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California's Proposition 8--Ours to Lose? Nope.
It was always an Uphill Climb

GuestbloggerMATT FOREMAN

Matt Foreman is the former director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Empire State Pride Agenda. He is currently a program director at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. He released this op-ed yesterday

A lot of people have been saying that Prop 8 was our side's to lose and that missteps by the No on 8 Campaign snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Those analyses ignore hard core obstacles and fundamentals underlying the contest, including how hard it is to hold and move opinions on marriage in the narrow confines of a campaign.

MattforemanI need to start by saying that I had nothing to do with the No on 8 Campaign. Because the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, where I work, has been so deeply involved in public education work in support of marriage equality, the law literally precluded any contact or coordination with the electoral campaign. So, as a purely armchair quarterback it's pretty easy for me to catalogue things I -- in my infinite wisdom -- would have done differently. But I also know that even if everything -- every single thing -- had gone our way, it still would have been incredibly hard to win by anything more than a tiny margin. Here's why.

Putting Minority Rights Up to a Popular Vote: the Difficulty of Winning

First off, it's nearly impossible for minorities to win or defend their rights at the ballot box. Californians have demonstrated that time and again, voting to outlaw affirmative action, to deny grade school education and non-emergency medical care to undocumented children, and to specifically permit race discrimination in housing. This profound disadvantage was exacerbated by the fact that marriage is in a class by itself as an issue. Everyone has an intimate, personal relationship with marriage and has an opinion -- usually visceral -- about it. True, over time people are moving toward marriage -- we've quite amazingly gained about one point per year since 2000. But within the narrow time constraints of a campaign -- under 90 days -- it is pure fancy to think there's a "movable middle" on marriage. At best there was movable sliver. More on that in a bit.

Our Opponents' Base -- Huge, Solid, Energized

Second, the other side had a huge, largely unmovable, energized base. We didn't. No surprise but they had older people all sewn up. While we won among all voters under 65, more than two-thirds (67%) of voters 65 or older voted for Prop 8. That alone -- yes, alone -- was enough to override our majority support among all younger age groups. Anyone who thinks a 90-day campaign -- even a flawless one -- is going to overcome the imprint of homophobia on those born before World War II needs to think again.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

In addition to older people, the other side also had a stranglehold on regular churchgoers. More than two-thirds (70%) of people who worship at least once a week voted for Prop 8 and they make up nearly half (45%) of the electorate. Yes, our side got an equally large proportion of people who hardly ever attend church (70%), but they comprise only 29% of the vote. Anyone who thinks it is easy to overcome homophobia that's reinforced on a weekly basis from a person's own house of worship doesn't appreciate the role of religion in so many people's lives or its pervasive use as a rationale for voting for Prop 8: an astonishing 94% of "Yes" voters said "religion" or the "Bible" was most influential in deciding how to vote.

What does combining older voters, frequent churchgoers and Republicans (81% of who voted for Prop 8) yield? A rock solid, close to 50% of the vote, that's what. How solid? Nearly three-quarters (73%) of those who voted for Prop 8 said nothing -- that's right, nothing -- would have changed their mind. And almost all of the rest of them couldn't really name anything real that would have changed their minds. For example, the most common answer offered by these folks was "calling same sex marriage by another name" -- an option not on the ballot.

Does this mean we can't ever move older voters, Republicans and frequent churchgoers? Of course not. My parents -- both 76, conservative Republicans and devout Catholics -- are prime examples. While they could not be more pro-marriage now, I know in my heart that it's only because my partner (now spouse) and I have been a part of their lives for years -- we could never have moved them in the 90 days the Prop 8 campaign essentially had.

Support on Our Side -- Smaller and Squishy

Our side? Not so big and not so solid. At best, we LGBT people make up 6% of the vote and unlike the fervor from our opponents' much larger base we weren't united on marriage equality. (Two polls said 5% of the LGBT community -- or 1% of the total vote -- actually voted "Yes.") I'm still hearing the refrain "I don't know why we're fighting for marriage -- I don't believe in it" or "It's not my issue." I think this is because for years we've mainly presented marriage as a package of rights -- like a better dental plan -- than what it's really about, recognition of equal humanity. Whatever the reasons -- they were united and energized; we weren't.

