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Gay Marriage: David Remnick, Journalists Chat About Obama’s Evolution

by Tanya Domi on July 6, 2011

in DOMA,Don't Ask Don't Tell,News,Tanya Domi

Post image for Gay Marriage: David Remnick, Journalists Chat About Obama’s Evolution

The New Yorker’s editor-in-chief David Remnick held an on-line chat Tuesday on New York’s marriage equality victory that was joined by journalists Steve Silberman, Johanna Nublat and this reporter. Remnick also authored a “Talk of the Town ” opinion piece titled “It Get’s Better” about the passage of the marriage equality bill in the New York State legislature. Here is an abridged version featuring questions and comments by journalists during the chat with Remnick:


2:57
David Remnick:

Good afternoon, it’s David Remnick here, and welcome to anyone taking an e-break to talk about Comment this week on gay marriage — or about the New Yorker, if you like. All questions welcome…

3:00
David Remnick:

Steve, Thank you. I think the best piece we published at length was Margaret Talbot’s, and there has been a lot on newyorker.com from Rick Hertzberg, Hilton Als, and others.

3:00
Comment From Steve Silberman

Thank you for your insightful writing on the subject, David. I’m a legally married gay man in California, and I appreciate the humane coverage that the New Yorker has been giving to this issue.

3:02
Comment From Guest

What role do you think the gay-marriage issue will play in the 2012 election cycle?

3:04
David Remnick:

I think we are already seeing the issue of gay marriage play a role, especially in the Republican party race, which is just now starting to launch. At the first debate, the candidates were all quick to distance themselves from anything resembling a pro-gay-marriage position: hence the urge to express support for a marriage amendment to the Constitution that would be even more crushing than the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). But when it comes to the final race, between Obama and the Republican nominee, I doubt that gay marriage or any other so-called social issue will be as crucial as the state of the economy.

3:06
Comment From Johanna Nublat

Hello, David. As a brazilian journalist, I’ve been writing about the gay marriage in Brazil (the first one happended just last week). Why do you think this same subject is getting on in Brazil and USA?

3:09
David Remnick:

Johanna, I can hardly speak about Brazil, but I think the issue is getting the attention that it is because, above all, gay men and lesbians rightly feel that their right to marry, to be married in the eyes of the state, is a basic human right, one that confirms their equality under the law. What’s fascinating is that as recently as the nineties, this was a fairly marginal issue; it has accelerated into the mainstream only recently. But we should also realize that, as the terrific historian George Chauncey points out, at the margins of society, gay men and lesbians were getting married in storefront churches in Harlem and elsewhere. But without the sanction of the state, of course.

3:09
Comment From Guest

Do you think that, in time, gay marriage might actually become a conservative position? It’s the Republicans who often push the couples-should-be-married view, after all.

3:12
David Remnick:

That is a terrific question, and we should point out that Andrew Sullivan — a gay, Catholic, who also sees himself as a conservative in so many ways—made the “conservative case” for gay marriage in The New Republic in the midd-nineties. (He expands on that argument in his book called “Virtually Normal.) The argument, simplified, is that marriage is a socially stabilizing institution. Of course, even to this day, some gay men and lesbians find such an argument false, and argue that much of what they value about being gay is difference. It’s a long argument and a long story….

3:16
Comment From Josh Barone

Hello, David. First, I’m a huge fan of your work. As far as the “legal situation” in California goes, what impact do you think its result might have for or against same-sex marriage nation-wide?

3:17
David Remnick:

Josh, so far as I know, the legal situation in California is stuck; there is a stay on that case for now — to the great frustration of the liberal-conservative legal tandem of David Boies and Theodore Olson, to say nothing of the thousands and thousands of people depending on that decision.

3:20
David Remnick:

Michael, I would be careful about stereotyping the view of an entire racial group or clergy. It’s interesting to me that President Obama’s old church on the South Side of Chicago, led in those days by Jeremiah Wright, was quite liberal on gay issues. I don’t know the poll numbers, but they are hardly unanimous. And when you read George Chauncey’s “Gay New York,” you realize that counting the African-American community as uniformly anything on this issue is a mistake, then or now.

3:20
Comment From Steve Silberman

One question, David. One of the reasons that some people seem to find it hard to wrap their heads around gay marriage is that, in the case of male couples, marriage proposes the very basic idea that men can fall in love with one another — so much that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. This is a challenging idea for some people. When I was growing up in the ’70s, gay liberation was proposed as primarily *sexual* liberation, to be sought in bars and bathhouses. For people with very strict ideas about gender, obviously, the idea of two men falling in love goes against traditionally limited roles. Gay-marriage opponents often frame the issue as if gay people are incapable of the same enduring love that they feel for their own spouses. How much do you think the inability to imagine love between men (gay or straight) is driving the prejudices against gay marriage?

3:21
David Remnick:

Steve, It’s hard to take a survey of the collective imagination, but it’s probably pretty easy to say that promiscuity is not unheard of among heterosexuals, either!

