prison or punished, and that's just wrong. And any pollster that's trying to be neutral on this would avoid such negative language, but I've seen plenty of mainstream polls that use exactly that illegal language.

REHM

10:17:40
OK. And, Brian, finally, do you anticipate that one of the state measures is going to end up in the Supreme Court?

BROWN

10:17:55
Well, that's a good question. We already have that in the Proposition 8 case. The Perry lawsuit is working its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It's in the 9th Circuit now. And I do expect that that will reach the United States Supreme Court. And I expect the Supreme Court to do what it should do and say, there is no constitutional right to redefine marriage. I don't expect the court to say that it's going to overturn the will of 31 states who have voted on that.

REHM

10:18:25
All right. Brian Brown, he is president of the National Organization for Marriage and executive committee member of the Vote for Marriage North Carolina. Thanks for being with us this morning.

BROWN

10:18:42
Thank you, Diane.

REHM

10:18:43
Short break and we'll be right back.

REHM

10:20:05
And, by now, you've heard that North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions. You've already heard from Brian Brown, who was very involved in that vote. Here in the studio: Michael Cole-Schwartz of Human Rights Campaign, Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center, and Maggie Gallagher. She is president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy.

REHM

10:20:43
I'll open the phones in just a few moments. You can join us on 800-433-8850. Michael Cole-Schwartz, if I could begin with you, how big a blow is the North Carolina result to your efforts to ensure legal rights for same-sex couples?

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:21:07
Well, you know, it's certainly a heartbreaking loss for the families in North Carolina who will not be able to be married or form a civil union or domestic partnership and could, in fact, lose out on health insurance or other benefits, given...

REHM

10:21:20
Though Brian Brown said no.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:21:23
He refused that certainly, but we've seen in other states where we have these expansive amendments that have broad language. This will certainly be litigated, and we've seen in other places that things like insurance benefits have been denied to families based on this. You know, so it's really sad for those families, and my heart goes out to them. But I think that in the larger picture, you know, we are still on the march toward marriage equality. We are seeing that polling nationwide is moving in our direction. We're winning -- or we are, unfortunately, still losing a lot of these battles.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:22:00
But we're losing them by less. You know, the average of all of these amendments is 67 percent. They've passed by, and we're starting to do better as people have conversations and learn that the gay and lesbian family down the street needs the same exact protections. They're just as loving. They're just as committed. And we have this institution called marriage that recognizes and values families, and everyone should be able to be a part of that.

REHM

10:22:25
Michael Cole-Schwartz of Human Rights Campaign. Turning to you, Maggie Gallagher, what other states are considering similar amendments?

GALLAGHER

10:22:37
Well, we had 32 states now pass them. Minnesota will be voting in November on marriage amendment to -- in its state constitution. There is an effort to pass gay marriage via referendum in Maine, and I believe that there will be on the ballot in the state of Washington and in the state of Maryland an effort to repeal gay marriage bills that were passed by the legislature.

REHM

10:23:00
Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy. Mike Dimock, tell us how attitudes about same-sex marriage are changing.

DIMOCK

10:23:15
Well, what we're seeing in virtually all the polls is a movement in a -- a very linear movement in a direction towards support for gay marriage and gay rights. Some polls may have the proportion supporting it higher, some lower. There are differences in the way the questions are worded, but the direction of all of those polls is in the same general tendency towards support.

REHM

10:23:35
But it's interesting that you heard Brian Brown say it really is dependent on the language and that the so-called elites -- and I gather both journalists as well as polling institutions would be included in that group.

DIMOCK

10:23:55
Sure, and I think he raises a good point. I mean, from -- for maybe about a third of Americans on either side, this is a cut and dry issue, whether they favor it or oppose it. But there's a big portion of the country that, to be honest, doesn't care deeply about this issue one way or the other, doesn't think about it as part of their daily life. And the way you phrase it probably affects the way they think about it.

DIMOCK

10:24:16
Is it about protecting a traditional institution? Is it about providing rights to a group? That kind of language can matter to the way people think about the issue who aren't otherwise thinking about the issue and forming strong opinions.

