After dipping below 4% in 2000 and 2001, unemployment in Ohio was over 6% in 2003. There was a little election in 2004, an election in which one would think the people of Ohio would want the candidates to talk extensively about the economy. That never really happened, however. George W. Bush carried Ohio that year in large part because people came out in droves to vote on Issue 1- a ballot initiative banning gay marriage. This is an old playbook conservatives have embraced for years: use social issues to distract people from broader, economic concerns, never having to speak to them. Apparently, Democrats are running the same play these days.
Full disclosure: I was an architect of the statewide, faith based strategy to pass marriage equality in the state of Maryland. I also served on the host committee of the Creating Change Conference in Baltimore a year ago. Obviously I’m not in opposition. My concern today is that the Democratic Party is successfully using the emotions, passions and legitimate concerns around this issue to get a pass on everything else. While unemployment is essentially set on cruise control and even those employed are unable to make ends meet, all the talk in the media is on one issue and one only: marriage.
Something like half of all renters live in shelter poverty; that is, they are able to secure housing but do not make enough to meet their non-shelter needs adequately (see Michael Stone’s work in A Right to Housing). We won’t even talk about those who are homeless or the difficulty families have securing food- over 50 million Americans are food insecure. Even so, I don’t really hear the Democrats stepping up to provide innovative solutions to these issues. Further, we are not pressing them to do so. They understand that as long as the electorate can be polarized- pro marriage vs. no marriage- we are not able to demand that they speak to the other massive issues of our day. Again, I am not suggesting we do nothing on the question of marriage- I clearly did my fair share- but I am suggesting that it is possible to walk and chew gum simultaneously.
When we are pitted against each other in opposite corners it creates artificial divisions, making it impossible to press on structural issues of economic justice. If you are for marriage, you have to stand on the liberal side of the fence for you have no other option. You couldn’t conceive of voting for a conservative and vice versa. All the while, nothing is done to improve the lot of the conservative or liberal so that even if gays can marry, they may very well still be handicapped economically and we all know that money issues lead directly to divorce. Oh, and by the way, while we were monitoring the Supreme Court this week on marriage, legislators may have introduced a real life “Mark of the Beast” and our children’s health was compromised severely because our legislators now protect genetically modified foods.