The other night I attended a screening of a friend’s documentary-in-progress following a number of gay couples who, in 2004, went up to San Francisco to get married when Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed his city to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A number of things struck me about the footage, but two things that my really stood out. First, here were almost no attacks on social conservatives.
Indeed, when the various couples talking about how getting the license impacted their relationship, many sounded a lot like social conservatives. And that was the second thing that really struck me. One spouse realized she couldn’t just walk out the door after they’d had a fight or faced a trying situation. They realized they had made a lifetime commitment. Their relationship wasn’t just about love. There was also a sense of mutual responsibility. Not only did marriage bring the two individuals closer, but it also integrated each more closely together into the lives of his (or her) partner’s extended family.
In short, they talked about marriage as mosst heterosexual couples in traditional marriages have talked about it for generations.
I wish my friend every success with his film and hope it soon becomes available to a wider audience. But, it hit home to me in large part because it stood in stark contrast t0 the imagery I have seen and the arguments I have heard in favor of state recognition of same-sex marriage.
It’s almost as if those “designated” to make those arguments (or those who designate themselves to make them on behalf of the “gay community) are afraid of sounding like social conservatives. And that’s the primary reason, I believe, we need a complete overhaul of the gay leadership. These people are versed in left-wing politics, more ready to bash “right-wingers,” the very people whose minds they most need to change.
Do we need leaders who use the anniversary of 9/11 to tell attack opponents of Obama’s proposals for health care reform, calling theirs a “virulent political atmosphere“? If she really hates conservatives, she should get a job at the Democratic National Committee (or maybe look for a position at MSNBC).
If she thinks attacking conservatives who oppose increased government control of health care will help advance the cause of lesbian Americans (the woman in question works for a lesbian rights’ organization), she is clueless about the attitudes those “conservatives” have about gay people. For many of those whom she labels “conservative” are really libertarians have and, if they aren’t already, are open to a live-and-let-live attitude toward gay men and lesbians.
The people gay activists most need to reach don’t respond to the type of left-wing campaigns gay leaders are most accustomed to running. It didn’t help that when the “No on 8” campaign was staffing up in the run-up to last fall’s elections, they looked to veterans of Barbara Boxer’s various campaigns. Maybe had they had a few conservatives on board, they might have thought to ask Ward Connerly to cut a commercial urging voters to reject the measure. They may find his views on all other issues anathema, but he is well-respected on the right even despite coming out in favor of partnership benefits for gay employees at California public universities. Most of those who bristle at the mere mention of his name were already going to vote “No” anyway.
The normal Democratic/Republican, liberal/conservative dichotomies don’t fit the debate issues of concern to the gay community. Many minority groups who overwhelmingly favor the Democratic Party also have high rates of attendance in churches not favorably disposed to homosexuality. Those individuals will listen more readily to pastors to whose services they flock every Sunday than to the friendly twentysomething who knocks on their door once every election cycle.
But, some Republicans, particularly those who own businesses and work in the private sector, are amenable to greater tolerance of gay people. Many have gay co-workers or found their companies catering to a gay clientele. They know that showing respect for their difference is good for business. They can be moved on the issue of marriage and civil unions, that is, if gay advocates make the right approach.
You can’t make that approach if you see those people as the “enemy” because they support smaller government and less regulation. Or dislike them because they oppose the policies of a political figure you adore. You need to talk in language they understand, using words that do not offend them. And with a gay leadership rooted in left-wing politics, you have as our national spokesmen and women people more accustomed to bashing conservatives than to understanding and appreciating their ideas.
And that is one reason, voters keep rejecting gay marriage. Replacing the left-wing leaders alone will not change the debate, but it will be a good start.