But more important, unlike our opponents, our base beyond LGBT people is squishy on its leading edge. Going into the Prop 8 contest, only a slim majority of Californians (54%) even believed that our relationships are moral. (This figure also was our high point in the superficial public pre-election polls to which so much significance was attached.) This slim majority is all our side had to work with. After all, no one who thinks we're immoral is going to vote to protect our access to the ultimate societal institution used to judge and control sex, procreation and "family values." At the same time, it's hardly a given that people who do not see us as immoral are automatically for marriage equality.

The Ick Factor

In fact, many of those people are still deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality. This "ick" is and always has been our Achilles heel, something our opponents skillfully exploit time and again. Lots of folks I respect have been saying if only the No on 8 Campaign had put up or hit back with forceful, to-the-heart ads featuring gay and lesbian families -- instead of those soft ones with parents or surrogates like Sen. Diane Feinstein -- we would have won. I desperately want to agree, but can't.

The sad reality is that our movables get all wobbly -- they blanch, they stammer, they get visibly uncomfortable -- when faced with the reality of our couples, our families, our children. I've personally seen it dozens of times in focus groups, in one-on-one interviews, and in my own life and my friends' lives. Ads, for example, that make you and me cheer don't work with them at all, they backfire.

What's this about? The short answer is that the ick factor is alive and festering even among people who want to suppress it. These are people who truly want to be fair and who don't want to hurt other people. At the same time, they remain deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality and marriage goes right to the heart of their discomfort, given that sex is central to marriage.

Ads that Move Us Don't Move those We Need to Move

In 2004, when I was at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, we -- like so many people now -- were sick of our side resorting to intellectualized arguments like "Don't write discrimination into the constitution" when the other side was going for arguments that hit the heart and emotions. We were frustrated that our side's campaigns almost never put up ads showing our families speaking in emotion-based arguments in support of marriage.

With no small amount of self-righteousness, we taped a dozen ads featuring gay and lesbian couples speaking from the heart, many with heart-wrenching stories. LGBT loved them. But when we showed them to voters who were opposed to anti-gay discrimination but weren't there on marriage (that is, the movables) all we were able to get from a few people was a hint of empathy, but absolutely no movement on marriage. It was stunning -- incredibly hard to witness. Our elaborately planned campaign had to be scrapped -- we couldn't justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on something that made us feel good but didn't move anyone else.

Closer to home, nearly three years ago the Haas, Jr. Fund, Gill Foundation, the David Bohnett Foundation, Ambassador Jim Hormel and others invested nearly $500,000 to understand what would move Californians to support marriage equality and how to address the deeply conflicting views the mushy middle holds about LGBT equality. Once again, ads featuring gay people -- individuals or couples or families -- just did not work. What did work were messages that pushed people to think about the issue in a new way, namely, asking them how would they feel if they were in our shoes. But again, gay and lesbian people didn't work as the messengers.

That's where the "Garden Wedding" ad came from -- the message being delivered silently by a bride facing numerous obstacles trying to get down the aisle that ended with the tagline "What if you couldn't marry the person you love?". Did I like the ad? Absolutely not.

Did it work? Absolutely. Let California Ring conducted rigorous testing in the Santa Barbara media market last year. A baseline poll found that only 36% of people there supported marriage equality, 8-10 points below the state average. That was followed by a substantial buy for the Garden Wedding ad, coupled with field organizing. A follow-up poll showed that support for marriage equality grew significantly, including a 16% jump among younger voters (as opposed to zero growth in markets where the campaign did not run). More tellingly, on Election Day, Santa Barbara defeated Prop 8 by 10 points (compared to it passing Prop 22 by 14 points in 2000). Santa Barbara was the only county in Southern California to vote No on 8 and the only thing that was different was the Garden Wedding campaign.

Why did it work? Instead of asking viewers to accept a gay couple -- which was simply too much too much for many people -- the ad provided them a way to be empathetic that was more comfortable to them. This made the issue about who they are -- fair minded, not bigoted -- rather than about whether they approve of gay relationships. Sadly, our side was unable to raise the millions required to take the ad statewide in the years and months before Prop 8 qualified for the ballot. Part of this failing was the simple reality that it's very hard to raise money in the absence of a campaign and crisis; the other main reason was that gay donors didn't understand the power and appeal of the ad and didn't step up to fund it.