REHM

10:24:28
It would be interesting to me -- and I should've asked Brian Brown. What percentage of voters came out for this amendment? Do you have an idea, Maggie?

GALLAGHER

10:24:41
Yeah, it was considered a record-breaking turnout, bigger than the primary in 2008, which was Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama. I think, in overall terms, it was 32 or 33 percent of the electorate. But for a May primary election, it was a very large turnout.

REHM

10:24:57
All right. And here's an email from Hank in Fernandina Beach, Fla. "Why does the majority get to vote on the rights of the minority at the state level? If this was done during the civil rights era, the South would still be segregated because states would have voted against the Civil Rights Act." Maggie.

GALLAGHER

10:25:26
Well, the -- first of all, the simple answer is that we owe it to progressives in the '20s who created referendums in majority of states, and the idea that the Constitution of the state belongs to the people of the state, not simply to the judges who interpret it, is something that used to be a, broadly speaking, a liberal conception. The disagreement, of course, is whether or not you have a right to redefine marriage because you think your relationship ought to be considered a marriage. Is that a personal or individual right that you have as a minority?

GALLAGHER

10:25:56
Or, in fact, is something as important as the definition of marriage, an issue on which the people have a right to speak? And obviously, the writer and I disagree on that, but we disagree on the basic premise. I don't have a right to redefine marriage, in my own view, and I don't think the Human Rights Campaign has a right to do it either.

REHM

10:26:13
Michael Dimock, how do you explain Americans broadly saying they're more and more in favor or not worried about same-sex marriage, and yet, as Maggie points out, you have now almost 32 states somehow redefining what's going on?

DIMOCK

10:26:37
I think there are two relevant facts there. One is that there's a lot of regional variation in support and opposition to gay marriage.

REHM

10:26:45
Southern states?

DIMOCK

10:26:46
Southern states. Predominantly, there's more opposition than support for gay marriage in most of the Southern states, whereas in the Northeast, you tend to see more support than opposition. And a lot of that reflects demographics, characteristics of the state and the politics of the states in general. Another big factor is the extent to which this issue mobilizes people and gets people enthusiastic, get engaged.

DIMOCK

10:27:12
And while we're seeing as much support as opposition in many of the polls now, really, those lines meeting for the first time, there's still evidence in the polls that this is more of a voting issue for people who are opposed to gay marriage than it is for people who support gay marriage.

DIMOCK

10:27:27
So when it comes to a referendum held in May, when many people aren't used to voting, you've got an opposition that's potentially more mobilized, more active on the issue often, since it's a very religious issue, coming out of churches where the mobilization base is a little stronger, and most of the support coming from younger people who are less politically active, less likely to be engaged in an off-cycle election and so forth.

REHM

10:27:55
Michael.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:27:56
Yeah, I think it's important to note the younger people who are supporting this measure, and that is one of the reasons why we're seeing a movement toward marriage equality overall.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:28:09
You know, part of the strategy from the proponents of these amendments have been to lock in these amendments into the Constitutions to short circuit the conversations that are happening, you know, around dinner tables and, you know, on radio programs and disallow it for the future because they know that the direction we're going is one in which gay and lesbian couple are going to be able to be married, and that's going to be the majority opinion. So it's really a strategy in order to stop those fruitful and productive conversations before they start so that they don't get to that policy.

REHM

10:28:46
Maggie.

GALLAGHER

10:28:47
Well, I'd like to dispute the interpretation that the movement has been only in one direction. North Carolina is a moderate Southern swing state that Obama carried the last time around. The vote was the -- overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriage. And a similar -- the last similar state was Virginia, another Southern moderate, swing state in 2006, voted on a similar amendment, and the margin was only 57-43. The Gallup poll between this year and last year has demonstrated a six-point swing in our favor.

GALLAGHER

10:29:20
So while I think it's true that younger people are, on average, more inclined to support gay marriage, I'm not going to give up on the next generation. And, you know, in the latest Pew youth poll, 38 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds, I thought that was a quite strikingly large number oppose same-sex marriage. We never hear from them. I think as the next generation begins to get more involved in this fight on our side, we can expect to see some movement in our direction.

REHM

10:29:44
What do you make of that, Michael?

