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On the heels of the Supreme Court decision ruling federal benefits cannot be denied to same sex couples, the focus has turned to the states. Supporters of gay marriage are launching campaigns from Hawaii to New Jersey. Through a combination of litigation, lobbying in legislatures and ballot campaigns, gay rights groups believe momentum is on their side. But despite the recent success of the movement, public opinion on the issue is far from settled. Twenty-nine states still have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, and opponents of gay marriage are pushing for more. Guest host Susan Page and a panel of experts discuss same-sex marriage and the states.
- Juliet Eilperin White House correspondent for The Washington Post.
- Evan Wolfson founder and president of Freedom to Marry.
- Thomas Peters communications director for National Organization for Marriage.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. Following the recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, supporters and opponents have turned their focus to the states. Both sides are promising to pour resources into the effort. To discuss how the battle over same-sex marriage will be waged across the country, I'm joined in the studio by Thomas Peters of the National Organization for Marriage and Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MS. JULIET EILPERINThanks.
MR. THOMAS PETERSGood to be here.
PAGEAnd joining us from New York City, Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry. Welcome.
MR. EVAN WOLFSONGood to be with you.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email at email@example.com. Find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Juliet, we actually had some news in the Pennsylvania Daily News this morning on this issue. Tell us what they reported.
EILPERINWell, what they reported and what we've confirmed at The Post is that the attorney general in Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, will announce today around midday that she will not be defending the state's ban on same-sex marriage. She was named along with the governor, Tom Corbett, in a lawsuit filed on Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging the federal constitutionality of its ban on gay marriage. And so she is now saying that she will not defend the case.
PAGENow, this doesn't necessarily mean that the law won't be defended. Is that right?
EILPERINRight. Certainly, it looks like one would imagine that a third party would step in to defend the lawsuit, but obviously it's a significant blow when the A.G. decides not to participate.
PAGEWell, I wonder, Thomas Peters, do you agree with that? Is this a significant blow?
PETERSWell, I think it's one more example of politicians following a bad precedent allowed to them by the Supreme Court's decision and Proposition 8 that says that elected officials can pick and choose which laws they defend. I think it's especially concerning when they refuse to defend, as they did in California, laws passed by a huge majority of their citizens in that state.
PAGEEvan Wolfson, what do you think?
WOLFSONI think that the Constitution is very clear that this kind of exclusion from marriage is discriminatory and unconstitutional. The Supreme Court indicated that in its most recent ruling as had several courts around the country. And I think the attorney general is being faithful to the higher command of the Constitution itself.
PAGEBut what about the point Thomas Peters was making that you often have states taking action through their ballot process, through their legislatures, respecting their voters, and then you have courts taking a different course. Is it a fair point that that this ought to be done through voter initiatives and that sort of thing rather than through court action?
WOLFSONWell, no, the whole reason we have courts and the whole reason we have a Constitution in the United States is that certain things should not be put up to a vote. Your freedom of speech, Thomas' freedom of religion, my freedom to marry should not be put up to a vote. The United States is based on two fundamental principles. One is that, on most things, we don't have a king. We have a majority rule. But then on some things, we don't put things up to a vote. That's why they're not votes. That's why they're rights.
WOLFSONAnd the freedom to marry is a protected constitutional freedom. It matters deeply to people. There's no good reason for denying it. And the fact that some anti-gay measures were stampeded through before people have had a chance to think it through is, as the Supreme Court indicated, not a good reason for stripping away from one group of Americans an important constitutional freedom. And that's what the state attorney general, like so many others, had said.
PAGESo, Juliet, we had these important Supreme Court decisions last month on the issue of same-sex marriage. Now, a lot of states are getting engaged on this issue. Tell us what's happening in the states now.
EILPERINWell, so what we're seeing is really a battle on a number of fronts, the legislative front as well as the ballot initiative front. And so what you're seeing is particularly a number of the groups including Freedom to Marry and others who have had recent successes are now engaging more fiercely in this state level battle. So what you have is, for example, in New Jersey where the legislature already passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage which was vetoed by the governor, Christ Christie, a Republican.
EILPERINThey're looking at whether they could override that veto by the deadline of January next year. In Illinois, the legislature is considering right now whether it can pass in both chambers since it's passed in one a bill legalizing same-sex marriage that the governor has pledged to sign there. He's a Democrat. And then we will see ballot initiatives going forward in 2014.
PAGESo, Thomas, what's the effect on the state battles from the Supreme Court decisions?
PETERSI think one of the most amazing things that happened is that a lot of our supporters frankly expected to lose everything at the Supreme Court. We - a movement of social conservatives who care about marriage life and family and religious freedom as well. And a lot of our people have a very distinct memory of what happened with the court Roe v Wade.
PETERSAnd so a lot of our supporters were surprised that the Supreme Court did not do what gay marriage advocates promised they would do, which is to strike down laws protecting marriage across the board. And so we actually have a lot of people coming off the sidelines rejoining these fights because they find these state efforts fruitful now in a way that they were up for grabs as long as the Supreme Court had decided to take these cases into consideration.
PAGEAnd, Evan, what's been the effect on your side from the Supreme Court decision when it comes to these continuing battles in individual states?
