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Quinn to Sign Civil Unions Bill Next Monday

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New Normal

Via CapFax (and subsequently via NowInGayChicago), State Rep Greg Harris posted on his facebook page Saturday:

Governor Pat Quinn will sign the Civil Union Law on Monday, January 31. The signing ceremony will be in the afternoon in the Chicago Loop, and open to the public. Details will be announced early next week.

Personally, I see the gay rights movement similarly to how I view the modern environmental movement, that it’s a legit movement that allowed itself to be co-opted by a bunch of commies, and subsequently  I don’t support it.  If it was just about gays, fine, but it’s never been about that.  It’s always been “So you’re not a homophobe?  The only way you can prove it is voting for these communists.” which means it actually has nothing to do with gay rights.

But I digress.  Politically, there are two aspects to this that I find most interesting.  The first is the idea of shifting baselines, the second is the fundamental differences between the Illinois Democratic Party and the national Democratic Party.

After 2004 gay marriage seemed to the untrained eye to be dead and buried.  Everyone seemed to agree (aside from college students and college-town liberals) that marriage was a union between a man and a woman, and the support was so lopsided that pushing for gay marriage ever again seemed quixotic at best.  After California, one of the bluest of blue states voted down gay marriage immediately following the left wing blowout of 2008, little seemed to change in the conventional wisdom.  Still, gay rights proponents had a plan.

Jumping from no recognition of the legitimacy of gay relationships to seeing them as, for all intents and purposes, identical to straight relationships was clearly a bridge too far.  Still, this was not an across the board rebuke of any recognition of gay relationships.  Polling showed people really weren’t comfortable with gay partners being kept from each other as one died in the hospital.  Polling showed that people didn’t mind the extension of non-child related legal rights (like sharing health insurance) to gay couples.  In other words, the door was cracked open.

Smart political movements know that this meant there is an opportunity.  If they could create an institution where gays got these things, and with it some sort of legal recognition of the legitimacy of their partnerships, the baseline would shift.  In other words, there would be a new normal.  Once this new normal took root in the hearts and minds of the American people, it becomes much easier to chip away at the fringes…what about passing on Social Security?  What happens if a gay cop dies in the line of fire?  Eventually that leads to the question “What happens if a gay cop with two adopted kids dies in the line of fire?  Are you going to send them into foster care over letting them stay with their other dad?”  Once that’s established, both partners are recognized as parents, which means it’d be silly not to let gay couples adopt as couples.  Once they’re doing that, what’s really the point in not letting them marry?

It often feels too slow for the people who believe these are fundamental rights, but it’s also terrifying to people who think that gay marriage is actually a cheapening of the institution of marriage, because it can’t be stopped.  Every time they try to stop it, they wind up delegitimizing themselves (What, you’re actually for sending a dead cops kids to foster care just because he’s gay?  You actually think that gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to spend their final moments on this Earth together?).

So that’s how something goes from gay marriage in 2004 to how gay marriage is eventually going to become politically acceptable.  In short, it’s a done deal (unless the gay rights movement makes a big screw up, opening the door for the evangelicals to do the same thing to them).

So on to the second point.  Isn’t it kind of weird that the Democrat governor in one of the bluest states in the nation even bothered with the “Will I or won’t I?” schtick on the Civil Unions bill?  To people from outside Illinois, or people from the North Shore it does seem weird, but the reality is that the Illinois Democratic Party has a lot more in common with the Democratic Party from the movie “Gangs of New York” than it does with the national Democratic Party.  There are certainly liberals in the Democratic Party, but there is no binding ideology.  It has a lot more to do with ethnic tribalism, with the IDA serving as the arbiter of who gets what.

This is why the Republican Party doesn’t really get anywhere here.  The Republicans make arguments about ideology – illegal immigration, spending cuts, etc., but when you get in and around the city, it’s all about pork (and whether your ethnicity’s neighborhoods get any).  When you try to make an ideological case in this situation, all you’re demonstrating is that you don’t grasp the actual issue at hand.

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