DIMOCK

10:29:46
Well, Maggie's right. I mean, this is not a uniform issue within any group of Americans. I think the only groups where gay marriage is almost uncontroversial are among, say, white evangelical Protestants, where the opposition is almost thoroughly uniform, and among secular Americans, who don't express any religious beliefs, where support is almost uniform. But by age, the pattern is a fairly strong one.

DIMOCK

10:30:10
You have roughly 2-1 support among younger groups -- it can vary a little from poll to poll -- roughly 2-1 opposition from older groups. And we haven't seen a lot of movement within those generations as they've aged -- if anything, a little more support. For example, 10 years ago, baby boomers were more opposed to gay marriage than they are today. So there's been a little bit of a movement, but it's not an overwhelming one. There's still more opposition and support within that generation.

REHM

10:30:37
Michael Cole-Schwartz, on Sunday Vice President Biden said he is "absolutely comfortable" with gay marriage. How does that, do you believe, affect this discussion? And how does that mesh with the fact that President Obama has not arrived at a clear statement on this issue?

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:31:07
Yeah. We certainly welcome the vice president's support and the way he articulated it, talking about love, talking about knowing these families who want to get married. And I think, you know, the president has described his position as an evolution, and it's something that, I think, rings true for a lot of Americans who are struggling with this issue. You know, they want to be fair-minded. They want to do the right thing.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:31:32
They have a conception of what marriage is, and they're trying to reconcile those things. So, you know, the path that the president has said that he's on is the path that the country's on. It's one that will eventually get there, I think, and is becoming more and more comfortable with the idea that loving and committed couples who happen to be gay or lesbian, there's no reason to treat them any differently and no reason to exclude them from this institution that we all value so much.

REHM

10:31:58
So the fact that the president has not come out as the vice president has done in support of gay marriage, that does not trouble you now.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:32:12
I think I'd certainly love to hear the president come out in support of marriage equality, and we welcome that. But the point that I would just make is that it is not an unfamiliar position that he holds to the majority of Americans, I think. It feels genuine that one would have the evolution on this issue.

REHM

10:32:33
Michael Cole-Schwartz. He is with the Human Rights Campaign. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Maggie Gallagher, were you troubled by the vice president's remarks?

GALLAGHER

10:32:49
I was fascinated by it because I think it's causing a political problem for the president. At a press conference this week, he's now -- the mainstream media -- which, I think, Brian accurately describes that most of these journalists are pro-gay marriage and very interested in talking about it -- have suddenly begun hammering President Obama for his position. And The Washington Post is reporting that one in six of President Obama's top bundlers who raised $500,000 and more are openly gay.

GALLAGHER

10:33:17
And a number of them are beginning to pressure the president to come out. I think most people perceive that he's personally in favor of gay marriage, and we wonder why he's not willing to level with the American people about it. I would be eager for him to be honest. I think for him to continue to equivocate before the election and then come out afterwards is just a blatant Washington dishonesty. So let's -- I welcome the pressure on him.

GALLAGHER

10:33:42
I want to add, though, there's also an interesting dynamic on the other side, which is that while President Obama opposed the North Carolina marriage amendment and President Clinton cut robo-calls against it, there was not a single major Republican leader who was willing to weigh on this issue. Mitt Romney was conspicuously silent. Even Rick Santorum didn't say anything. I think Newt Gingrich came out while he was still a candidate.

GALLAGHER

10:34:06
And so you have the strange dynamic among Republican elites, among conservative elites. And I would add Fox News did not cover North Carolina at all last night. It's really striking to me that we have an issue that wins again and again and again, but it's an orphaned issue. The only people who really refuse to get on board with the gay marriage trade is the American people, and that's a kind of fascinating political situation on both parties.

REHM

10:34:31
Michael Cole-Schwartz.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:34:33
Well, you know, certainly the -- what we saw in North Carolina is quite a positive thing. We -- but we see that the White House...

REHM

10:34:45
A positive in what sense?

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:34:47
I'm sorry. Excuse me. I wanted to make a different point. My mind wandered a second. I think what we see is Republican leaders are reading the same polling that everyone else is. They know that this is not going to be a winning issue for them moving forward. So the reason why you don't have Mitt Romney out there talking about it so much -- even though he signed the pledge for Maggie's organization, pledging for a national marriage amendment -- he doesn't want to be talking about this and be seen out of touch of where the country is moving on this.

