Monday, November 20, 2006

Beating back a marriage ban by making gays invisible & comments on the state of the movement

By Diane Silver

For this very busy day I'm afraid the update will be limited to a couple of links and a few thoughts.

First, The Washington Post analyzes Arizona's defeat of a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The Post argues that gay rights advocates in Arizona did it by pretending lesbians and gays didn't exist and focusing on the impact on straight folks, particularly on unmarried elderly couples.

When I have a bit of time, I want to talk about this in more detail. Debate over this kind of strategy is important. In fact, such a discussion (yelling match?) was one of the biggest inside-the-campaign battles of the 2005 effort to stop a marriage ban in Kansas.

I'm not certain there's an easy answer on this one. If this kind of strategy works to help protect lesbian and gay families, though, more states may need to try it. However, using that strategy won't come without a cost.

More later on that subject.

Meanwhile, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman talked about the state of the gay rights movement (pdf) in a speech to the Creating Change conference in Kanasas City this month.

You want to know the state of our movement on November 10, 2006? We are strong, unbowed, unbeaten, vibrant, energized and ready to kick some butt.

We know that as far as we've come, we still have a very, very long way to go.

A post about marriage equality wouldn't be complete without a photo of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. Together for 50 years when this was taken, the photo was shot when they were married in San Francisco in 2004.

Martin and Lyon were the first couple to take vows in San Francisco in those incredible days of official civil disobediance. Although their marriage was later legally voided, that fact says nothing about the commitment and love the two have for each other.


Tom Witt said...

Hi Diane,

You're right - the messaging about the impact of Kansas' anti-marriage amendment was indeed a yelling match, and caused huge fractures in the campaign against it. The argument over messaging strategy ripped apart the fragile coalition we had formed to fight the amendment, led to much bitterness and hard feelings, and ultimately was the catalyst for a complete upheaval in lgbt rights activism in Kansas.

That said...

I believe that there is a time for idealism in fighting for our rights, and then there's a time for winning the votes.

Idealism is how we translate our values into action - it's how we communicate who we are, individually and as communities, to the "rest" of the world. Without idealism -- and without the larger values our ideals represent -- we have no way (and no motivation) to stay out and visible, and to continuously work to educate our neighbors on the issues of equal rights and fairness for all.

Elections are the battlegrounds where ideals go to die. An election on a ballot question (differentiated from a candidate contest) is about a specific issue of public policy. We can talk about our ideals all we want, but in the end, what matters on Election Day is which side has the most votes at 7pm. Winning involves getting the people who agree with you to actually go vote, convincing those who don't to just stay home, and persuading "the middle" that your way is best. Campaign messaging *must* talk to those "middle" voters about how a public policy question will affect what they care about, and quite frankly, they really don't care about *us.*


The same approach to counting the votes applies to legislative work. We may disagree with a particular lawmaker about issues and ideals and values, but what it comes down to is: Will they vote with us? Making sure that answer is "yes" means setting aside some of our most cherished ideals and doing the work that needs to be done to secure a vote; it means that quite often, we must support people with whom we have sharp disagreement on other issues.

I bring this up in the context of the Craft v Saxton argument going on in the thread next door, which, like the internal argument during the marriage fight, threatens to cause long-lasting damage and upheaval to the cause of LGBT rights in Kansas.

Barbara Craft has a mixed record on women's choice issues (65% rating from ProKanDo), and has a voting record that many who consider themselves "progressive" disagree with. But on the issues of LGBT rights, Craft has a 100% voting record. She voted *for* civil unions in 2004, voted three times *against* the marriage ban, personally led the fight in committee and on the House floor to strip Part B from the amendment, and was one of the principal co-sponsors for adding sexual orientation to the Kansas Act Against Discrimination.

What's the right approach here? Do we take the approach of the idealist, and only support candidates with whom we agree 100%? Or do we support candidates with proven voting records? In the case of Craft v. Saxton, we have a moderate Republican against a progressive Democrat. In the Legislature, we know that the progressives will always vote with us; we know the hard-core right-wingers will always vote against us. The votes we must *win* are those of the moderates, both Republican and Democratic. If we are seen to be betraying moderates in close races, how many of those very same moderates will stick their necks out for us in the future?


Our ideals, as expressions of our deepest values, are what hold us together in a community, whether it's a religious one, ethnic, political, philosophical, or lgbt. But when election time comes around, we must acknowledge our ideals, and then be ready to set them aside to find the messaging, the partners, and the votes we need to win. We must be careful that our idealism doesn't become our dogma, and the end of our ability and willingness to fight for our rights at the ballot box and in the legislature.

Speaking only for myself,

Tom Witt

Diane Silver said...

Well said, Tom! I agree with much you say, and if I had been in Arizona and had seen a glimmer of hope that the ignore - gays strategy would work, I would have gone for it. If I had seen a glimmer of hope that such a strategy would have worked in Kansas, I would have also supported it. I would have done that because too many of our families have too much to lose.

However, I think we also need to acknowledge that when we use such strategies -- even if we win the vote -- we pay a price. That price is to once again make it seem like LGBT citizens are 2nd class and that the only true reason to vote against a ban on marriage and civil unions is to protect straights.

As for the Craft vs. Saxton debate, that is also a difficult issue. I do agree with you, though, that it's important to reward the people who have actually stood up with us to vote for us. For the Kansas Equality PAC to not endorse someone like Barbara Craft would have been to show all moderates that our community does not value their support. That would have been both politically unwise and, frankly, unfair to someone who has fought so hard for us.