Tuesday, July 05, 2005

It's the people, stupid

Last week the BBC did a story on gay marriage in Canada, and how apparently many gay couples from the US are trekking up to the Great White North in order to get hitched. Near the end of the story, the BBC helpfully reminds us that:
President George Bush's administration has repeatedly said it is firmly opposed to any recognition of marriage for gays and lesbians.

Which is true enough. But what the BBC does not tell us is that:

  • since marriages are legally regulated at the state level, whether or not George Bush is opposed to them is pretty much irrelevant to whether they are deemed to be legal (see Massachusetts)
  • poll after poll after poll after poll after poll in the US has shown the American people themselves to be “firmly opposed” to any recognition of marriage for gays and lesbians
  • in the last election cycle, 11 states took up the issue of same-sex marriage bans as ballot initiatives, and in every single state, the ban passed.

The BBC needs to start understanding that George Bush, or any President for that matter, is an elected official with certain, limited duties, not the singular fount from whom springs forth all law and political policy throughout the land.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, well, americans are retarded, so what would they vote? God save Canada.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is him?


4:19 PM  
Anonymous Mark V said...

Scott, I don't think this is a fair post at all. I don't know whether the BBC story has changed since you saw it, but when I looked at it it was completely clear that it was not the BBC 'helpfully reminding' us of Bush's views on this. The article runs:

"Bruce Steele, editor-in-chief of national gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate, says this [recognising same sex marriages made in other countries]is unlikely to change whatever the number of US couples marrying in Canada.

He points out that President George Bush's administration has repeatedly said it is firmly opposed to any recognition of marriage for gays and lesbians.

"Canada's decision will not help at the administration level," he says, but he believes it will help same-sex marriage advocates at the grass-roots level.

The more widespread marriages become, he says, "the more difficult if will be for the administration to maintain its position"."

I can't see why this is the BBC reminding us of anything. It's a quote from a pro-gay marriage american journalist which is germaine in a piece about american gays going to Canada to get married.

I think you're inate distrust of the BBC has gotten the better of you here.

12:02 AM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...

Mark V,

Three things:

First, the BBC chooses which quotes to put into an article and which to leave out, and it does so based on the information it wishes to convey to its readers. If the BBC did not want to make a point out of W's opposition to gay marriage, it wouldn't have included the reference. I think it is perfectly fair to say that it is the BBC which is reminding us, even if they are doing so by quoting someone else.

Second, I was really taking issue not with what the BBC included in its article, but rather with what it left out. Afterall, as I said, it is perfectly true that Bush is opposed to gay marriage. The problem I have is that, contrary to the impression left by the article, his opposition is largely irrelevant. Gay marriage is a state issue, and states are perfectly free to ignore Bush's feelings on this (see Massachusetts). The focus on Bush's opposition (albeit through the words of a chosen advocate) gives the clear impression that he has a policy preventing the US from recognizing gay marriages performed elsewhere. That is a false impression, even though it is true that if he had the power to implement such a policy (he doesn't), he would.

Finally, while I accept that my deep distrust of the BBC might lead me to be skeptical or cynical where neither is merited (so please keep pointing it out if/when you think you see it), I don't think it is fair to characterize it as "innate". It is most certainly learned from long experience listening to and reading the BBC itself.


8:06 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...


To be fair, Bush has said he favors a federal constitutional amendment that only recognizes marriage as between a man and a woman. I think the primary reason for the proposed amendment is to prevent activist judges at the federal level from ruling that same-sex marriages should be recognized. The Republicans would prefer this issue be decided by the state legislatures. In any case, the amendment hasn't gotten enough votes in congress to get anywhere close to getting off the ground.

Moderate Democrats have said they see no reason for the worry, because current statutes do not force states to recognize same-sex marriages. So it's effectively a state issue right now. The thing is, judges have a funny way of finding civil rights in the legal code that didn't used to exist.