GALLAGHER

10:35:19
Right. But in a key swing state that Romney needs to win, marriage is outpolling him by 18 points. And the conventional wisdom is that it's a bad idea for him to speak about an issue, which is running ahead of him by 18 points in a key swing state. I agree that that is what the conventional wisdom is. It's just hard to square up with the reality of what happens on the ground.

REHM

10:35:41
Michael Dimock.

DIMOCK

10:35:42
Well, I think, on both sides, it reflects hesitancy by the candidates to do anything that would serve to mobilize the other side. And that was always a concern for Democrats earlier when the balance of opinion was more against gay marriage and there was clearly more passion against gay marriage than there was for it. Today, many of the polls are tightening up on that balance. And so you're seeing, I think, politicians on both sides hesitant to make really strong statements that might serve to mobilize the other side.

DIMOCK

10:36:13
And in some cases, that mobilization is about fundraising and is about the activism that you can get from the other side. Obama coming out in -- expressly for gay marriage could excite some people in his base, but it might excite more people in the other base, you know, to a greater extent. And that's, I think, what -- the calculation they're making. But I think the same is true on the right now, that Mitt Romney has to worry about saying things that could really inspire passions against him more than for him. And that's an interesting calculation.

REHM

10:36:45
And that's because both sides are courting the gay vote, Michael Cole-Schwartz.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:36:52
Yeah. I think certainly the gay and lesbian vote is something both sides would like to have a piece of. But, you know, I think that another reason why Mitt Romney doesn't really want to touch this issue is because it seems so out of touch with the priorities of the American public.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:37:08
If you're talking -- if you should be talking about jobs and the economy and strengthening families, why would you be talking about taking rights away from families, denying protections to people, which is what these amendments do? And that's the position he holds. So that -- his position on the marriage issue doesn't square with what the rest of the American people want to hear.

REHM

10:37:28
Michael Cole-Schwartz of the Human Rights Campaign. When we come back, we'll open the phones and encourage your thoughts, your ideas as we talk about gay rights and marriage. Stay with us.

REHM

10:40:04
And as we talk about the vote yesterday, defining same-sex marriage as -- or defining marriage as not being of persons of the same sex, let's go now to Morehead City, N.C. and to Alicia. Good morning. You're on the air.

ALICIA

10:40:30
Thank you so much for taking my call.

REHM

10:40:32
Sure.

ALICIA

10:40:32
I love your show, Diane.

REHM

10:40:33
Thank you, Alicia.

ALICIA

10:40:35
Well, I just wanted you all to maybe talk a little more in depth about the role of churches and religious institutions. I know -- one of the things I found interesting here in this vote is they left early voting open on Sunday. And many churches encouraged their congregation to go vote that afternoon.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:40:56
Two things I would say on the religious issue. Thank you for bringing that up. One is that when we're talking about marriage, it's important for everyone to realize that we're talking about the civil institution of marriage, going to city hall and getting a license. There's nothing in any of these debates that we're having that would say a religious institution has to perform or recognize a marriage between a same-sex couple.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

One thing, though, that struck me interesting about the North Carolina campaign is that our side, those who are against these amendments, we've done a good job, and we're doing an even better job, as we go along, of harnessing fair-minded people of faith. There is a great faith coalition who oppose this amendment down in North Carolina, and that was a big part of our organizing strategy.

REHM

10:41:42
Michael Dimock, have church members been polled?

DIMOCK

10:41:47
Oh, yes, in general. And what you find is that more religious Americans tend to have more concerns about gay marriage. There's no question about it. If you look at people who tell us they attend church every week or more, you tend to find a lot more opposition and support. But that is not to say that all people of faith are uniform on this issue.

DIMOCK

10:42:04
Just like any group, there is a diversity of opinion, and there's certainly a diversity of opinion across different denominations and groups. White evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Catholics all have different beliefs on this issue, and they -- and there's just a great deal of variety.

REHM

10:42:21
Maggie.

