When I saw the first ad against Proposition 8, I had thought the initiative’s opponents had developed a better strategy than had opponents of past such initiatives. Instead of demonizing supporters of traditional marriage, they focused on the benefits of recognizing same-sex marriage: the state shouldn’t treat gay couples differently than it does same-sex unions.
Since that ad, however, I–and a number of blog readers–have heard opponents of 8 resort to attacks on the initiative’s proponents. (Perhaps a good idea if you’re attacking a candidate running for office.)Â One opponent, a good and decent man who recently married his partner (and understands the obligations of the institution), echoed the New York Times in calling the Proposition “mean-spirited.” Countless others call it “anti-gay.”
With many voters wanting to treat all citizens fairly regardless of their sexual orientation yet remain wary of gay marriage because they believe the institution defines a union between two people of different genders, we need not demonize those whose arguments resonate with those “swing voters.” To be sure, there are mean-spirited supporters of Proposition 8, who do seek to marginalize gay people and repeal even the state’s landmark domestic partnership program (enacted and expanded by the elected legislature).
Most, however, favor the traditional view of marriage, not because they hate gay people, but because they see it as a unique institution with a certain gender-based definition. One blogger who supports the initiative took pains to reference the initiative’s talking points: “Proposition 8 doesn’t take away any rights or BENEFITS from gay or lesbian domestic partners.”
To defeat the initiative, opponents must make the case for including same-sex couples within the definition of marriage and not that its proponents are bigots. Yet, a reader, a widowed gay man, experienced just such attacks when “No on 8” representative called him asking him to oppose the initiative. In his e-mail, the reader noted how he asked the caller if he favored having a lesbian teacher take her kindergarten class to her wedding:
I asked if this is what supporters of No on 8 thought was appropriate for young children, and if any other class had ever been taken out of school to see a straight marriage. . . . I thought it was inappropriate for young children to be exposed to something they did not understand and whose parents knew nothing about it, and that it undermined their argument that it would never influence schools, churches, etc. Then I was told I was obviously a homophobe. He became quite angry with me, and when I told him I was a gay man, I got the usual “self hating” gay smear.
This is not the way to win friends and influence people. The reader “would really like to be able to vote against 8, but [needs] an affirmative argument in support of that vote, and I am not getting it.” Right now, he intends to vote “Yes” on 8.
As ILoveCapitalism put it in the comments to a recent post, opponents of the initiative need make the case “why gay marriage is good for the rest of society” because, after all, this is really a referendum on gay marriage.
Demonizing your adversaries is not a good way to advance an argument. Unless the opponents of Proposition 8 learn this lesson, they doom themselves to defeat in November.