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Gay Marriage and Democracy

By Ryan Sager

The recent court decisions -- in New York on July 6 and in Washington State yesterday -- refusing to create gay marriage by judicial fiat have had a remarkable effect on the public discourse surrounding the issue: They've brought it into being.

Granted, there's been a lot of hollering about gay marriage, particularly from the Republican Party denouncing the activist judges who want to rewrite our marriage laws. But the Democratic Party has been largely silent. It's presumed many Democrats are in favor of gay marriage or civil unions, but most keep their mouths shut or even make noises about "defending marriage" to avoid the inevitable political fallout of speaking up.

But now, Democratic politicians are being forced to take a stand -- since judges aren't going to be able to do the heavy lifting for them.

When New York's decision came down, governor-in-waiting Eliot Spitzer immediately said he supported gay marriage and would introduce a bill to create it. Now, Washington's Gov. Chris Gregoire has come out for the first time in favor of (essentially) civil unions.

The logic here is simple. When the courts are taken out of the equation, people actually have to take sides and then defend their positions. In some states, it will be easy to defend the anti-gay marriage position. In others, however, like New York and Washington, high-profile Democrats are going to have to start going with their consciences -- or, at least, with public opinion.

It will be interesting to watch New York and Washington in the coming year. Those watching New York can check out the legislative wiki, put together by Ben Smith at the Daily News, set up to track state legislators' positions on the issue.

Ryan Sager (rhsager.com) is author of “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party.”

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