This optimism building on the East Coast, where the Connecticut Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in that state, stands in contrast to the dark clouds gathering over California. We are in the fight of our lives to defeat Prop 8, the proposition that would pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in California. We have not had a good week.Well, you already know that if youâ€™re reading the Bay Times. If youâ€™re not from the Bay Area, let me tell you that a class of first graders was let out of school last week to attend the wedding of their lesbian teacher. Worse, the ceremony was conducted by Mayor Newsom, who has inadvertently become the poster boy for the other side. Newsomeâ€™s exuberant reaction to the California Supreme Court decision is featured to ill effect in TV ads supporting Prop 8.
There are two problems with letting the youngsters out of the classroom and into the political morass. First, theyâ€™re supposed to be in school. This was not an after-hours celebration. It was class time. But more importantly, it plays into the false assertion that without the passage of Prop 8, Californiaâ€™s public schools will be forced to teach kids that same-sex marriage is wonderful.In fact, Prop 8 wonâ€™t have any effect on the public school curriculum whatsoever, but the wedding party incident adds credibility to the scare tactic at a time when our side is under-funded and apparently relying once again on poll-tested campaign messages targeting a smallish slice of middle of the road voters.
Winning the Prop 8 fight will now take a last minute turnaround, and our message in the next two weeks cannot be a tame appeal to â€śfairnessâ€ť or even an attack on the â€śliesâ€ť of the other campaign. But I have the rising fear that it may be too late to reverse direction, absent a sudden burst of opposition by the governor and the stateâ€™s top leaders.Throughout this campaign, we have once again hid the face of same-sex couples and given a free pass to those in the middle of the electorate who are uncomfortable with gay relationships. Instead of challenging that atavistic premise, we have nodded our collective heads and said something on the order of â€śHey, we understand that gay couples make you a little queasy, but for Godâ€™s sake donâ€™t write us out of the constitution.â€ť
You know what that message actually means? It means that itâ€™s just fine to feel queasy. It implies that we ourselves feel queasy in a way. We can see your point! Itâ€™s a losing strategy and it has lost us every same-sex marriage election, save one (Arizona 2004) that weâ€™ve ever fought. I read that when newsman Rex Wockner challenged this approach, our campaign leaders told him that the ads werenâ€™t directed at our community, they were directed at the swing voters. Focus groups showed that these fence sitters were indeed swayed by the namby pampy style.
Well, of course we want to direct our message to the middle. But you know what? Thereâ€™s another way to sway those voters. Thereâ€™s a positive message to be sent about what kind of state you want to live in, what kind of person you want to be, and what kind of assumptions youâ€™re bringing to the ballot box. California is the future, not the past, and itâ€™s the state that leads America, not the one that drags it down. Itâ€™s not OK to look down on gay couples just as it is not OK to be racist. Sure, people feel that way, but itâ€™s not right, period. Who are you, swing voter? Look in the mirror and make a decision. And while youâ€™re at it, take a look at a few gay couples who have not brought civilization to its knees by getting married. Look at their kids, their lives, their happiness, their futures. Were these messages ever tested in the focus groups? How many approaches were considered before we fell back on the tried and failed defensive political postures of the past?
A positive message would have pre-empted attack ads. Instead we fell into their traps, forcing ourselves to insist that California can become a marriage equality state without a corresponding commitment to equal rights throughout its institutions. No, gay marriage wonâ€™t be taught in schools if Prop 8 fails. But neither will the idea that gay marriage is wrong. We canâ€™t tell the voters that they can vote against Prop 8 on one hand, and preserve a homophobic public policy on the other. They canâ€™t, and they know it and we should have asked, not just for the status quo of the last five months, but for a future of respect. We could have described that future in an attractive way and I think weâ€™d be in better shape today if we had.I know I sound pessimistic, but hereâ€™s the silver lining. I am so often wrong about the outcome of elections and court rulings, that my pessimism could be considered a leading indicator of victory. I havenâ€™t given up. Iâ€™ve given money twice. I just feel badly, thatâ€™s all.