Paul analyzes politics of gay marriage

Last Thursday, students and faculty welcomed Darel Paul, professor of political science, in Wege Auditorium. His lecture, entitled “Beyond Tolerance: Capitalism, Culture and the Politics of Gay Marriage,” was the second installment in the weekly Faculty Lecture Series. Paul’s goal for his presentation was to “use same-sex marriage as a lens to study the intersection of class and culture and class and politics.”

Paul began his talk with discussion of the Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Clinton in 1996. This bill defines marriage as a heterosexual union and prevents states from extending full faith and credit to same-sex marriages. This bill passed with significant bipartisan support. At this point the “divide between the parties on the issue of gay marriage was relatively small,” Paul said.

By 2004, however, when the Marriage Protection Act was proposed as a way to “insulate the Defense of Marriage Act,” Democrats almost entirely opposed the measure. In eight short years, support for same-sex marriage had emerged as a key platform of the Democratic Party. Paul’s lecture aimed to discover the main reasons for this shift in ideology.

To do so, Paul delved into the regional structure of national political affiliations. The Democrat’s “geographic heartland” lies in New England, the Mid-Atlantic states and the Pacific Northwest. These states overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage. Democrats have historically been viewed as an expansive coalition of African Americans, Latino/as, white women and the white working class. However, many people in these demographic groups oppose same-sex marriage. If the traditional base of the Democratic Party opposes this institution, why has it become a staple of the Democratic platform?

Paul argues that the “introduction of professionals into the Democratic coalition” has been the main reason for this change. Professionals, defined by Paul as those with “autonomous control over their own labor,” in fields such as “law, math, computers, health care, social services and education” have long been “devoted to the home, purity and the repression of sexual urges.” Yet, starting in the 1980s, the group that was once the defenders of heteronormativity began to stray from this conservative path. This first began with professionals’ support for Democrats Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis and culminated in their overwhelming support for Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election.

Professionals, specifically those in states deemed the Democratic geographic heartland, became more “tolerant” of same-sex marriage. Paul observed that the word tolerant is normally used in instances when someone is compelled to accept grudgingly a practice. While data supports that some states accept the legality of same-sex marriage despite moral opposition – the more accurate use of the word tolerance – professionals in the “core” Democratic states have actually begun to endorse the view provided by the California State Supreme Court that the institution is “entitled to the same respect and dignity afforded to union traditionally designated as marriage,” Paul said.

Using statistical analysis, Paul showed a strong positive correlation between people who support same-sex marriage and people who are young, highly educated, have fewer children and have expensive housing. He emphasized that family structure is a larger deciding factor than age, as older families without children tend to be more supportive than younger ones with children. Wealthy, tightly knit and educated families characterize the professional class. Paul deemed housing affordability the “catch-all” determinant because it “reflects both class and family structure.”

Paul finished his lecture by examining why professionals with the previously discussed characteristics are disposed to accepting same-sex marriage. He argued that those with higher education learn the “practices of abstraction” and are acquainted with the concept of a “judicious spectator” who “can make reasoned decisions about morality.” Education also gives “autonomy so that people feel the ability to make their own moral decisions,” he said. Paul summarized this view of independence by quoting the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey – “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”

The family structure of educated professionals, one centered on the couple rather than the children, avoids “gender-based divisions of labor,” Paul said. This attitude, which is likely to support openness to the concept of gay marriage, attacks the patriarchal family structure that is prominent among more conservative demographic groups. Professionals also tend to support the institution of marriage that has enabled them to reach their comfortable and prosperous place in society. Tying his theories back to geography, Paul pointed out that professionals in the liberal heartland tend to live in a cosmopolitan environment that fosters the acceptance of “a diversity of ethical systems.”