Where Gay and Lesbian People Don't Make Good Messengers and Where They Do

Here's another painful reality all this research again showed: using gay and lesbian people as messengers not only failed to move people in our direction, it actually hurt us -- driving movables against marriage equality. Over and over the same result: showing them ads with gay and lesbian individuals or couples pushed people the wrong way. And ads that included children with their gay or lesbian parents did even worse. That's why the "Yes on 8" campaign so prominently featured children in its ads.

Think about friends who tell you their relatives are OK with them being gay or lesbian so long as they don't talk about it. Why do so many of us find it so incredibly hard to bring up gay issues with co-workers or when we visit our families over the holidays? Or when we do, what about the painful silence or uncomfortable glances that so often follow? Think your Aunt Jane -- who's only recently started to be nice to your partner -- is going to see a television ad and suddenly think, "Darn, I've been wrong all along about this gay marriage thing!"? Think again.

I am not saying we shouldn't be putting our lives, stories and faces front and center over and over again or that we can't move people solidly to our side. Most of us have seen how taking our lives up close and personal to people around us does, in fact, create change. Moreover, having these direct, real conversations is the only way we're ever going to squelch the ick and inoculate voters from attacks that exploit it.

What I am saying is that we can't leave this hard work until the last minute -- which is what a campaign really is. We can't expect some brilliantly crafted ads -- coming from our collective heart -- to be the silver bullets that kill anti-marriage ballot initiatives in the heat of a campaign, when there is no time and the other side is assaulting our movables with carefully crafted messages designed to exploit every anti-gay fear and myth. Instead, we need to move people beyond short-term political campaigns and before they get underway.

Moving Forward

Yes, I do think we could have won -- by a fraction of a point -- if everything had gone our way. But everything didn't go our way, including mistakes our side undoubtedly made and things beyond our control like the Mormon President/Prophet's ordering his faithful to fuel the "Yes" campaign. That gave our opponents a two-to-one money advantage 60 days out, something few campaigns of any sort, anywhere, are able to overcome.

As numbing, insulting and painful as our loss was, let's take real pride in the fact that we moved the needle nine points on marriage -- yes, marriage -- in less than eight years. Of course we must face up to and learn from our missteps. But rather than getting caught up in endless recriminations of our recent loss, let's focus on the long term work ahead -- how to build our social movement to win complete equality in California and across the nation.

From a big picture view that means ramping up education and organizing within churches, among younger voters, and in people of color and rural communities. But more important it is what each of us can and must do everyday: having those hard, from the heart talks with our friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers. Time is once again on our side, let's make the most of it.

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Comments

  1. Thanks, BEN IN OAKLAND, for your valuable perspective. BS is right, and the more I think about it, the angrier it makes me. We don't have to repeat past mistakes, yet we do. So many more of us are out now, yet we still run back to the closet, without even realizing that's what we're doing. I hope people, including Matt Foreman, pay attention to your wise words.

    Harvey Milk would, no doubt, be horrified to know that 30 years after he worked to tear down closet doors, we are still closeting our lives, and why? Because tests and polls and straight people tell us that's what we SHOULD do to win our rights. Yet we lost. Since I wasn't working on the ground during the Prop 8 fight, I can't point too many fingers at how the campaign was run, but the strategy of making ourselves invisible is shameful and wrong, no matter the results.

    I wish everyone would reread "The Mayor of Castro Street" and take lessons from "Milk." So much has changed, yet so much, sadly, hasn't. Invisibility is never the right answer.

    Posted by: Ernie | Jan 24, 2009 5:23:36 PM


  2. Ben.
    That is the best analysis of what went wrong with the no on 8 campaign that I have seen. Could you take a leadership position?
    You have my vote. I, too, put in time, energy and money and a had this nagging feeling the entire time that we were not going about it the right way and that we were going to lose. I am sorry that I didn't speak up and trusted that the "experts" knew more than I did....

    Posted by: Jeffrey | Jan 24, 2009 8:16:44 PM


  3. Thank you Jeffrey and Ernie, for your kind words.

    I have written a much more complete analysis of what went wrong. I will be happy to send it to anyone interested. Just click on my name and request it.

