Gay Marriage in the USA

Here’s a great story by Molly Ball on The Atlantic’s website:

The Marriage Plot: Inside This Year’s Epic Campaign for Gay Equality

After 31 consecutive defeats gay marriage finally won voter approval in four state referendums last month. Maine, Maryland and Washington made it legal, while in Minnesota a constitutional ban was rejected (it’s still against the law there, by statute.)

What made the difference?  Obama was a big help. Last May, after North Carolina voted for a ban, he said he’d changed his mind and personally was now “comfortable” with same sex marriage. There was a noticeable uptick in Black support this time around.

Libertarians and conservatives were also on board, as right of centre political operatives, including Republicans close to George Bush and Mitt Romney, joined the equality campaigns. They donated a lot of money and went public with their support.

But the the most important factor was probably acquired from experience, from so many defeats. The lesson they learned: the opposition weren’t bigots. Many no voters were sympathetic but conflicted on the issue. It was the unexpected loss in California that drove this point home.

In survey after survey, researchers would ask people what marriage meant to them — not gay marriage, but the concept of marriage itself. And the answers were always the same: Marriage meant love and commitment. Even people who’d been divorced three times would say the same thing. Then the researchers would ask, “Why do you think gay people want to get married?” and the answers would change: They want rights and benefits. They’re trying to make a political point. They don’t understand what marriage is really about. Most commonly, respondents said they simply didn’t know.

So the pro campaigns stopped stressing the civil rights aspects of the issue, and began discussions about love, marriage and faith.

In Maine, canvassers learned to begin each of these conversations with two precisely scripted, research-based questions. They first asked voters how they felt about marriage for same-sex couples. What came next was a question the campaigners called the “Marriage Three Way.” With voters who said they were supportive of same-sex marriage, the canvasser drilled down, asking if they supported marriage or merely some other form of recognition, such as civil unions, for same-sex couples. It might have seemed superfluous to press voters who’d already said they were supporters, but the research had shown that some people who claimed to be in favor of same-sex marriage still preferred civil unions. “These voters,” an internal training document for canvassers explained, “are susceptible to the opposition’s messages.”

Those who’d said they were opposed were asked a slightly different follow-up — did they support some other form of recognition, such as civil unions, or no recognition at all for same-sex couples? Those who chose the first option, canvassers would attempt to persuade, because “people who generally oppose marriage but support civil unions are very persuadable to support marriage with the right kind of conversation.” The latter were considered not persuadable, and the canvassers would thank them and move on.

In instances where the conversation continued, a more free-form discussion would ensue, one centered on shared values, love, and commitment. Canvassers were encouraged to share their own stories — to talk about their gay friends and relatives, their own guiding values, their experiences with marriage. “There are two great questions on your script: ‘Have you ever been married/Do you want to get married?’ and ‘Do you know any gay or lesbian people?'” the training document instructed. “You’ll want to not only ask these questions, but also answer them yourselves. Remember, this is a two-way conversation, not an interview!”

Although they won, it was close, and the nation remains divided on the marriage issue, while respect for gays and lesbians as individuals is much higher.

There is much more in this very long, detailed essay. It also looks at the strategy on the other side, which was more principled than I expected. The whole story is an example of how democracy doesn’t require political parties and how people with very different political philosophies can work together.

My own view of marriage remains ambivalent. I know several couples, gay and straight, who are well served by the institution. But a very large and growing number of married folk are obviously not able to keep a commitment to monogamy and/or a spouse. Nor do I think the nuclear family is a good way to raise children. It does take a village, and those are in short supply these days.

As a retired gay activist I’m happy to see the continued progress on the anti-discrimination front and must acknowledge the recent gay marriage campaigns have been central to that struggle. However as a fiscal conservative and a single guy I’m not too pleased to see dinks of any orientation (double income couples with no kids or dependents) getting tax breaks and benefit perks.

Eventually I hope marriage becomes a strictly personal affair, losing its state sanction.  At the same time we should find our way back to larger families, with a life long commitment based on friendship rather than kinship, with more state support for those taking care of the young, the old and those out of the workforce for whatever reason.

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