WOLFSONYou know, there's been tremendous momentum over the last several years as Americans have had a chance to talk about who gay people are and why marriage matters and reflect on their own values of fairness and treating others as you'd want to be treated. And that's why we've seen public support more than double in this country from 27 percent in 1996 to now over 55 percent. And it's pretty much across the spectrum. I mean the opposition that Mr. Peters' group represents is isolated and dwindling and a real minority and far from people coming off the sidelines to attack gay people.
WOLFSONMore and more Americans are now joining with where the legislatures and the courts and the president and governors and attorney generals have all been moving which is to end this discrimination. And that's why we're seeing this tremendous momentum. We won, I think, something like eight or nine states in the last year that had come on in support of the freedom to marry, four at the ballot box last year, three more in the legislatures already this year.
WOLFSONAnd then, of course, we had the Supreme Court hand down not one but two important rulings that added, again, further momentum to ending this discrimination. So we have a lot of work left to do because unfortunately the patchwork of discrimination that anti-gay groups, like Mr. Peters', mounted in the years before people had a chance to talk it through has left this patchwork of constitutional discrimination at the state level that we have to dismantle in order that couples be able to be fully protected.
WOLFSONBut that is definitely where the momentum is. And we've laid out a plan for how we're going to do the work and make the case to lawmakers, to courts, to the American people, to the people in the various states and ultimately again to the Supreme Court.
PETERSWell, you know, I think Evan Wolfson doesn't believe some of his own propaganda. You know, you cite polls saying that a majority of Americans support redefining marriage, and yet, we've seen in the wake of the Supreme Court not a rush to the people as my organization, the National Organization for Marriage, has always but to the courts. You had people outside the Supreme Court, including Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, promising America that gay marriage would come to all 50 states in five years.
PETERSNow, using the same polls you cite, there's no way that Tennessee, Texas, Utah, states that have passed marriage amendments recently or North Carolina only last year by 61 percent are going to reverse themselves, except if you use traditional activism and this poisonous notion that people who believe in defending traditional marriage are motivated purely by hatred. That's one way to divide America, and you're not going to win on that one.
PAGEYou know, it's true that even though a majority of Americans in most of the respected national polls show that a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage. There's still about 45 percent of Americans who oppose it. That's not an insignificant group.
PAGEBut I wonder, Thomas, if you think that you may be fighting a losing tide in that when we look at it by age group, we see that among voters among Americans under 30 very widespread support for same-sex marriage. The strongest opposition is with people over 65. So I wonder if there's not a changing attitude in America that's going to play out in a way against your position.
PETERSThat's my favorite question to respond to. I'm 28 years old. And so I take this very personal when people talk about millennials. When I speak to high school and college students, the vast majority of them have never ever heard a particular case for why marriage between a man and a woman is unique and special.
PETERSAnd so when people like Evan say, oh, the youth are behind us, first of all, we don't create social policy based on what 18-year-olds think about sex and marriage, thank God. As being a young person, I agree with that. And so, you know, we have this huge swath of young people who have never heard of constructive integrative pro-marriage message. And these are the teachers that are inviting someone like me to speak to their students.
PETERSSecond of all, if you ask a group of 18-year-olds what they think sex, marriage and babies are all about, and then ask that same group of people in their mid-30s, I think that some life experiences might have changed their views. That's why I think these polls show to older people having more mature views on marriage, absolutely, because they have more life experience.
PAGEWhat do you think about that?
WOLFSONWell, I think that's a nice try at spin, but actually, that's not what's happening. Americans of every age group have moved in support of the freedom to marry with young people at something like 80 to 81 percent. And we're not just talking about 18-year-olds who also can think for themselves, but we're talking about voters under 50 who by a substantial majority now support the freedom to marry.
WOLFSONBut for that matter, the Supreme Court is composed of people who are not 18 and who are not under 50, and the Supreme Court also just ruled in the direction of the freedom to marry, striking down federal discrimination. And the reason they did that is because contrary to what Mr. Peters said, there is no coherent case for denying the freedom to marry to loving and committed couples. And opponents of marriage had several days of arguments in the Supreme Court as well within the lower courts to try to put forward evidence and a justification and prove completely unable to do so...
PAGEJuliet, let's talk about...
WOLFSON...because there isn't a good reason.
PETERSI can do it in 15 seconds.
PETERSThe public purpose of marriage, why government is in the marriage business is to ensure that husbands and wives come together to raise the next generation because children do best with a mother and a father. That's supported by the social science evidence. That's why every civilization and their culture up into this modern time has all come to the same conclusion about what's the best for the next generation. I'm a child advocate. I believe in...
WOLFSONWait, wait. That was supposed to be the 15-second explanation. And every single element was incorrect. There's -- it is not true...
PETERSBut, Evan, we're having an argument -- we're having a debate now...
PETERS...and that's what you say is impossible. So I've just proven it is possible.
PAGEEvan, let me give me you 15 seconds to respond, and we're just about to take a break.
WOLFSONThank you. Right. There are many reasons why people marry. For some, it's to have children. For many, it isn't. There is no procreation requirement. And gay people are raising children. And every social science group in the country that weighed in with the Supreme Court had said that denying the freedom to marry harms kids. It doesn't help them.
PAGEWhen we come back after a short break, we're going to talk about a fight over gay adoption of kids. Juliet has written about that just in the past day for The Washington Post. And we'll continue this very lively discussion about the battle in the states over gay marriage. Juliet Eilperin is with me in the studio.
PAGEShe's a White House correspondent for The Washington Post. We're also joined by Thomas Peters, communications director for the National Organization for Marriage, and joining us by phone from New York City is Evan Wolfson. He's founder and president of Freedom to Marry. We'll take your calls shortly. Stay with us.
