Newsweek's Sarah Kliff Advises Gay Lobby to Go Federal in Marriage Quest

December 3rd, 2009 12:23 PM

Voters in state after state have said no to gay marriage. So what's the lesson Newsweek's Sarah Kliff draws?

Well, maybe it's time for the gay marriage lobby to go over the heads of the people and push Congress to act.

Reacting to yesterday's 38-24 vote by the Democratic-majority New York State Senate to kill a gay marriage bill, Kliff suggested in a December 2 The Gaggle blog post:

Rather than pursuing piecemeal, state-level initiatives, which do not have a great track record, perhaps the movement, en masse, ought to focus on pressuring Congress and President Obama to take more decisive action.

I'm not the first to make this suggestion. The issue came to a head in October, when gay-rights activists organized—and argued over—their first large march in Washington since 2000.

Of course, as a journalist, it should not be Kliff's place to pen the game plan for a movement's political agenda. Hers should be to call the game, not the plays, yet the Newsweek writer continued by describing her shift in sideline strategy (emphasis mine):

I admittedly tend to favor an incremental approach to social movements, gay rights included, aiming for small gains that, collectively, snowball into larger societal shifts. And I still think that the recent, smaller gay-rights victories, in Salt Lake City and Washington state, do indeed matter. But there’s no getting around the fact that the state-referendum strategy has now failed in more than half the country. And there are at least three good reasons gay-rights activists should consider shifting their efforts to the national level:

The makeup of Congress, particularly the 60 Democrats in Senate, is incredibly favorable. And the 111th Congress already showed itself friendly to gay rights when, in October, it expanded the federal definition of hate crimes to include those committed because of sexual orientation. Add Obama to the mix and, as one gay-rights activist put it in the Times, "There has never been a better time than now. What are you waiting for?"

Federal activism could be galvanizing for the movement. Just look at how the pro-choice movement has rallied against the Stupak amendment. Seemingly overnight it went from a nearly sleepy movement to a force to be reckoned with. Suddenly, the abortion issue is everywhere in the news and activists are swarming the Hill. It’s not that there was no local activity to mobilize around. In fact, state legislatures considered 300 abortion-related pieces of legislation this year alone. But it took a high-exposure piece of federal legislation to kick the movement into gear.

Pooled financial resources are powerful. Last month the National Institute on Money in State Politics released a study finding that the gay-rights movement raised a collective $101.1 million around same-sex partnership issues in 2008. That was the fundraising total for campaigns in just four states: California, Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas. Imagine what kind of fundraising machine a federal campaign, drawing on resources from all 50 states, would have behind it.