I just received yet another mass e-mail from Lorri L. Jean of the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, whining about the “reprehensible role that the [Mormon] Church hierarchy played in directing members to fund the campaign of lies and deceit promoted by the Yes on 8 leaders.”
In her missive, she spent more time blaming her opponents’ campaign for its success than she did looking at her own team’s failures. Perhaps, she should take a gander at some of the sensible conservative blogs as we look with admiration on the Obama team’s amazing organization and take stock of the mistakes the McCain campaign made. Yeah, we’re bummed about the election, but we’re trying to figure out where our side went wrong.
That’s what Ms. Jean and other opponents should be doing now instead of venting at Mormons. Since they’re not going to look inward, let me try to do so for them.
First, their slogans just didn’t work. “Equality for All” doesn’t resonate with people outside social and political activist circles of the left. A later slogan, “Unfair and Wrong,” did little more than express anger at the initiative. It didn’t do anything to convince voters opposed to discrimination yet favoring the traditional understanding of marriage. If anything, it suggested people were wrong to believe that sexual difference is a defining aspect of marriage.
Indeed, I believe, the “No on 8” campaign failed primarily because its leaders did not appreciate those who favor that traditional understanding not out of anti-gay animus but due to their belief that sexual difference is essential to marriage. Opponents of the initiative needed explain why we should expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples and acknowledge that this expansion would indeed promote a social change.
Social change can be a good thing, but is frightening to some. You need to reassure those who might fear such change by showing how it is good for society and do so in a manner which shows respect for those who espouse the traditional understanding of marriage.
Instead of focusing on promoting social change, they, with help from ballot language provided by Attorney General Jerry Brown, contended the initiative’s passage would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry, as if that “right’ had existed for generations, instead of having been mandated just six months ago by the State Supreme Court.
Had it not been for the court’s decision, it would have been much easier to defeat 8. Had the court ruled the other way, it would have deprived the “Yes” folks of their apparently quite effective line that “four judges ignored four million voters.â€
Those who spoke of the initiative “eliminating a right” failed to appreciate that most Americans don’t like courts resolving controversial social issues. And whether we like it or not, gay marriage is just such an issue.
Not only did the “no” campaign fail to appreciate people’s opposition to court intrusion, they failed to offer an argument which appealed to socially moderate citizens who respect, but are not beholden to, certain social conservative ideas. All too often, initiative opponents told us that those who do not see marriage as a right were bigoted, hateful or just plain mean-spirited.
As a gay conservative blogger, I heard from both sides and found the language of the “No” folks far more hostile than that of the “Yes’ folks.
The “No” side failed to make an affirmative case for gay marriage. Their stuff was invariably negative, attacking the initiative and demonizing its supporters. The attacks on the Mormon Church in the wake of the initiative’s passage are public manifestations of the vitriol I’d been reading in private e-mails before the election.
Such angry e-mails caused me to waver in my opposition to the initiative. If I, a gay man, wavered, how then would straight people, knowing fewer married gay couples, have reacted to similar efforts at suasion?
At the same time, the correspondence I received from the “Yes” folks almost always made clear that the codification of the traditional definition of marriage would not prevent the state from continuing to recognize same-sex domestic partnerships. They didn’t demonize gay people, merely insisted that marriage was a unique institution defined as the exclusive union between two individuals of different genders.
In short, the “No on 8” campaign failed because its leaders failed to appreciate the legitimate concerns of gay marriage opponents. They saw this campaign as one to prevent voters from eliminating a right whereas many voters say it as one where they could weigh in on social change.
In the future, when the time comes to repeal this newly-enacted provision from the state constitution, we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about promoting social change. We just need be prepared to explain why we believe such social change is a good thing.
And we need leaders who don’t see social conservatives as they enemy whom we must demonize, but as potential allies whom we need to convince by the power of our arguments. It’s simply a question of making the case for gay marriage rather than against social conservatives.
A case for social change instead of a demand for rights.