PAGEWe've been talking about battles in states over same-sex marriage. Juliet, you've written just this morning about a second front in the battle over gay rights in North Carolina. What's happening there?
EILPERINSo there, what you have is the ACLU is trying to overturn a ban on what's called second-parent adoption by gay couples. So in other words, whether -- there are a number of states that have different laws on this, and it's the question of whether can you adopt your partner's adopted or biological child.
EILPERINAnd so what you have is that seven states that don't allow you to do it, nine that allow you to do it if you're in some sort of -- if you're married in a civil union or domestic partnership, or 12 that allow you to do it, even if you're unmarried. And so this has become, again, a debate like Thomas was just having with Evan of what it best for the children, is it OK to do something like this.
PAGEThomas, tell me what you think the two or three states we should be watching most closely over the next year or so when it comes to the debate over gay marriage. Where would you focus our attention?
PETERSWell, I'm -- we're very excited to see that Gov. Pence in Indiana is calling for the legislature to vote to allow the people of that state to vote to protect marriage and our Constitution. In Illinois, a deep-blue state which just found it impossible to marshal the votes to pass gay marriage largely because of African-Americans being against redefining marriage, that's a fascinating stage to continue to watch.
PETERSAlso, I think it's going to be interesting to see what happens in Ohio where the local gay groups has been trying to get a measure on the ballot to a lot of the people of Ohio to vote on gay marriage, whereas the national groups for a long time have been opposing it because even in a Midwestern state where the local groups thinks they've got a shot, apparently, the national groups think another bill really needs more time to cook.
PAGEEvan Wolfson, where -- would you wait watching those states, or would you have your eye on other states over the next year or two?
WOLFSONYeah. Actually, those were several little states where we're working to lay the groundwork and make the case for the Freedom to Marry. In some states, we're going to work through the legislatures. In some states, we're going to work through the courts. In some states, unfortunately, we're going to have to go to the ballot because of the anti-gay discrimination that's been cemented into some state constitutions that needs to be removed. I mean, these are all parts of the American political system, and they're all ways in which we're going to move forward.
WOLFSONUltimately, however, what's going to happen is the same thing that happened when we ended race discrimination in marriage in this country, and that is that the Supreme Court, seeing the momentum in the states and the momentum in public support, will strike down these discriminatory barriers in all 50 states because, after all, we are one country, and all Americans are entitled to basic protections no matter where we live in the United States.
PAGEAlthough, of course, the court declined to do that in cases last month to actually declare a constitutional right to marry. And I wonder, Juliet...
WOLFSONWell, actually, can I just...
PAGESure. Of course.
WOLFSONWell, let me say, that's close, but not exactly right. There is a constitutional right to marry. There's no doubt about that. The Supreme Court has affirmed it at least 14 times, including in the best-named case, Loving v. Virginia, which struck down race discrimination in marriage as you know. But the Supreme Court got race discrimination in marriage wrong before they got it right.
WOLFSONThey punted on it first and then ultimately in 1967 did the right thing. And that's exactly where we are now. We're building support in states. States are ending this discrimination. Public support is growing. People are making the case. And America is going to get there.
PAGESo they punted on the issue, you'd say, as opposed to not...
WOLFSONIn interracial marriage...
PAGEOn the questions of same-sex marriage in the decisions at the end of last month, they didn't recognize the constitutional right for gay couples to marry. Is that correct? Or would you argue with that?
WOLFSONWell, I would say it differently because actually what happened was in the Proposition 8 case, as you know, there was a serious question of standing that complicated the Supreme Court's ability to hear the case and they ultimately decided they didn't have the case properly in front of them. Some people would look at that and say, we'll, they managed to avoid, you know, deciding. And, you know, fair enough.
WOLFSONAnd that's why the next cases that make their way up there, we want to make sure when they get there, there is the strongest possible growth in state support and in public support so that the justices to the right thing. But I think they indicated the direction this is going in the other big ruling that they, of course, did hand down, the DOMA ruling, in which the Supreme Court made very, very clear there is no good reason for discriminating against lawful, committed couples.
PAGESo, Juliet -- yeah.
WOLFSONLoving and committed couples who are married.
PAGESo, Juliet, here's my question. The action that we're going to see in states for and against same sex marriage, we know this issue is going to come up before the court again, and the court will be asked to directly address it. Will the action in states, do you think, affect what the Supreme Court does? Does it have an impact?
EILPERINI think it conceivably does. I mean, there are two things -- when you look at -- again, Evan's group has been very explicit that their goal is in the next few years to get half of all -- something like half of all Americans in states where it's legal to marry someone of the same sex and then 60 percent support in the polls.
EILPERINAnd clearly, that is a strategic approach that they and some other gay rights groups are taking their ideas, if they can get over the tipping point of the majority, which is not where we are right now, that that will put added pressure on the court. And obviously, we'll see what kind of court we have a few years from now.
PETERSWell, to get away from Evan's narrative, I want to talk about what's, I think, particularly disturbing about what the Supreme Court did. The Supreme Court gave two tools to gay marriage activists, which we'll see used time and time again and not just on marriage. And this is a kind of a wake-up call that I used the day of the ruling in the National Review.