GALLAGHER

10:42:22
Well, on the narrow question that Alicia has, I would just say that the early voting results were 55-45 in favor of the amendment, and the actual total vote after the polling was six -- everyone voted was 61-39. So that doesn't suggest that Sunday morning early voting by the churches was somehow the key to this victory...

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:42:43
Or perhaps they were voting against it.

GALLAGHER

10:42:45
That's also possible as well. The -- not very likely, but possible. The overarching concern of a lot of religious Americans is what the underlying idea of gay marriage is going to mean for religious groups and charities and people because the heart of the gay marriage idea is that there's no difference between same-sex and opposite-sex couples, and if you see a difference, there's something wrong with you.

GALLAGHER

10:43:10
You're engaging in bigotry, you're engaging in discrimination, you're like people opposed to interracial marriage. That's an idea that if it's enshrined in our law and our society and culture is going to have a big impact, and it's already, in some states, having a big impact on religious people and our organizations, even if churches are not required to marry gay people.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:43:30
Well, certainly, religious institutions retain their First Amendment rights. Maggie is conflating two issues here. One is non-discrimination protections, which is what most of these sort of claims come up are about, not necessarily the idea that gay and lesbian couples could be married.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:43:46
But speaking of putting into law this idea, one, that is quite damaging is to put into law the idea that we have second-class citizens, that there is a certain group of people, gays and lesbians, who are carved out of protections, who are not entitled to the same rights and responsibilities and ability to protect themselves through marriage. That's a really damaging thing to put into law.

REHM

10:44:08
All right. To Denton, Texas. Good morning, Christopher.

CHRISTOPHER

10:44:14
Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

10:44:15
Sure.

CHRISTOPHER

10:44:16
My question for your guests is why is it so important to define gay -- or to define marriage between a man and a woman at the state level?

GALLAGHER

10:44:26
OK. I think that's for me. You know, I think that many of us believe that marriage is the union of a husband and wife for a reason. These are the unions we all depend on, whether we're married or not, to make new life and connect children and love to their mothers and fathers. And that is why, not only in Christian cultures but in most human societies across time and place and culture, people have recognized that the need to bring together male and female is a distinctive kind of union in which we all have a role.

GALLAGHER

10:44:58
And one of the disagreements we have -- I think there's a lot of fair-minded people who believe that gay marriage is just going to add a couple of people into this institution, give some people some benefits and not really have a transformative effect on the marriage culture as a whole.

GALLAGHER

10:45:13
But I have to say, from my own experience in participating in this debate, it has tended to confirm my sense that we're dealing with a foundational shift in a core social institution, that after gay marriage, people who believe that children need a mother and father and that these marriages' most important public role are going to be treated like people opposed to interracial marriage. And that's going to make it very hard to transmit a strength and marriage culture to the next generation.

REHM

10:45:39
Michael.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:45:40
Well, children need loving and committed families, and that's why the institution of marriage is so important to gay and lesbian people. You know, I think that marriage is important. Maggie and I agree on that fundamental fact, that marriage is something that strengthens families that we should aspire to be a part of.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:45:58
You know, as a person who's married myself, I recognize that value, and I think that we are stronger and families are more protected when we're able to all enter into that same institution and not carve us up into different groups and saying, you know, there's one group of people, gays and lesbians. Well, we want to give them some protection, so we're going to put them in a different category than everyone else.

REHM

10:46:18
And, of course, we did get beyond that as far as interracial marriage was concerned, Maggie.

GALLAGHER

10:46:26
Yeah, I think that's good. But I think it's apples and oranges. I mean, bans on interracial marriage were based on a racist effort to keep the races separate so that one race could oppress the other, and marriage is fundamentally based on integrating the two great halves of humanity so children have mothers and fathers. I mean, bans on interracial marriage were bad, but our marriage tradition, in my view, is good. That's the difference.

REHM

10:46:49
What about bringing children into the question, Michael?

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:46:54
Well, there are millions of children being raised by gay and lesbian people in this country, and they are part of why we need marriage. You know, we need to -- Maggie wants to talk about children having married parents. Well, in most places in this country, if you're a child being raised by gay and lesbian parents, your parents aren't able to be married. And those kids need the same protections as well as every other child. So we already have this institution, marriage, and we all say that it's great. So why not open it up to allow all families into it and take part and be strong?

