For the past few weeks, I have been letting my e-mail accumulate, saving most of the bulk mailings that cluttered my box as they might have some blog-worthy tid-bit. As I read through them this afternoon, I kept coming across stuff from various gay sources about the likely fall ballot proposition to amend our state’s constitution to define marriage as it has long been defined (as the union of one man and one woman) as well as releases on the California Supreme Court’s decision redefining that institution to include same-sex unions.
Before that decision, I thought the initiative had a 50-50 chance of passing. With the decision, I think the odds have increased for those who favor amending the constitution. And if the gay groups who sent out those e-mails have anything to do with the “No” campaign, the odds with increase even further.
Take a gander at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s (NGLTF) April 24 press release. It calls the petition drive a “mean-spirited attack.” If they think it’s mean-spirited, they have little understanding of their opposition on this issue. Yeah, there are some mean-spirited voices in the anti-gay marriage crowd, notably Randy Thomasson of VoteYesMarriage.com, but his group failed to gather enough signatures for a proposal which would have overturned the state’s domestic partnership program as well as limited marriage to different-sex couples.
Advocates of gay marriage must not forget that while the state may recognize gay marriage during the course of the campaign, they’re the ones pushing to change the way American jurisdictions, indeed world political institutions, have defined marriage for as long as they have recognized the institution. As I wrote before, the burden is on those proposing the change.
They need to recognize that most Californians who oppose gay marriage don’t do so out of bigotry or hatred but because they see insitution as the union of two individuals of different genders. Those who organize the campaign to defeat this proposition won’t get much mileage if they campaign against social conservatives. That may win them accolades in San Francisco, West Hollywood, San Diego’s Hillcrest neighborhood and on university campuses, but it won’t win them votes in cities like Fresno and Bakersfield and the suburbs of Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.
In short, without using the language of the left, which seems to be the only dialect in which the gay organizations can speak, they need to make the case why gay marriage is a good thing. And not just for gay people. I know I’m repeating myself when I say this, but it’s a point which bears repetition, Jonathan Rauch’s Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America is a good place to learn how to make that case.
They need to find a way to reduce the best parts of that book into 30-second television spots. Indeed, NGLTF, the very group whose recent release focused on lashing out as those gathering signatures in the Golden State, ran ads in 2005 in the Lone Star State doing just that, defending the idea of gay marriage on “essentially conservative grounds.”
Ads such as these which focus on the commitments gay couples are making should replace those attacking gay marriage opponents in particular and Republicans in general. Terms like “commitment” and “monogamy” should replace “rights” and “equality.” Instead of using that latter abstraction, use a line like this one from one of the Texas ads: a mother of a gay child says, “My children want the same thing their father and I wanted . . . . I hope they’re together forever.”
I like that idea, using straight parents of gay children to make the pitch to defeat this amendment.
Remember, the goal here is not to earn cheers from politically correct crowds in the state’s most liberal enclaves, but to change minds in the state’s most conservative ones.
*I changed the title of the post when an astute reader informed me that for something to be a referendum, the state legislature must refer it to the people.