PETERSFirst of all, it laid down the precedent of Proposition 8, that proponents of an initiative do not have the right to stand up and protect that law when the politicians refuse to defend it. Now, the citizen's initiative process, which is in the majority of states, is meant to be a check on elected officials' unbridled power and ignoring the will of the people. Now, it's the opposite. It's a pocket veto of politicians to pick and choose whether they do their job or not.
PETERSAnd second of all -- and this is something which I think really kind of takes the mask of what a lot of the gay marriage movement is actually about -- is the winter decision where Justice Kennedy says a majority opinion that laws protecting marriage that the majority of Congress and bill Clinton in 1996 had nothing but animus in their hearts towards their fellow man when they passed the Defense of Marriage Act sets a hugely bad precedent for a democracy.
PETERSI'm not used to being on the side of the Supreme Court that says I'm full of animus towards like -- since when did the Supreme Court look into the hearts of people? Now, this is precisely the argument that the ACLU is using in these state-by-state cases. It's not conversations if you begin your debate by saying my opponent has no argument and he's full of hate.
EILPERINOne of the other things I just think everyone should be looking to in the next couple of years is where does the Republican Party stand on this issue because I think, you know, Thomas makes a good point that this is still a very divisive issue, and clearly, we have only a handful of Republicans on the national level who have endorsed the idea of same-sex marriage. I think -- again, it's not that that directly bears on the constitutionality of this issue.
EILPERINBut I think in terms of popular opinion, it's fascinating that, for example, when he mentions Ohio, Rob Portman, a senator from Ohio who's a Republican, has endorsed the idea of same-sex marriage, did so after he publicly acknowledged his son -- one of his sons being gay, but he is not weighing in on this ballot initiative. And so in other words, it's very well that you might have to have more Republicans come along to this idea for the kind of breakthrough that some people are talking about.
PAGEAnd you also see this huge regional divide now on this issue. So every state in New England now allows same-sex marriage. No state in the South allows same-sex marriage. What do you make of that, Evan? Is that just inevitable? Is that -- what do you think about the fact that we're seeing, you know, kind of two Americas on this issue?
WOLFSONYeah. Well, first of all, I think everyone should understand how wrong it is to have two Americas. That means that some couples raising kids, paying their taxes, doing the work of life and in love and committed to one another are discriminated against and burdened and excluded from marriage simply because they live on the wrong side of a border. That's not the way our country should operate, and that's what we're working to fix.
WOLFSONThe second point is, of course, historically, the way in which America makes civil rights advance has always been through a patchwork of struggle in which some states move faster and others resist or even regress, and ultimately, the Supreme Court brings a bunch of states along to join the rest of the country. And that's really just been the classic pattern of every civil rights and social human rights advance in the United States. It's the way our country does its struggle and its work to fulfill its constitutional vision of we the people.
WOLFSONBut the other point I just want to make is that even in the narrative you just said, even in the description you just said, support for the Freedom to Marry on the South is now in the 40s, and opposition to the Freedom to Marry dipped below 50 percent in the South for the first time according to a poll last week.
WOLFSONSo even in the South and parts of the country where we have the most work to do and have to tell our stories and really make the case and where the political structure is most stacked against gay couples and their families, we are making progress. And that's what we're going to do. We're going to keep making this case in every corner of the country. But we're not going to have to win in all of the 50 states in order to get the country where it needs to be.
PETERSWell, I mean, I think, first of all, we have to disagree with the narrative just, again, based on the facts. Evan Wolfson is talking about the South. In the four deep-blue states that have voted for gay marriage, our opponents outspent us 3-to-1. The Republicans had no campaign there. And liberals and Democrats (unintelligible) for Barack Obama. In those states, in Washington State, in Maine they got to 52 percent. This 55, 60 percent stuff materializes I don't know where from, certainly not from the votes of the people.
PETERSAnd again, Evan Wolfson opposes allowing the people of every state that has gay marriage to vote the other way. In Minnesota, I was on a debate with Evan in Minnesota Public Radio, and a woman called in and she said, you know, I was told by the Freedom to Marry Minnesota campaign -- that wasn't their name -- Minnesota United that there was no threat to redefining marriage and so there was no need to vote in this constitutional amendment protecting it.
PETERSAnd the very next session without even having the patience to like wait a year to fulfill the promise, they went back and they redefined marriage. She said she was lied to. And so I think these conversations -- you can see the kind of conversation that Evan Wolfson has with me. It's not a conversation on the merits. It's a conversation about what's in my heart. I don't think that's a conversation that Americans will be patient with much longer if it's only as one-sided as Evan wants it to be.
PAGEBut to go back to the issue of the patchwork in the states, even in Virginia, a Southern state, there's a poll out this morning that's by -- it's from an advocacy group, the human rights campaign, but it's done by two pollsters -- one a Republican, one a Democrat -- that says a majority of people in Virginia now support same-sex marriage. And it's one of three polls in the past three few months that have shown definite movement in Virginia on this issue. Although the other two do not show majority support, it does show things moving in that direction.
PETERSI mean, I think I'd make a bargain with Evan. If Freedom to Marry wants to get a vote in any state that has marriage protections, allow us to vote in any state that has voted to redefine marriage. Connecticut, I think, in the polling I saw last is only 51 percent supposedly in favor of marriage. We know historically that marriage under-polls by about seven points. Why?
PETERSBecause people don't want to come across as being the kind of person that even Wolfson wants to describe them as, as being hateful when they know they're not. And so they won't tell a pollster what their views on marriage are. But in the privacy of the voting booth, and thank God we have privacy in the voting booth, they will vote for their deeply held convictions about what life, family and marriage means.
