Wednesday, September 01, 2004
by Wayne Besen
In last week’s Missouri Massacre, voters overwhelmingly passed an Amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage 71-29 percent. In the Show Me State, the gay movement was shown up. We were about as competitive as Dennis Kucinich running for president in a Mississippi Republican primary.
This humiliating loss follows similar Constitutional Amendment defeats in Hawaii, Alaska, Nebraska and Nevada. When it comes to fighting for gay marriage, it is painfully obvious that Plan A is not working. It is time to reverse course and radically overhaul the gay movement if we wish to remain competitive.
The biggest problem is that the movement focuses too much on politics. We make the fatal blunder of believing that if we just elect the right prophet we will be lead to the Promised Land. The people we put in office, however, are usually not elected leaders, but elected followers. Rule number one of politics: A politician will never lose so that an interest group can win.
I am certainly not calling for a withdrawal from politics. The single most important mission our movement has is helping to elect John Kerry. However, if we don’t work equally as hard at swaying public opinion, there is a limited amount John Kerry or others can do to help us.
Unfortunately, our movement’s structure is like the guy at the gym with the massive upper body and Popsicle stick legs. We are all political muscle, yet we have virtually no foundation to support our political strength.
To change this, an organization has to emerge to fill the education vacuum that has left gay people vulnerable. Perhaps this can be an existing group or maybe a new organization must be created. An overtly political group, however, can never successfully play the role of educator. Politics by definition is the art of short-term deal making and compromise. What is needed is a deliberate plan to change minds tomorrow, not necessarily win votes today.
This conflict has played out in our state-by-state marriage battles. Our strategy has been to sell the public on the notion that the danger of changing a state’s constitution outweighs the danger posed by same sex-marriages. So far, people aren’t buying it because we haven’t alleviated their fears, nor have we clearly articulated a compelling argument FOR same-sex marriage that touches their hearts and minds.
"We will not trick our way to equality, while everyone is looking the other way," wrote Washington Blade Executive Editor Chris Crain. "The case for our freedom to marry is a strong one, and it’s way past time we started making it."
If you thought the Missouri Massacre was tough, the road ahead only gets worse. Louisiana will vote on a similar amendment Sept 18. Eight states: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Utah have placed marriage amendments on the November ballot. Ballot initiatives and petitions are waiting to be certified in Michigan, North Dakota and Ohio.
Look, we are going to lose many of these battles. We can cry in our beer and continue to robotically follow the same shortsighted "strategic" road to ruin. Or we can start to view these fights as wonderful opportunities to showcase our beautiful, stable, loving relationships and educate the public.
In our upcoming Amendment fights, our leaders must begin to view each sate as a large classroom - a laboratory for learning that views citizens as pupils, not voters. These pupils must personally meet same-sex couples and their families so a true dialogue can begin.
Why not also produce ads featuring the many adults who grew up in same-sex households who can ask why their first-rate parents are being treated like second-class citizens?
How about TV commercials featuring a lesbian who was unfairly turned away from her life partners hospital bedside? Isn’t it time we used emotional appeals instead of using legalistic arguments to conceal what we truly want?
As we watch our DVD’s and listen to our exciting new I-pods, sometimes it is hard to figure out why our modern world isn’t, well, more modern. But if you think about it, we are really only baby steps from a time of backwardness and barbarism.
In the last 100 years we have seen the women’s movement, the civil right’s movement, the birth of the gay movement, the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan and the savagery of the Holocaust. The human race is only in the dawn of the new age of freedom and liberation.
Surely if the world can change as much as it has in the last several decades, we can continue to make similar progress as well. And demographically speaking, time is on our side. Polls show that people under 30 are much more likely to support same-sex marriage.
First, however, we must embrace the time period in which we now live. And that is in a time of struggle, pain, tears and turmoil where we will have to fight to convince Americans that our families are deserving of freedom, respect and legal equality. There are no shortcuts at the ballot box.
As the next Constitutional Amendment fight looms in Louisiana, we can waste no time in launching Plan B. When we stop running away from our relationships, so will the public. We have patiently waited thousands of years to showcase our families, and now we must embrace our brilliant moment in history. Let’s educate state-by-state and fix the problem, instead of relying on the failed strategy of the quick political fix.
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