William Eskridge, a law professor at Yale, looks at the two big gay rights battles, both of which are now in the spotlight — repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and same sex marriage. Eskridge believes that gay activists will prevail on both fronts, and that success in the fight for expanded rights for gays in the military will occur first.
Repeal of DADT does seem more imminent than nationwide recognition of gay unions as marraige. For one thing, polls show that public opinion runs more strongly in favor of gay activists on the DADT front than with regard to marriage. Perhaps that’s because most Americans have far less personal involvement with the military than they do with marriage.
In any event, there is, I think, a fundamental difference in the case against repealing DADT and the case for the state not recognizing gay marriage. The main objection to repeal of DADT centers on the negative impact that having openly gay men serving in combat units might well have on the effectiveness of those units. This concern stems from the views of heterosexual troops in these units, as reflected in survey data.
There is no corresponding objection to the state recognizing gay marriage. Such recognition will have no impact on my marriage or, except perhaps in rare cases, on other heterosexual marriages.
Opponents of gay marriage typically object not to its possible impact on specific traditional marriages, but rather to its effect on the institution of marriage itself. Some also believe that giving homosexual unions the same status as heterosexual marriages would incorrectly negate the view that heterosexuality is preferable to homosexuality.
The former objection is abstract and, to my knowledge, lacking in empirical support (I haven’t surveyed the literature, though, so I may be wrong about this). The latter objection is ideological. This doesn’t mean that either objection should be off-limits, but to me it makes them less compelling than the pragmatic objections to ending DADT at this time.
On the other hand, abstract and ideological objections may have more staying power than pragmatic objections founded on empirical data that easily could change fairly rapidly. That’s another reason why Eskridge is probably correct in predicting that DADT will be repealed before the state recognizes gay marriage throughout this country.
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