PAGELet's get -- let our...
WOLFSONYeah, I think...
PAGEYes. Go ahead, Evan.
WOLFSONYeah. I just think it's a little telling that the only person who has used the word hate in this interview so far has been Mr. Peters. I mean, you know, people should look into their own hearts. What I'm looking at is the way in which the law treats all of us. And, you know, Mr. Peters keeps talking about vote, vote, vote, vote.
WOLFSONBut in America, I just have to underscore again, we don't believe everything should be put up to a vote. Your freedom of religion, your beliefs within your heart, how you live your life, the person you build a life with, these are things you're entitled to, as you keep saying. Why are you trying to deny that to us?
PETERSSo, Evan, why did you give $23,000 to a lot of people of Oregon to vote?
WOLFSONThe political system is such that because of the anti-gay amendments your group and others shoved into Constitution, the only way to remove them is either through a vote or through the Supreme Court striking them down. And we are certainly working on both, but that doesn't mean it's right to put people's rights up to a vote.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to go to the phones and take your calls. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Not surprisingly, we have quite a few people who have called us and are waiting to speak. Let's go first to Louisville, Ky., and talk to Stein. Hi. You're on the air.
STEINGood morning. Thank you for having me. I just wanted to comment really quickly to the gentleman that was speaking earlier, referring to the idea that the younger people that support gay marriage are making less mature decisions about marriage and that the older people make more mature decisions. I would vehemently disagree with that. I feel that the older people that are disagreeing with that, they don't necessarily have more mature opinions on the matter.
STEINThey just grew up in a more bigoted environment. These right -- far right groups that are against gay marriage just all goes back, in the end, to their Christianity and their Christian beliefs, which I support. I'm a male. I'm married to a female. But they have to understand, as much as they preach and holler for leave us alone, leave us alone, as with have our liberties, I would kindly ask him, let people live their lives, and mind your business.
PAGENow, Stein, let me ask you, since you raised the issue of young people versus old people. Do you mind me asking how old you are?
PAGEThirty-seven. Thank you so much for your call. Thomas.
PETERSWell, first of all, it's not a religious theocracy to acknowledge the fact that children are born to mothers and fathers, that they do best with mothers and fathers and that they grow up with a desire, wherever possible, to know their origins. There was a gay man in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago who wrote that the daughter he and his partner are raising, when she's drifting off to bed, sometimes calls him mommy.
PETERSAnd he said that what you have to acknowledge as a gay parent that your child will experience parent loss. Now, I go farther than that. I say that our marriage laws are designed to protect against that. Our marriage laws are designed to ensure, wherever possible, that particularly men, but both men and women, raise the children they make with their bodies.
PETERSNow, that's not a religious argument. That's an argument from human experience, from compassion. I think it's a beautiful, beautiful vision. So, again, I think it takes a dark view of humanity to see what I just said as somehow bigoted or anything else.
WOLFSONWell, actually, what's not beautiful about it is it leaves out the fact that many, many children are being raised by gay parents. All the social science data, contrary to what you just said, show that those parents are fit and loving and doing a good job, and their kids are growing up healthy and well adjusted. But what you're doing, by pushing an anti-gay exclusion for marriage, is depriving those children and their families of the safety net and support and affirmation that marriage can bring.
WOLFSONAnd there's no good reason because we don't have a limited supply of marriage. When those kids and their parents are able to share in marriage, they're not going to use up the marriage licenses. There's enough of all of it to go around.
PETERSNo, but what's going to happen is we're going to destabilize the institution for all society. Look, four years ago, we had a conversation about no-fault divorce. It's not ridiculous. It's the facts. And it's history. First of all, the advocates of redefining divorce to make it no fault said this will only affect a very, very minor number of couples. What we know from experience and from the children that I grew up with was that no-fault divorce destabilized the permanence of marriage. Now, what does gay marriage do? It destabilizes...
WOLFSONAnd that's why your organization is not doing a thing about divorce.
PETERSEvan, what do you...
WOLFSONIt's not doing a thing about divorce. All you are doing is campaigning around the country…
PETERSThat's right, Evan. That's right. Because if we can't agree about what marriage is, how are we supposed to fight to make it stronger? And I think the constitutive aspect of marriage is that it brings men and women together. Now, this is not a sexual orientation thing. If men and women were not male and female, if they were red and blue, marriage would be a red-blue phenomenon.
PETERSAnd so I think that there's a very false choice that the gay marriage advocates made a long time ago to get their path to equality by means of destabilizing marriage. That was the wrong way to go, and that's why I fight against it.
PAGEJuliet, I would like to ask you about Ohio because it's such a central state in our nation, politically, and it's also a state where this issue has been pretty hotly debated. What do you think is happening? There's been this ballot initiative effort, but it's -- you have to get 386,000 signatures to get on the ballot. I think there's some debate about how that's going to go forward. Talk about Ohio.
EILPERINRight. I mean, I think the issue there is, again -- and you can have, you know, the advocates weigh in on this, but the sense I get is that, right now, that's not a state that's about to legalize same-sex marriage in terms of when you look at public opinion. And so one of the interesting things is that's one of those slightly longer term states which could be really decisive in 2016, but not in 2014.
