Instead of validating marriage for same-sex couples, Maine voters cruelly voted 52.75 percent to 47.25 percent (87 percent of precincts reporting) to strip away this most basic right and leave gay families and their children legally unprotected and vulnerable. According to journalist Rex Wockner, “it was the 31st time that same-sex marriage has lost at the ballot box in a U.S. state. It has never won.”
As I watched the World Series this week, I could not help but think: If a player were 0-31 at bat, he would be demoted to the minor leagues. Yet, the major league players in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement can’t seem to change strategies or try new approaches. We are a creative people who produced the likes of Michelangelo, Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde and Perez Hilton. Yet, in our collective wisdom, we are unable to switch gears and admit that our tactics are not working
I want to make it clear that I am not blaming the campaign in Maine. They did a fantastic job in all aspects of this fight. NO on 1/Protect Maine Equality Campaign Manager Jesse Conolly took us within a stone’ throw of winning marriage at the ballot box in a rural state.
What I have an enormous problem with is that we keep repeating the same fundamental mistakes. Our wisest and wealthiest made their fortunes by testing and perfecting products before they went to market. They would never think of placing an appliance or software in stores before the bugs were worked out.
Yet, we continuously test-drive our messages while actual campaigns are taking place. We repeatedly act shocked that our opponents are soulless charlatans who lie, cheat and use immoral fear tactics to win. Our persistent “surprise” at the “recruit your children” canard and on-the-fly strategy to counter it is a foolproof recipe for a 0-31 record.
It is time we wake up and acknowledge that the GLBT fight for equality is the world’ first “Civil Likes” movement. Each year, a popularity contest is held somewhere on the map and if the locals find us likeable our families are protected. If the natives have a negative view of gay people, we remain second-class citizens.
Given this reality we have to make a major choice.
We can declare the current process a disgusting and humiliating insult to our humanity and opt out of all future referendums. The movement would make the case to the nation why such votes are anathema to American values and in the process educate people about our families and quest for equality. A powerful campaign of continued and sustainable civil disobedience would have to supplement this strategy.
Or, we can continue to participate in degrading referendums. But, if we do so, we have to stop pretending that the majority of the American people understand the U.S. Constitution, much less the notion of equality. Those who vote against GLBT rights simply do not like gay people and their antipathy, often masked by religious bigotry, overrides the idea of equal protection. What our public relations experts will have to figure out ways to make us more likeable and overcome such objections.
This idea of sucking up to voters is as nauseating as it is un-American. Reality, however, necessitates unless we opt out of the process, we have to sober up and admit that we are perennially running for Prom Queen, yet have failed to take home the crown. If we can’t get people to like us, we will continue to lose for the next five to ten years, until demographics finally shift definitively in our favor.
Our donors will save a small fortune in the long run if they pick a few states where we won’t win marriage in the foreseeable future and test likeability campaigns. Additionally, a few cities should be selected to test pilot programs to focus on winning over minority voters.
It is also crucial that we create pilot programs — while no referendum is underway – where we hit back harder at our opponents. The fact is, religious fundamentalism, whether it is Islamic, Catholic, Mormon, Protestant or Jewish does not appear compatible with equality. Can you name one fundamentalist enclave where gay rights exist? Thus, when these groups attack us we should stop coddling them and join with religious moderates to make the fundamentalists pay dearly by driving up their negatives.
Some of my suggestions will work, while some will not. There are other people who have fresh ideas that need to be tried. But, the bottom line is that we need to stop test-driving the car during actual referendums in states that can actually be won. By the time we get on the big stage, we should understand exactly what makes voters like us, be able to refute our opponents recurring lies and know precisely how to dish out as much pain as we receive.
The old adage is practice makes perfect and we must figure out how to hit the damn ball when it doesn’t count, so when we enter the World Series we don’t approach it like it’s training camp.