Like many in the gay community, I was devastated by the results of Prop 8. As a firm believer in mainstream America, I accept that the proposed constitutional amendment is an appeal to direct democracy and takes credence over any other democratic decision, whether it is judicial or legislative. I accepted the results and took consolation in the long term trend which shows eventual success. The issue is primarily a matter of time.
When the case was filed in the California Supreme Court against Prop 8, I feared that the lesson was not learned. In light of the backlash following the first Supreme Court decision that fueled Prop 8, I was bewildered as to why the same-sex marriage advocates would again turn to the courts. The 52 to 48 spread showed that it is possible to win this battle by appealing to the people.
The “No On 8” campaign, while breaking milestones in funding and outreach, geared its message to the wrong crowd. Like any campaign, the electorate broke down into three groups: the un-reachables, the core, and the moderates. Both sides disregard the un-reachables and target the moderates to sway the vote. However, the message in 2008 focused more on the core than the moderates.
Framing the debate as a civil rights issue and a gross injustice is valid and accepted by the core, but is not a strong case for those with doubts. The moderates do not blankly condemn gay marriage as an abomination; however they are concerned that gay marriage advocates are demanding rights without appreciating the implications and responsibilities that marriage entails. This is the point that gay marriage advocates must digest and drive home.
Equality California, the main advocacy organization, seems to be moving in the right direction. Branching out from the sheltered coastal enclaves, they are opening outreach offices in the Inland Empire, the Central Valley, San Diego, Sacramento, and even Orange County. Rather than dismissing traditionalists, the campaign is now making efforts to show them that gay marriage is an affirmation, not a rejection of societal norms. Additionally they are bringing in religious leaders to explain the case to the very communities that were galvanized to pass Prop 8. This organizational change must be matched by a message that appeals to the moderates.
Owing to its radical and activist roots, prominent segments of the gay community are slow to realize that the nature of the game has changed. In light of past and continued discrimination, they refuse to make appeals to those they feel suppress their rights.
For better or for worse, gay marriage is the line in the sand for family values groups who stood silent in the face of much more serious attacks on heterosexual marriage like deteriorating emphasis on family and the proliferation of convenient divorce. Gay marriage advocates should not despair or bemoan our situation, but rather use it as an opportunity to show mainstream America that we not only deserve the right to marriage, but that we understand and seek the responsibilities of marriage as well.