    Posted by: Ben in Oakland | Jan 25, 2009 1:18:26 PM


  4. That offer goes for you as well, Mr. Foreman.

    Posted by: Ben in Oakland | Jan 25, 2009 1:34:14 PM


  5. I have to comment on Matt Foreman's claim that he "had nothing to do with the No on 8 campaign" and was a "purely armchair quarterback". I do not know if he wrote this to claim that his opinion was unbiased or not, but since his organization gave over a quarter of a million dollars to Let California Ring he must have a certain level of bias especially when it comes to the subject of the effectiveness of the Garden Wedding Ad.

    Also, later in his editorial he writes "Santa Barbara was the only county in Southern California to vote No on Prop 8 and the only thing that was different was the Garden Wedding Campaign". With this statement is he not linking the Garden Wedding Campaign directly to the No On Prop 8 campaign? And, how does he know the Garden Wedding campaign is the only thing that was different if he is a "purely armchair quarterback"? Was he in the field in Santa Barbara after the media test through to Election Day from July working with the GOTV efforts?

    Seems to me he needs to do a bit more research before making some of his claims.

    IMHO, the single most important thing about the campaign was the late start and the hiring of the ineffective campaign consultant.

    Posted by: Geoff | Jan 26, 2009 11:33:53 PM


  6. Matt Foreman has written an extensive analysis of why we lost on Prop. 8. Basically, he claims that we did the best we could, and we could not have done any better. As you will see, I disagree completely. I think we could have done a lot better. I had no doubt that we could have and should have won. And we would have, but for the nature of the campaign-- a deeply closeted campaign in mentality, and so afraid of taking the wrong step that it did nothing at all. The justifications that Mr. Foreman has listed may be true. I have no way of knowing, except that these justifications contradict every experience of my 37 years as an out and proud gay man, and they have failed repeatedly in every campaign since 1996.

    That alone should tell us: let's maybe try something different. Maybe let's trust the basic decency and sense of fair play that I think most people in this country, and certainly, most people in California, would exhibit if only they were given the chance. But they weren't given the chance. They had to be protected from seeing us.


    Thankfully, since the election, more and more people are speaking out about the effects of a closeted campaign, and starting a true dialog in our community about our willingness to stand up for who we are, as we are. If we continue to employ political consultants who may have their own issues around shame and fear and homosexuality, and continue the strategies of the past that have yet to work, then I fear that the push for marriage equality is doomed. And despite their rhetoric that they are just fine with domestic partnerships, the anti-gay crowd is clearly not fine with it, and we can probably kiss any progress in that area goodbye as well for another twenty years. I'm too old for that. I have been hearing anti-gay prejudice my whole life-- the lies, the hate, the distortions, and worst of all, the hate-disguised-as-love. I'm tired of it. And frankly, I think the whole country, and not just gay people, has paid an enormous price for it, if indeed it led to the disaster known as George Bush.


    Though I did a lot of work against 8, ultimately, I chose not to work with the official campaign above a certain minimum. It was very clear to me that this was going to be a campaign conducted from the closet. In fact, I wrote a couple of articles on the subject, which together constitute as clear a picture of what I saw happening as I could produce. This picture was confirmed to me when I took a training and I received the list of words that we were supposed to avoid, including these three: prejudice, religion, and children.


    I have read in the news and online the bases for the lawsuits against 8. All very well and good, and possibly even valid. But they don't convince even me-- especially the revision vs. amendment part of it, which seems to be the main plank-- and so I have a hard time believing that they are going to convince a judge, especially if his/her job is on the line in a future recall. As with the No on 8 ads, obscure and irrelevant as they were, I'm not convinced, and I really want to be. Also, I believe this tack was already tried, and was rejected by the court. Of all possible arguments, this seems to be the weakest. And if it fails, there is no basis to appeal the matter in Federal court under equal protection or religious freedom laws.


    I'm not a lawyer, but I do have my 58 years of life, and 37 years as an out, proud, and happy gay man to guide me. Very frankly, it seems to me that these lawsuits are being conducted from the closet as well, and in exactly the same way as the campaign was. Once again, I see these three words being avoided: children, religion, and prejudice. And if this is indeed the case, then I truly fear that result will be the same. It will allow our opponents to say once again, "We don't hate you. We're just trying to preserve heterosexual marriage/the family/traditional values," by which they mean the myth of heterosexual superiority and the realities of heterosexual privilege and prejudice. It will also allow them to continue to claim that somehow, if gay people are protected from discrimination, whether in marriage or the usual employment/housing/accommodations, that their freedom of religion is compromised, by which they mean their freedom to discriminate against gay people on the basis of their religious belief.