EILPERINAnd that's obviously why you see the national groups not pushing for that immediate ballot initiative, whereas you have the conservative groups saying that they want it because they're looking to basically have legislative victories, given the fact that recently they've been losing on the ballot.
PAGEAnd how about in Illinois? That's also a state where this issue has been engaged for some time.
EILPERINYeah, that is really interesting, and I think that's fascinating. I mean, President Obama, who obviously served in office there, he urged them to pass it, you know, to pass legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. And as Thomas, you know, alluded to, what is very interesting there is that, first of all, there's an elaborate pastor network, which is very mobilized there, trying to fight against legalization of same-sex marriage.
EILPERINThere's no question that in terms of money right now, you see gay activists having the advantage, having more enthusiasm. And so I think that that's a really critical battle in the months ahead, and it is a little surprising, given the liberal bent, that they haven't made more progress.
PAGEWhen we come back after a short break, we'll go back to the phones and take some of your calls and questions, and we'll read your emails. You can send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio: Juliet Eilperin, she's the White House correspondent for The Washington Post, Thomas Peters, communications director for the National Organization for Marriage. And from New York: Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. Well, let's go to the phones and give some of our listeners a chance to weigh in. We'll go first to Peggy. She's calling us from Petersburg, Ohio. Hi, Peggy.
PEGGYHi. Thank you for taking my call. I just have a quick -- three quick things. One, the Supreme Court, we feel anymore, I think, is very political. There is no -- as they say, they aren't basing anything on law anymore. The other thing is -- and they're not always right. In Roe v. Wade, they took what was once a human child and turned it into a fetus.
PAGEUh-huh. And your other points, Peggy?
PEGGYMy other point is I want to know -- most of us have no problem with civil union. Where does the freedom of religion and the freedom of marriage -- they're going to combine? And I just want his response on that because in our area, there are a lot of Catholic hospitals, a lot of schools. And if -- are they to acknowledge it or give up their freedom of belief? That's what my question is.
PAGEAll right, Peggy. Thanks so much for your call. Let me direct your question to Evan Wolfson.
WOLFSONYeah. Well, that's a great question. Nobody is saying we should tell churches who they must marry. That's up to churches. But churches shouldn't be telling the government who can get a civil marriage license. And that's what we're talking about. We're talking about who can get legally married. We allow Jewish couples to marry. We allow Hindu couples to marry. We allow Muslim couples to marry. We allow divorced Catholics to marry, even though different churches have different views.
WOLFSONThat's the way it should be in our country. This is not about telling anyone who they must celebrate. This is not about telling you who you have to send a wedding gift to. It's about saying who should be able to enter into the legal structure of marriage with all its important protections and responsibilities and with all its rich meaning. And, of course, there are many states that do want to celebrate religious marriages for gay couples just as for non-gay couples. And they ought to be treated with that too under the law.
WOLFSONThis is not about telling people what they have to do. It's about saying that the law works for all of us. And the other question that was embedded there was this notion of civil union. I mean, let's be very clear. Under the law, marriage is a civil union. It is a legal union that brings along legal responsibilities and protections that begins with a legal marriage license.
WOLFSONBut civil union as a separate status that is offered to gay people in order to withhold marriage is something lesser and other that doesn't bring the same legal and economic protections and certainly doesn't have the rich, important meaning that couples cherish. And that's why we've seen most of the states that have enacted civil union as an interim step, now push past civil union to end the exclusion from marriage itself.
EILPERINWell, one thing I want to say is that, now you do see that the states that have recognized civil unions but have not legalized marriage, they're in the hot seat. They are the states that are the most affected by the Supreme Court ruling because that's where these groups are going back to and challenging and saying, look, particularly now, you thought that you were giving, you know, you might have argued that you're giving equal rights to these couples.
EILPERINThey're now going to be denied the federal benefits that legally married same-sex couples will now get in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. And so they're the ones who are going to feel the pressure first.
PETERSWell, I think, first of all, it's unfortunate that the middle ground has been completely removed from this debate. I think there's a lot of other arrangements that I and others would joyfully support. And whenever you look at polling that says, you know, gay marriage has majority support, they always remove the third option of civil unions. If you include civil unions, support for gay marriage dramatically decreases.
PETERSSecond of all, I think it's really ironic that the Supreme Court's decision says that states that had done more to legally protect gay couples are now the ones who have less rights to protect their marriage laws. And third point, and finally I think that the question the caller is actually going for was that she wants to have the freedom to express her views about marriage not just at church on Sundays but in her entire life.
PETERSI thought it was incredible with the attorney general of California Kamala Harris said about the Prop 8 decision. She said that in her view, the Supreme Court had decided that pro-marriage people -- and I quote -- "are bystanders in the public square," and -- I quote again -- "should sit on the sidelines" as we grant everything that Evan Wolfson talks about. Again, gay marriage changes the laws for everyone. And we're fools to think it won't actually affect far more than just what Evan talks about.
PAGEI'd like to talk about some more particular states and what's happening in those, including New Jersey because that's a state and a region that has been moving -- all states around it have been moving in the direction of legalizing same-sex marriage. Evan, what's happening in New Jersey?
WOLFSONYeah. Well, I think, Juliet made a really good point, and that is that, you know, first of all, about a year and a half ago, the legislature voted in favor of the freedom to marry past the marriage bill, and Gov. Christie vetoed it down. And the question now is, will the legislator either override that veto? Will Gov. Christie allow a conscience vote on the part of the legislators? Or will he really try to bully and squeeze and twist arms and prevent the legislature from voting?