 

3:28
David Remnick:

Gerrard, it’s a great question, and Rick Hertzberg and I disagree. (You should read his terrific blog post on this on newyorker.com) Rick is sympathetic with the President’s decision to wink at everyone (signalling that he is for gay marriage) but not quite saying the words. I think it’s really late in the game to be playing this rhetorical game. Where Rick and I agree, and maybe you do too, is that Obama has done a lot by getting rid of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (and he brought Congress and the Pentagon with him, no small thing) and by undermining DOMA (he told the Justice Department to stop prosecuting any cases based on that act). Clearly, Obama had — and has — no problem with gay marriage; he said so in 1996. But he feels he cannot get out too far ahead of the country on such an emotional issue. I wish he would. I wish he would, you know, lead.

 

3:32
David Remnick:

Graham, Again, I am not a pollster. But I would assume so, yes. And I think it also had an effect on the general population. It was beyond outrageous to witness the Reagan Administration’s belatedness on AIDS, its indifference to the deaths of so many; and it was beyond outrageous to see homophobia be a tenet of the Moral Majority movement at precisely the moment when so many were dying. That outrage, among homosexuals and heterosexuals, had to play a role on insisting on legislation that assured gay men and lesbians their humanity, their equality, their rights under the law.

3:32
Comment From Tanya Domi

David, all of you should know that DADT has not been completely repealed. It is a two-step process and the certification notification has yet to take place while Republicans are attempting to amend the requirements for certification. So, Obama has not finished DADT to date.

3:33
David Remnick:

Tanya, no it has not been repealed.

3:34
Comment From Tanya Domi

About the legal situation–what do you make of the Obama Administration decision not to defend DOMA and juxtapose that with Obama’s “evolving” position on marriage equality? After NY’s adoption of marriage equality, it seems Obama’s position is untenable..

3:36
David Remnick:

Tanya, Again, I agree with you. It seems awfully late in the day for the President to cling to this highly political balancing act, and all to do what? Is he running for the Republican nomination? Does he think he is fooling anyone? So while he should be given a lot of credit, and while a lot of liberal Democrats are giving him a winking pass on this, all in the name of practical politics, I think he is going to regret it.

3:36
Comment From Steve Silberman

My last comment, David: I’m surprised that there’s been so little investigative reporting on NOM in general, its secret donors, and Maggie Gallagher in specific. They’ve become a very powerful, well-moneyed force in blocking civil liberties for millions of Americans, and yet Gallagher has somehow flown beneath the radar, though she’s quoted all the time. It’s worth noting that even the co-author of Gallagher’s book “The Case for Marriage” – sociologist Linda Waite — remarked in a footnote that she and Gallagher parted company on whether or not the benefits of marriage should be extended to gay couples. Gallagher also has a husband named Raman Srivastav with whom she is never seen in public. There are no pictures of them together on the Net, which is odd for someone who claims to lead a “pro-marriage” group (though NOM is clearly not that). As a journalist myself (though I’m working on a book and couldn’t do this right now), I feel that there’s a deeper story there that would be worth pursuing. Please think about assigning a story like that to one of your great writers in the future. Thanks.

3:40
David Remnick:

Steve, I don’t know the details here and I don’t think her marriage (and I know nothing about it, and, with respect, don’t much care) is the issue. What does seem clear to me is that the actual arguments against gay marriage are awfully hollow, at best, whether as espoused by Maggie Gallagher or the Republican candidates. I think that their arguments, when we listen to them years from now, will sound as sad and empty and, often, as angry as the rhetoric of those who stood against civil rights in the late fifties and sixties.

3:40
Comment From Tanya Domi

The polling data is very good on this issue for a progressive position–53 percent nationally approve now; 59 percent of independent voters approve; 70 percent of 18-34 year olds approve. What is the down side for Obama supporting marriage equality before the election?

3:41
David Remnick:

Tanya, That poll, from Gallup, is very recent, and it is, to my knowledge, the first time that any poll has shown that a majority is in favor of gay marriage. The 70 percent figure is even more interesting, as it shows where the tide of opinion—and history—is heading.

 

3:45
Comment From Guest

Hello David,I was sitting in church in a state outside of NY (a church I don’t generally attend but was in the neighborhood) over the weekend. During the homily, I couldn’t believe my ears when the pastor mentioned how gay marriage is “morally polluting society.” That it is “biologically unproductive” for our nation. Obviously, not all churches preach this message, but my boyfriend and I were so pained by these harsh words, we had to get up and leave. What are your thoughts on the reaction of the Catholic church system in NY towards recognizing gay marriage?

3:48
David Remnick:

Part of what was so interesting about Andrew Cuomo’s political maneuvering on this issue was his capacity to get the local Church leadership to play only a modest opposing role. The Church has a lot of other issues to tend to, and the leadership, while opposing gay marriage for all the obvious reasons, can clearly see that many in the flock do not agree. The greatest oppositional base is among evangelical Protestants, not Catholics.

 

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.

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