    The closet is about living a lie. It IS a lie, it is based on lies, and it engenders lies. It distorts, perverts, and debases everything it touches, as the sorry life of Ted Haggard will attest. And like all lies, the bigger it is, the longer it is told, the more damage it ultimately causes. One lie, that the Jews were responsible for Jesus' death, as told in the Gospel of John, ultimately led to centuries of anti-Semitism, the murder of six million Jews, and 250,000 murdered gay people as an afterthought. John was, of course, justifying the Jewish heresy that became Christianity, and was sticking it to the Jewish authorities of the time. The Christians won and the Jews lost. Another lie, that gay people are responsible for child molestation, has impeded so much progress in the battle to protect our children. After all, if you can blame it on the queers, you don't actually have to look at child molestation and where it actually occurs most often-- the family.

    As a Jew and as a gay man, I'm weary of losing.


    There is only one answer to a lie, and that is the truth. By hiding us, hiding our families, we are complicit in this lie. Jesus said "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." So when do we start telling the truth? I, for one, wish to be free.


    For 2000 years or more, gay people have been subject to a vicious, virulent, and consistent prejudice. We have been imprisoned, slandered, criminalized, degraded, pathologized, and murdered for being different. There are many people who deem it a good thing to make our lives as difficult and unpleasant as possible, often under the guise of "We love you" and "This is for your own good". That this prejudice exists is beyond all doubt. The bulk of the Yes on 8 campaign was a conglomeration of known lies, distortions, and the-gays-are-gonna-get-your-children fear mongering, all very consistent with the existence of a prejudicial mindset. Prejudice and bigotry are not good bases for either law or public policy, and as we have progressed as a society, we have consistently rejected them.


    So why is prejudice apparently not a part of our legal and strategies? Are we still afraid to call the people prejudiced who have slandered us for two millennia-- or for twelve months straight-- especially since we know it is true? Whether it is presented as sincere religious belief, or admitted for what it is, it is still prejudice. Why can we not say that absent a compelling, factual, and real reason, our equality before the law cannot be compromised by someone else's prejudice? I know the argument goes that we win no converts by calling people bigots. As far as I am concerned, if we are willing only to be silent about it, we are consenting to it. We can be polite, but we have to start being truthful. The closet depends on both lies and silence for its power over gay people and its support from heterosexuals. We don't have to call people bigots. We do have to start talking about bigotry. We are not responsible for how people to react to us. We are only responsible for who we are, and to tell the truth.


    This is what Rosa Parks had to say about the consent of silence: "It’s not that I was fed up (that day). I was fed up all my life, as far back as I can remember, with being treated as less than a free person . . . as long as we continued to comply with these rules and regulations that kept us crushed down as a people, then the power structure would always say: ‘Well, they are not complaining, and they accept this, so they are satisfied with it.’"


    I would re-phrase that for gay people. "I have been fed up all my life, as far back as I can remember, with being treated as less than a whole person, as not good enough, not citizen enough, not human enough, to allow me the simple dignity and respect of living my life in peace. Well, actually they will allow that, as long as I don’t demand equality before the law -- or respect, or dignity, or to live my life in peace."


    It has been documented over and over again that the Catholics and the Mormons, along with other religious conservatives, were the primary organizers, financiers, movers, and promoters of Yes on 8. In fact, they are proud of it. Their arguments were primarily religion based: it's against our religion, God ordained that marriage is between a man and a woman, ministers will be jailed, churches will be taxed and/or sued, religious freedom violated. The President of the Mormon church sent out a letter encouraging Mormons to "do what they can", resulting in millions in out of state donations. Pastoral letters from the Catholic Bishops were read in church; Bishops Niedeaur and Mahoney have trumpeted their parts in this, claiming that they are only doing their Catholic duty. Brigham Young university students were encouraged to phone bank. All of this to enforce a certain, conservative religious view about homosexuality, and place a religious view about same-sex marriage onto the civil contract of marriage. The state, by virtue of the First Amendment, is supposed to be neutral in religious matters. By enforcing 8, the state is not being neutral. My marriage is a civil matter, with nothing to do with anyone's religion but my own. We don't have to attack people's religion. But we to have to start talking about religion, freedom of religion, and the difference between religious belief and civil society.