Personally, I'm not opposed to legal same-sex unions. To me, this is a "pursuit of happiness" issue. The way I think of it, same-sex couples would have to deal with the same trials and tribulations of marriage as heterosexuals do, and they'd have to deal with divorce if they wanted to split up. So I don't see gays really gaining as much as people think they are if legalized same-sex unions come to pass. It wouldn't be a lark. Once they "get hitched" they're legally stuck with each other.

The way it is now is kind of unfortunate. If a gay couple wants the equivalent of a civil union, they have to hire lawyers to draw up their own private binding agreements, contracts, saying that if they split up they agree to split their assets, child custody, etc. From what I've heard it costs tens of thousands of dollars. Even then they don't get the same sort of societal benefits of a civil union, unless they live in a state that recognizes their union. Heterosexual couples only have to pay about $25 for a marriage license from the state.

I think the government could save itself a lot of trouble if it would just get itself out of "the marriage business" and just issue civil union licenses, like they do in Europe, and let couples go to whichever church will accept their union for the religious marriage ceremony, if they prefer.

The term "marriage" has religious connotations here. I believe the state involvement in marriage is due to our historical heritage. It's just the way things worked out, but unfortunately it ties state practices to religious meanings and traditions. The moment the state wants to change the definition of "marriage" it inevitably raises religious hackles, I think needlessly. Not that the faithful shouldn't feel offended when the state proposes changing the meaning of a sacrement for them, but rather I think the state just shouldn't call any union a "marriage". Just consumate a civil union and let the churches call it a "marriage", or not. The same sort of hackles were raised when states started recognizing interracial marriages.

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Another expat said...

I think the problem lies not so much with the BBC, as with general European ignorance regarding the structure of the American government. (Or I suppose you could say that that problem is not limited to the BBC.) I've lost track of the number of times I've tried to explain the separation of power, or pointed out that Congress is more than just a rubber-stamping assembly. Even the well-meaning tend to react dubiously to this information, as if it couldn't possibly be true. (It's just what Bush and his cronies want me to believe, clearly. How could I be so naive?) The concept of semi-autonomous State - and even worse, local! - governments is simply unimaginable.

Even my British husband, who prides himself on his knowledge of all things American, was shocked to discover county elections during our last trip to the States. Although I'd told him that local officials were elected locally, he had to see it to believe it.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

another expat said:

I think the problem lies not so much with the BBC, as with general European ignorance regarding the structure of the American government.

I suspect this is more a specifically British problem than a general European one. The UK is very centralised (in Europe, perhaps only France is more so) but this is not the case for all of the countries of Europe. Germany, for example, is a federal system, where a large amount of power is held by the states (Länder), both through the state governments, and through the upper house of parliament, the Federal Council (Bundesrat), which is appointed by the state governments to represent their positions on federal laws.

The electing of local officials is certainly not strange in Europe either! As far as I know local councillors are elected even in the UK. How else would they be chosen?

7:54 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

To "another expat":

Fascinating hearing your description of British perceptions of the U.S. government. I'm sure there are some Brits who are familiar enough with our system to know that the congress is not a "rubber stamp" for the president. Witness the recent filibusters and the BBC coverage of them. I remember hearing over here that the outcome of the 2000 presidential election was awfully puzzling to Europeans. Many had not been educated on the Electoral College system, and the fact that the notion of a "popular vote" is a media creation that had no basis in deciding who became president. Not to say that the popular vote numbers were wrong, just that according to the Constitution they don't decide the outcome in the presidential race. The outcome is basically decided by majorities that occur in each state, not a majority in the aggregate of all 50 states + Wash., D.C. The outcome in each state is also weighted, basically, according to the state's population, as measured in the last census.

Can't say that I witnessed any misperceptions of the U.S. government when I was in the UK 6 years ago. The only misperception I heard was when a Brit asked me, "Does everyone in the U.S. have a gun?" I answered "no". I've never had one, and neither have most of my friends. Apparently this is a very common misperception though.

6:32 AM  

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