WOLFSONOr for that matter, the legislator might also send him another bill. And they may make the point very clearly that Juliet made which is that, now that the federal -- now that the Supreme Court has ruled that couples who are legally married cannot be denied important federal protections and responsibilities, does Gov. Christie want to be singlehandedly blocking New Jersey families from having the federal protections and responsibilities that they have paid for with their taxes?
WOLFSONAnd whether he personally supports it or not, that's up to him. That's his heart. He can do whatever he wants. But does he really want to be bullying and blocking to keep New Jersey couples from having the protections that their neighbors, the New York have?
PAGEWell, he did veto it last time around, and I wonder, do you see any signs that he's changed -- had a change of view and wouldn't do this so again?
WOLFSONWell, he came out right after the argument -- I'm sorry, after the ruling -- the Supreme Court ruling with some pretty and temperate statements that I think a lot of people viewed as sort of pandering to a national republican primary audience. And hopefully, that won't be his final word on the subject. Hopefully, he will really listen to these New Jersey families and decide that even if he personally wouldn't have voted for this, he's going to let others vote their conscience and not be in the path of New Jersey couples.
PAGEJuliet, I want to ask you a question about the 2016 president race.
PAGEChris Christie is obviously someone who's considered a possible Republican candidate. Do you think it's possible that the Democrats would not nominate for someone for president who does not support same-sex marriage? And is it possible that the Republicans would nominate someone for president who does support same-sex marriage?
EILPERINAn excellent question. I would say it's almost impossible that the Democrats would nominate someone who opposes same-sex marriage. And I think we've seen a rush to the door in terms of every possible Democratic contender and, particularly, you know, with Hillary Clinton was actually quite late to the game. But when you see Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, or Gov. O'Malley here in Maryland, these were the most -- some of the most vocal proponents of legalizing same-sex marriage and got it through their states so that's -- it's very clear. That's what the lineup is.
EILPERINAnd conversely, it's extremely hard to see, given where the base of the Republican Party is, as actually Thomas was observing during the break. I think he would argue that, right now, certainly, Republicans are more unified on this issue. They are certainly overwhelmingly, you know, against it. You very well might see shifts on this. But right now, particularly on the elected level, you just don't see, you know, a huge appetite for the presidential contenders to embrace this issue.
PAGELet's go to Charlotte, N.C., and talk to Monique. North Carolina, of course, being one of the states we talked about earlier in this hour. Hi, Monique.
MONIQUEHey. How are you?
MONIQUEI just had a comment for Mr. Peters, and I'll take my answer off the air. I'm from Charlotte, N.C. I've been here almost 35 years. In that election that we actually held for Amendment 1 that was passed, that 61 percent to 39 percent voted against gay marriage, I just wanted to bring it to everybody's attention -- because it made North Carolina look like a really backward state. We're not. In the environment I work in, my co-workers know that I'm gay. I'm in a relationship I've been in for 10 years. We are married, but it's not legal in North Carolina.
MONIQUEBut that election was held during a Republican primary last May. It wasn't held during a national election. Otherwise, they would have had Democratic and Republican voters from both sides equally voting in November. It was actually held in May during the Republican primary. So unless you showed up exclusively to vote for or against that amendment, you aren't going to show up if -- unless you're voting for a Republican. I mean, it makes us look really bad as a state. But that's not how the state actually feels. I live here. I've lived here for years.
PAGEAll right. Monique, thanks so much for giving us a call offering your perspective. Thomas.
PETERSWell, Monique, I'm sorry that's the way you feel about your state. But obviously, 61 percent of people disagree with you and believe that protecting marriage is a good thing. North Carolina's economy is doing great. I don't think there's been any huge backlash of any sort of animus towards gay people in that state. Being for marriage and defining it as unique and special is not anti-gay in any way, whatsoever.
PETERSFurthermore, on the primary, I think it was the primary for both parties. And, you know, at certain point, politicians have to be held accountable for their choices. I think politicians should be held accountable for not respecting the rights of pro-marriage people in other states. So we can agree about more than we disagree on that one.
WOLFSONWell, actually, I just want to call Thomas Peters, again, on something he does constantly, which is talk about the definition and redefining marriage and so on. Gay people are not redefining marriage. When gay people are allowed to share in marriage, it doesn't change anybody else's marriage. It doesn't ruin marriage. It doesn't take marriage away. It doesn't end marriage.
WOLFSONAll it means is that couples, like the caller who'd been together with her wife for 10 years, are able to share in the commitment of marriage. Marriage is not defined by who denied it. And this is an invidious kind of language that it -- this notion of protecting marriage, defending marriages as if marriage needs to be protected from loving and committed couples who seek to share it.
EILPERINOne thing I just think is interesting about this is that, you know, gay marriage has become kind of the central issue that we're talking about in terms of gay rights. But this was not preordained. This is an extremely conventional issue which has really been embraced by people. But for example, over a decade ago, the far greater discussion was over this question of non-discrimination in the workforce.
EILPERINAnd, in fact, we just saw legislative action on that yesterday here in Washington. But -- so one thing I do think is really interesting is certainly this issue has been really embraced, but it's not like it was inevitable that same-sex marriage would become the central question concerning gay Americans.
PAGEWell, Juliet, talk about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which passed out of Senate Committee yesterday with bipartisan support. How significant do you think that is?