    I am grateful that Jerry Brown is not defending Prop. 8 in court, but defending the equal protection provisions of the Constitution of the State of California. But he should also be defending the religious freedom provisions as well. I believe he has the legal ability to do so. But he must choose it. And so should we.

    I can think of very few politicians who have the integrity and the fortitude to stand for much of anything. I voted for John Kerry, but held my nose while doing so. I'm happy that Obama was elected, but despite his rhetoric, I'm fairly sure that gay concerns are way down on his priority list. He only sees "out" gay people. I doubt he gets the crushing burden of the closet, simply because he has never had to be in one. It is one thing to "support" gay marriage, it is quite another thing to be willing take a rhetorical bullet for it. We need only look at Feinstein's wishy-washy "unfair and wrong" commercial, or Schwarzenegger's unfulfilled promise to campaign against 8. He somehow managed to be out of the state in the final week of the campaign, when he should have been on TV. And as far I can tell, no one called him on it. Certainly not his lesbian chief of staff.


    Where is the lawsuit from a coalition of religious groups-- UU, UCC, Episcopal, Reformed Judaism, to name but a few, plus a host of ministers from many other denominations-- who don't want their religious beliefs dictated by the conservatives and imposed upon civil law, especially in the matter of how civil law affects their parishioners? Since this is a civil contract, why is my access to it compromised by the religious beliefs of people who want their religious views reflected by civil law? Why is it that only THEIR freedom of religion the one that counts?


    Moreover, just because they claim it is about their religious beliefs does not make that a true statement. Nor does it make it right. It only makes it sound reasonable, unmotivated by hate or fear. Like all prejudice, religious prejudice is never reasonable. It's just prejudice. And what about MY freedom of religion, every bit as important as theirs? Again, by not speaking out about it, we are consenting to it. We don't have to attack anyone for their religious beliefs. But we do have to talk about it.

    If this were not about gay marriage, but was about any other religious difference of opinion, this would be called what it so clearly is: discrimination on the basis of religious belief. We have laws at every level of government which say that discrimination on the basis of religious belief, yours or mine, is wrong and has no place in secular, pluralistic society. Why is this different? I'm certainly old enough to remember "exclusive" country clubs and neighborhoods. But if Prop. 8-1/2 said that Jews could be discriminated against because they do not share majority Christian belief, it would be thrown out by the courts without a moment's hesitation, though before WWII such practices were considered acceptable. But because this is about this very ancient prejudice against gay people, often supported by religious belief but occasionally admitted for what it is, and about sex in our deeply puritanical culture, somehow, we are not allowed to point this out. Why is this 800 pound gorilla in the living room apparently invisible? What do we have to lose by calling out bigotry for what it is? What do we have to gain by pretending that it is not? How is the continuation of the closet served by not talking about bigotry and prejudice?


    Again, our silence means consent. Or, as my Act Up brothers would say, Silence=Death.


    Finally, there is the matter of children and family, or as I like to call it, The Children (TM). Because, despite all of that pro-family, love-the-children rhetoric of the religious right, The Children (TM) are just one more commodity in their never-ending battle against ending this prejudice and our full inclusion in society-- and arguably, in their whole socio-political agenda, which I believe is ultimately the control of our society and the rule of their "theology". I can think of all kinds of children they don't care about: the estimated 70,000 children in California with gay parents, the 3%-4% of the children that will grow up to be gay, but meanwhile have to grow up in the closet and suffer every last indignity that it can bestow, from shame and self-hatred to the ultimate: a Ted Haggard life of furtiveness, or a Bobby Griffith suicide of despair. And how many children world-wide could have been fed, clothed, educated and immunized for the 85 million spent on this campaign? How many children in Darfur died of starvation while Yes on 8 was attacking my marriage? How many social programs in Utah have gone begging while the Mormon Church was getting all moralistic on our asses?


    When I attended the above mentioned speaker's training, which turned out not to be much of a training at all, my intellectual hackles were raised when we were told there was a list of words we weren't supposed to use and were to try to avoid (at worst) or to euphemize (at best). It reminded of the first time I ever heard the words "politically incorrect", when I was working against the Briggs Initiative 30 years ago; I thought then that speaker was joking, and was shocked to find that she was serious. This time, when I saw that list of words, my spirits fell, because I received yet another confirmation that this campaign was going to be conducted from the dark recesses of the closet, as has every other failed campaign for the last ten years.