REHM

10:47:27
Michael Dimock.

DIMOCK

10:47:28
Yeah. I think the issue of marriage really becomes a touch point for many Americans, and again, those folks who don't have a firm view on this debate, these things matter. We have a different question that we've tracked for over a decade. Overall, do you think homosexuality is something that should be accepted by this society or discouraged by society? And we find, by a pretty wide margin now, more saying that it should be accepted than discouraged.

DIMOCK

10:47:54
Yet when it comes to gay marriage, the public is more divided. And I think it reflects some of these contentious issues about the role of marriage. Whether it's a symbolic role, whether it's a religious role, whether it has to do with core traditions and beliefs about the family, that does strike people as a different way of thinking about the issue.

REHM

10:48:11
Here's -- pardon me -- an email from Bob, who says, "Brian Brown stated that private employers can still offer benefits to same-sex partners. How will North Carolina state employees' benefits be affected?" Maggie.

GALLAGHER

10:48:32
Well, I think that that's an open question. I'm pretty sure there'll be a way to provide these benefits, and that's what the Durham County legal opinion was, that even the county officials will be able to do so. It may involve some smudging around with the language or the way they've been doing it, but I would certainly hope that people who are getting health insurance are allowed to retain it.

REHM

10:48:54
Are you concerned about that, Michael?

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:48:56
Certainly. For something as important as people's health insurance, I would hope that we would do more than smudge around with the language, in Maggie's term. You know, I think that these are important issues and not something that should be cast aside. You know, if this amendment was so important, I don't understand why the language is so broad and vague that this is certainly going to be litigated and going to put a lot of families in turmoil.

REHM

10:49:22
Michael, gays and lesbians are running against a pattern here of states determining across the country that a marriage between two of the same sex is not legal. What's next for the gay and lesbian community to counter this movement?

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:49:48
Well, we have 30 states where, unfortunately, there are constitutional bans. But, you know, gay and lesbian couples can marry in six states in the District of Columbia. We hope that it will be eight by the end of the year when -- or nine when Washington and Maryland and Maine will see ballot questions regarding marriage. You know, we went from, in 2004, having zero states and then having Massachusetts be the first to now with six and possibly nine by the end of the year.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:50:17
We can't forget that marriage is, in fact, expanding. We saw it happened in New York where a Republican-led legislature passed marriage equality there. We saw in New Hampshire where folks where really trying to overturn it. Maggie's organization really put a lot of effort into the Republican legislature there. And they overwhelming decided, no, we have this marriage equality law on the books. We want to keep it. So I think that there are places where we're going to continue expanding marriage.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:50:46
We're going to be able to extend civil union protections in other places and that is all continuing this conversation. The thing that is most important is that people talk about the stories of their lives. Gay and lesbian couples, especially those who are raising children, share their stories with their family, their friends, their neighbors because we -- these conversations lead to more understanding. They lead to an acknowledgment that we all need those same protections under marriage.

REHM

10:51:13
Given that you got 30 states voting against and, now, as you said, perhaps seven, eight, nine voting with, that's going to restrict the movement of gays and lesbians for a period of time.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:51:31
We're going to ran out of states certainly. And that's why, you know, the legal course is also important, you know, that judges are going to, hopefully, fulfill their important role in our democracy in interpreting our constitution to say that we shouldn't have second-class citizens, that all couples should be treated equally and protected by the equal protection of the laws.

REHM

10:51:54
What do you think could happen if a gay or lesbian couple move from one state accepting to one state that did not accept?

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:52:04
Well, that is one of the kinds of challenges that could come to a state's marriage law. You know, we have the Perry case, I believe, Brian Brown mentioned earlier in the program, that is challenging Proposition 8 in California.

REHM

10:52:17
Which states?

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:52:18
I'm sorry.

REHM

10:52:19
Which states that...

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:52:21
That marriage -- that gays and lesbian couples are excluded from California so -- for marriage in California. So, hopefully, we'll see Prop 8 overturned that way. And the other issue is the defensive marriage actually that we haven't touched on is important for people to know even in states where gay and lesbian couples can marry. There's the federal law that says that marriage is not recognized, that the federal government will only recognize marriages between opposite sex couples.

