Gay Marriage: More Red-State Senators As Bill O’Reilly Concedes

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Mar 28, 2013

As the Supreme Court heard arguments for and against Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act this week, the trickle of Democratic Party politicians suddenly to take a stand in our favor started to become a flood. What was more surprising was the right wing's brightest TV light, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, concession that his side had fumbled the ball so badly the game was all but over.

Like so many of his peers on the left (e.g., Keith Olbermann) and right (Glenn Beck), Bill O'Reilly has never been exactly shy about making his opinions known. The host of the highest-rated cable news program, Bill O'Reilly has bravely wars of his own creation, from the blasphamous substitution of "Seasons Greetings" for "Christmas" to the Muslim sharia becoming the law of the land.

If his schtick may be merely slick, the cable news' own Howard Beale, being constantly angry as hell and not taking it anymore, he manages night after night to be heard above the constant hum of our nonstop media din. His show remains cable news' ratings champ, which is why he once again made headlines on Wednesday when he concluded that marriage-equality opponents have failed to do "anything but thump the Bible."

O'Reilly's verbal white flag might not be the most important late-in-the-day admission that the lawyer for traditional marriage was badly outgunned at the just-concluded arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. But it may be the most significant sign yet that, if the battle is still raging, the anti-marriage generals are witnessing their troops rout.

"The compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals," O'Reilly said on Tuesday. He summarized his opponents' argument, seemingly approvingly, as, "We're Americans, we just want to be treated like everybody else," while the right "hasn't been able to do anything but thump the Bible."

As for himself, O'Reilly said he had long been a supporter civil unions, once as anathema as marriage but now seen as an honorable peace treaty. About actual marriage, he said he "doesn't have strong feelings" about it.

Fellow prime-time Fox News host and conservative standard bearer Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, warned that if the GOP's 2016 presidential candidate followed party insiders and ran away from an issue it put on its plank last year, evangelicals would walk, even if it meant handing the election to godless Democrats.

If anyone can take the collective pulse of the religious right, it's Huckabee. In 2008, evangelical activists propelled him from obscurity as the governor of Arkansas best known to most Americans for his dramatic weight loss to brief presidential front-runner.

Nor is Huckabee's the only religious conservative playing Jeremiah at the walls of the GOP's Jerusalem. Tony Perkins, head of the ultra-conservative Christian group Focus on the Family, and the far-right's favorite perennial presidential candidate, Gary Bauer, expressed much the same sentiment in recent days.

Former GOP Senator’s Eloquence

It’s doubtful any of these men watched Larry Pressler’s interview on Current TV, which is owned by the far right’s bĂȘte noire, Al Gore. But they couldn’t have avoided media coverage of the former GOP senator from South Dakota extolling the right to marry as "the new conservative position."

Presser’s comments carry special weight not only because he represented a state as red as one of Mike Hukabee’s ties. Pressler compared gay rights to the Civil Rights movement. thus undermining what those on the right see as a red flag to black voters. Unlike skin color, they contend, sexual orientation is a choice.

Pressler furthered the comparison with a dramatic description of returning veterans who fought abroad only to face discrimination at home. "The main thing that caused me to change my mind was my work with veterans’ groups," he told Current TV "Viewpoint" host John Fugelsang. "It’s something like in World War II, we had the African-American veterans who fought, but when they got home they couldn’t vote. We had gays in the military before, but now we have openly gay people in the military. When they come out, we tell them they are not entitled to this civil right."

LGBT rights groups have long maintained that change would come when everyone came out. It’s much harder to hate someone one knows than a concept. So far, the strategy appears to be working, Former Vice President Dick Chaney has a married lesbian daughter. And last week, currently serving Ohio Sen. Rob Portman was forced to re-examine his position after his son came out to him.

Add Red State Senators

Cynics believe that politicians only follow public opinion. With last year’s elections followed by poll after poll, there’s no doubting a remarkably rapid change in the American electorate toward equality.

Missouri, however, is a swing state that gets redder every election cycle. Sen. Claire McCaskill had the good luck last year to face a novice whose hamhanded comments on rape allowed her a narrow re-election. On the eve of the Supreme Court hearings, Sen. Claire McCaskill showed the Show Me state her true colors in an open letter on her Tumblr account.

Now, even Democrats in the heart of Dixie are starting to join their colleagues in the blue North and borderline swing states. Sen. Mark Warner didn’t let a looming re-election campaign stop him from telling fellow Virginians that he now sees same-sex marriage as the "inevitable extension of my efforts to promote equality and opportunity for everyone."

Last year, North Carolina voters bucked the tide when they not only rejected marriage equality but cemented it in their state’s constitution. That’s what makes Sen. Kay Hagan one of the few recent converts who might merit the much-abused adjective "brave" on Wednesday.

"I have a great deal of respect for varying opinions on the issue," she said. "After much thought and prayer, I have come to my own personal conclusion that we shouldn’t tell people who they can love or who they can marry."

West Virginia might separate north from south, but its citizens are devout, poor, rural, and overwhelmingly white. In national elections, at least, they’re reliably red.

In a state where corruption is rife, when they elected John Jay Rockefeller as their Democratic senator way back in 1984, as the scion of one of America’s great fortunes, he was too rich to be bought. Since then, he’s proved to be one the Senate’s genuine intellects, which he once again put on display on March 25.

It’s true that Rockefeller isn’t running for re-election. But his eloquence in a March 25 statement speaks for itself. "Challenged in recent years by a new, more open generation," he said, "younger people in West Virginia and even my own children have grown up in a much more equal society and they rightly push us to question old assumptions -- to think deeply about what it means for all Americans to be created equal."

If West Virginia remains isolated from the rest of the country by of its mountain ranges, Alaska is geographically and psychologically as far from the Lower 48 as possible. Famous as the state that bequeathed Tea Party maverick and two-year governor, Alaska was deep red long before Sarah Palin.

That’s why Mark Begich represents another politician who is genuinely putting his career on the line. Sensibly, Begich framed his stance in terms that any Alaskan can relate to: animosity toward Washington.

"Alaskans," he said on Tuesday, "are fed up with government intrusion into our private lives, our daily business, and in the way we manage our resources and economy."

Time magazine pointed out that Begich had expressed support a year earlier to the Human Rights Commission. Even so, his restatement comes at a welcome time.


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