EILPERINWell, I think that does show that, again, there have been cracks within the Republican Party. There were three Republicans who endorsed it. Two of which are in favor of same-sex marriage, Mark Kirk from Illinois and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska, but also Warren Hatch from Utah who has not endorse the idea of same-sex marriage. And, well, I don't -- I have something running later today.
EILPERINI don't anticipate that this is a bill that's going to make it through Congress this year and be signed by the president. I think it shows the fact that this is making more progress than it has in recent years and also embraces the issue of transgender Americans as well as those based on sexual orientations. It shows you that, again, there has been some shift in this issue.
WOLFSONYeah. And again, just to be -- this is Evan. Just to be very clear, what this bill does is say that people should not be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation. It's a very basic bedrock protection, and it's absolutely essential that it pass and that we have those protections in the United States. And this is exactly what gay people, it's exactly what transgender people, it's exactly what all of us are looking for, the ability to participate fully and equally in the society and contribute without being discriminated against because of who we are or who we love.
PAGEAnd, Thomas, does your group have a position on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?
PETERSWe don't officially know. No.
PAGEAll right. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls. Let's go back and take another call. We'll go to -- let's go to McLean, Va., and talk to Laura. She's been very patient holding on. Laura, hi.
LAURAHi. Thank you. I guess, you know, you all just spoke about this a second ago, but I'm still not clear on what the risk is to traditional families if gay couples are not held back from being legally married. I'm not sure -- and I'm not sure if that, you know, extends to families where there are no children. So, you know, I heard Mr. Peters talking about what he's trying to make clear is if, you know, what traditional families with children, with a mother and father who are male and female, you know, believe in.
LAURABut I'm not sure what the risk of having other people being married is to those traditional families. And is that risk the same as couples who get married and decide not to have children or who cannot have children?
PAGELaura, thanks very much for your call. Thomas.
PETERSThat's an excellent question again. I think it's right to the core of the marriage debate. While it's true that not every couple may choose or can have a child, every child has a mother and a father. And what same-sex marriage does is tells us the culture that mothers and fathers are interchangeable and disposable. Frankly -- I mean, every child comes from a mother and a father.
PETERSWhat marriage does -- the reason why government cares about marriage in the first place, why it has that dignity that everyone talks about is that's the only institution that gives children a chance at having a sustained relationship with their biological origins. And so, yes, if you change the marriage laws for anyone, you change it for everyone. This is called a redefinition.
PETERSIf we say that marriage is no longer about the best interest of children, no longer primarily about their needs and how they do best and primarily about the desires of adults to be validated, we've changed the public purpose of marriage. This is why cultures need marriage because it's actually tying mothers and fathers to their children, as we know all too well, is a very, very difficult task.
PETERSIt's -- I think it's amazing that President Obama, in his good advocacy of saying more good fathers, can then endorse redefining marriage, which says that two moms are just as good as a mother and a father. I think gay people can be great mothers and fathers independently. But I don't think a man can be a good mother, and I don't think a female can be a good father. That's a definition that's worth fighting for.
WOLFSONYes. But fortunately, the Supreme Court for two days of argument and read to a mountain of hundreds of briefs, and none of the evidence put forward in the court in the briefs or in the arguments supported anything that Mr. Peters just said. And, in fact, it's the opposite that's true. Denying children who are being raised by gay parents does nothing to help anybody else, but it does harm those kids and those families.
WOLFSONAnd by contrast, when we end the exclusion for marriage, we strengthen all families in a way that helps the broader community, and that's the bottom line. The bottom line is there is no good reason for denying gay people the freedom to marry. There is no zero some gain here, as the caller rightly points out. But instead, what we can do is make some people's lives a lot better without harming anyone else.
PETERSI disagree, Evan, because what you do to get to that worthy goal, if it was the goal, is you silence this light at the heart of our culture that children deserve to have a mother and a father. That has to be part and parcel of what you're doing.
WOLFSONChildren deserve to be...
EILPERINWell, just one thing I would say that certainly I think when you look at judicial decisions we've had on this, particularly when they used that definition of the best interest of the child, what has been interesting is that, for example, with this issue of adoption, they've often ruled that it is better to let a same-sex couple adopt the biological or adoptive part of family than not do it for the interest of the children. So we've certainly seen that.
WOLFSONThat's exactly right. It is in the best interest of the children to respect real children, not abstract, hypothetical talking points, and to protect their families. Some of those families involve gay people.
PAGEAnd, Julie, you know, this issue of gay marriage state by state, obviously, people feel very strongly about it. How much money, do you think, is going to be invested in this over the next couple of years? And who -- does one side or the other have a clear advantage when it comes to those kind of resources?
EILPERINRight. Well, this is a fascinating issue. We're talking about tens of millions of dollars. Without question, the actual amount, of course, is a little unclear, and I think right now, certainly as Thomas pointed out in the last election, there was no question that advocates of same-sex marriage had an overwhelming financial advantage.
EILPERINAnd I think the real question going forward is, how mobilized are opponents of same-sex marriage going to be to give money to fight this fight when you clearly see a lot of wealthy individuals who are willing to fund a repeal of this prohibitions on same-sex marriage.
PAGEJuliet Eilperin of The Washington Post, Thomas Peters of the National Organization for Marriage, Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry. Thank you all for being with us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show."
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Susan Casey Nabors, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn and Danielle Knight. The engineer is Erin Stamper. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington, D.C. This is NPR.
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