    But the final blow, what told me that we were very likely to lose this battle, and what decided for me that I would put little energy towards the official campaign-- though I did personally donate $500 to it, and raised about $1000 more-- was the exclusion of one word: children. I asked the presenter why we could not talk about that. Her first response was that the Yes people had appropriated it. I couldn't swear to it, but she may even have used the word "co-opted", a word I haven't heard used since I first learned it from the admitted socialists (and I don't mean that as a put-down, just a context) running the anti-Briggs campaign.


    I asked the trainer why we couldn't talk about gay families, or gay people with children. Her response: focus groups had shown that any association of gay people and children activated the worst animosities of the anti-gay crowd and, more importantly, the worst fears of the crucial undecided voters in the middle who would actually decide the contest. What a concept! Let's ask straight people who are afraid of gay people about how to win gay rights, instead of asking gay people what has worked in their lives. You can see the result of focus group viewpoints. We have been focused over big-time.


    So many lethal absurdities here. Yes on 8 had co-opted the issue, so we can't talk about it. Let's pretend that gay people don't have children instead. Let's tell a lie, even one of omission. From my point of view, it is all the more reason that we should be talking about it, and loudly. People who don't know gay people, who know nothing about us, who don't know that we have children, that many of us love children, that some of us have adopted the unwanted, cast off children of irresponsible heterosexual reproduction, cannot be informed that their beliefs and perceptions are wrong, lest we...what? Scare them? Challenge them? Educate them? If they are so locked into their fears and their hatred that the simple act of showing our humanity, our families, and our children will cause them to vote against us, then they would not be voting for us anyway.

    But Foreman's column said we SHOULD be avoiding this topic. However out-of-the-closet Mr. Foreman and these political consultants may be, this sentiment makes me wonder if they might have their own issues around fear and shame. I say we should trust the basic decency and fairness of our fellow Americans. I say we should reach hearts and minds with real people and real families. I would rather lose the campaign because we have told the truth, than because we have been complicit in a lie. There was a very telling scene in the movie "Milk", where the politicos were going to hide gay people, and Harvey Milk said NO. He understood the closet, and in fact, gave me my understanding of its pernicious nature long before many of these political consultants were even aware that they were gay.


    I have a friend who adopted a child with her partner-- an unwanted child who would have been raised in poverty and disease, another piece of third world refuse heading towards an early death because his heterosexual parents neither wanted him nor were prepared to care for him. M. has been given a chance at a different life with her, and is now healthy, bright, charming, well behaved, and a joy to be around. Marriage provides a certain set of rights and responsibilities upon people who are married, and a certain set of protections for their children. Preventing my friend from marrying another woman, which would give M a set of married parents and all of the benefits that the law and society allow, is advocating is to keep him, and the children of all gay couples, in as legally, financially and socially precarious a position as possible. Domestic partnership goes only so far in protecting the children of gay people, and stops exactly at the state line.


    The legal and social status of the children of gay people is an issue that must be addressed, and if we don't do so, you can be sure that we will see another anti-gay, Arkansas-style initiative that will. By conducting our campaign and our lawsuit from the fear and loathing of the closet, we are avoiding it. We are doing nothing to counter the the-gays-are-gonna-get-your-children fear mongering stereotypes and outright falsehoods that are the anti-gay industry's stock-in-trade, and their most potent and vicious ammunition. And in so doing, we are failing our children just as surely as our opponents are. What's good for the children of heterosexuals is good for the children of homosexuals. Opposing marriage equality is tantamount to punishing those children. What have they ever done to deserve that? What about their equality before the law, their freedom of religion, their rights? If we are going to say that children are our most precious resource, then we must stand up for them now, just as we surely should have done throughout this whole, sorry campaign.


    We should have won and we could have won. We cannot allow our opponents to own those three words-- religion, prejudice, and children-- any more than we can allow them to own the word "marriage". Keeping our lawsuit and our campaigns in the closet is the same as keeping gay people in the closet, and will have the same results. We will remain invisible and powerless as a community.

    Posted by: Ben Janken | Feb 3, 2009 2:36:58 PM


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