Chuck Schumer, Gay-Marriage Barometer

Chuck Schumer’s policy reversal on gay marriage should be read less as a personal epiphany on same-sex equality than an acknowledgment of what is now politically acceptable and expected of Democratic leaders in New York and beyond, one of his former aides told me.

Schumer’s rejection of DOMA says something meaningful about the status of the issue nationally, the former aide said, precisely because of how deliberately he makes decisions like this.

“If you look at Chuck as a senator, there aren’t many issues where he gets way out in front on social issues,” said the former aide. “His stance is usually within the Democratic orthodoxy.”

The aide was unconvinced that Schumer felt strongly one way or the other on gay marriage. His stance on the issue, like that of other famously cautious politicians like John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for that matter, was that marriage eventually might be in the cards but just not yet, because it could have been a political liability.

Schumer’s statement on the matter began, “It’s time.”

In Schumer’s 2007 book, Positively American, he foreshadows his change, writing that the marriage issue is a “wedge” that had more to do with irrational fears of middle-class voters than any specific prejudice against gays.

“Erroneously, they fear that a loosened definition of marriage will be another step down the road of ever-loosening morals, which they see as a threat to their own way of life,” Schumer wrote.

Schumer added, “But this issue won’t hold either, because the wedge is shrinking.”

Democrats should claim the issue, he writes, “in the fight to recover a sense of shared moral standards.”