Dynamist Blog

After Prop. 8

Judging from both overheard conversations and personal communications, gays in California are feeling punched in the stomach. As my friend David noted on his Facebook page, California voters gave farm animals new rights while eliminating rights for loving couples. Over on Volokh Conspiracy, Dale Carpenter has a smart, comprehensive, and pessimistic post on the subject. An excerpt:

But the narrow margin of yesterday's loss masks some hard facts for the gay-marriage movement. Counting the losses for gay marriage in Arizona and Florida yesterday, we are now 0-30 in ballot fights. In California, we lost under circumstances that were as favorable to our side as they are likely to be for some time. We lost in deep blue territory on a blue night, when Obama carried the state by an astonishing 61% (running ahead of the opposition to Prop 8 by more than 13%). We lost despite being on the "no" side in a ballot fight, with the built-in advantage that gives you among those who vote "no" on everything out of understandable proposition fatigue. We lost despite the state attorney general changing the ballot title to reflect that it "eliminates rights," something most Americans don't like to do no matter the subject.

All of this suggests to me that actual support for gay marriage in California is something less than the 48% vote we got. My best guess is that actual electoral support for gay marriage in California is somewhere in the low 40s, when you factor out ballot fatigue, the blue tide, and the favorable ballot title — all of which you would have to presume in trying to reverse Prop 8 in a future initiative requiring an actual "yes" to gay marriage. And, of course, to reverse Prop 8 we'll have to raise lots of money and put together a petition drive just to get to the ballot. My estimate is that last night's loss — barring federal or state judicial intervention to undo Prop 8, which I regard as unlikely — means there will be no gay marriage in California for at least a decade.

I'm more optimistic than he is about the timetable, because attitudes are changing rapidly and, to be crass about it, there's a big enough generation gap that normal mortality works in our favor. But I'd still give it six to eight years, assuming we make an effort to persuade, or at least desensitize, the public rather than relying on the flim-flam of hiding the gays under the carpet while Dianne Feinstein opines that "no matter what you think about marriage" you should "vote against discrimination." No matter what you think about marriage???? Who the hell came up with that inane line? (The only voters it makes any sense for are the rare birds who think the state should stay out of the "marriage" business and only establish standard civil-union contracts. Not a bad policy--but let's apply it evenly.)

Conventional wisdom maintains that the hide-the-gays strategy was good politics, but a) it insulted voters' intelligence on an issue that was not hard to understand b) it seemed desperate c) it suggested that gay marriage is, in fact, something to be ashamed of instead of an extension of normal family life and, of course, d) it didn't work. The political and cultural reality is that either people think it's OK for gays to get married, or they don't. And if they don't, they think this kind of discrimination is good--and completely different from the bad kind of discrimination. Besides, when you say the issue is "discrimination" and equate traditional limits on marriage to (now-illegal) racist practices, traditionalists can claim, without seeming crazy, the next step will be to outlaw even private, religiously based limits on marriage. Isn't that what we do with discrimination?

Ideally, we would persuade skeptics that gay marriage is good. But, at the very least, we need to persuade them that it's not bad. A lot of people are still in the muddled middle on this issue. They just need more evidence and more experience. As hard as it may seem right now, gay families need to be more, not less, public about their lives.

UPDATE: A sore losers lawsuit is the opposite of public persuasion. How big a backlash do you want to invite? Nobody can control Gloria Allred, but Lambda should think beyond its donor base's immediate demands and concentrate on the future. (Of course, maybe my interpretation is wrong, and this is secretly just an effort to clarify the status of a future referendum that would repeal Prop. 8.)

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