COLE-SCHWARTZ

10:52:47
And that means there are over a thousand benefits and rights that are denied, and there are number of cases challenging that in court. And we're very optimistic that that could be struck down.

REHM

10:52:55
Michael Cole-Schwartz of Human Rights Campaign, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Maggie, you wanted to comment.

GALLAGHER

10:53:05
Well, yeah, I think it's interesting that the Human Rights Campaign emphasizes how important it is not to put an end to the conversation in North Carolina and let 61 percent of the people decide the issue. But, right now, the gay rights movement is in court asking a handful of judges to overturn the will of the people in 44 states or more who have decided marriage is the union of husband and wife. I think there's something a little strange about that disconnect, which is -- this is a movement that really, basically, believes they're right, and if you disagree, you're wrong.

GALLAGHER

10:53:33
And any strategy they have is acceptable, and any strategy you have to defend marriage is evidence of your bigotry and hatred. And I think that's unfortunate because I do think this is an issue about which good people disagree. And I do think there's far more to be said for why and how marriage arises as the union of a husband and wife than most Americans are getting. And I think that's one of the reasons why, every time we have a referendum, the polls are wrong because the mainstream media is not reporting on this.

GALLAGHER

10:53:59
Republican elites are not talking about this. The conservative alternate media is not opposing gay marriage in any significant way. But when we do have a public conversation in the course of a referendum, again and again, the people think about it and they say, hey, you know, I'd like to be respectful to my gay friends and neighbors, but marriage is the union of husband and wife, and I think it should stay that way.

REHM

10:54:18
In each state that has moved in this direction, has it been a majority of the state's voters who have voted for those amendments, Michael Dimock?

DIMOCK

10:54:33
No. In general, no. I mean, in most of the elections that you see, you're not getting anywhere near even majority turnout. As we've said here, the estimates are somewhere in the 30s, which is a deep -- very good turnout for this kind of off-cycle election but still not necessarily reflecting the entire public. That's not to say that had 100 percent of people voted, the balance would have inherently been different. But it gets back to this issue that there are lot of people who are not particularly engaged and fired up about this kind of issue and are not really eager to jump into the fray.

REHM

10:55:06
Maggie, do you anticipate this going to the Supreme Court?

GALLAGHER

10:55:12
Yeah. I think the Prop 8 case is headed to the Supreme Court.

REHM

10:55:14
But the Prop 8 case is a little wobbly. Isn't it because there was Prop 8 and then overturned?

GALLAGHER

10:55:22
Well, that's the argument that, in fact, gay -- the gay legal establishment is using to try to limit. In fact, they're trying hard to keep it out of the Supreme Court, I think, because they agree with me. They don't have five votes to dispute about that.

REHM

10:55:34
But what about North Carolina?

GALLAGHER

10:55:36
Well, you've got any number of states in which it could get to the Supreme Court, but the Prop 8 case is headed there. It's already waiting for, you know, we have a federal appellate court that ruled the people of California. We're not entitled to amend their own state constitution, and it's now before the full 9th Circuit. And I think it will go to the Supreme Court and be tested there.

GALLAGHER

10:55:56
There's another case languishing around in the 10th Circuit out of Oklahoma, very similar one, which -- in which the trial judge appears to be just sitting on the case. But, eventually, he's going to have to rule one way or another. And that's another case that could make it to the Supreme Court.

REHM

10:56:08
So this is going to continue this battle through the courts?

DIMOCK

10:56:13
I think so. And think -- to go back to a point Michael raised earlier, one of the questions is how eager the public is to really see this issue promote it to a top level political debate in tough economy. And it goes back to the question of whether politicians really want to have to stake strong positions on an issue like that and really engage in this conversation about gay marriage at a time when the most voters are telling us they want to hear about other issues predominantly economic.

REHM

10:56:42
So economic rights versus human rights. Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center, Maggie Gallagher, she's president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director for Human Rights Campaign. Clearly, the conversation will continue. Thanks for being here, and thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.

ANNOUNCER

10:57:16
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