The long haul for the gay rights movement

As the Proposition 8 battle was just getting under way, I remember a leading figure in the California gay rights movement sounding extremely confident that public opinion was on the side of gay marriage. That leader was very wrong.

In light of today’s ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding Proposition 8, the state’s gay marriage ban, the Wall Street Journal published a fascinating opinion piece detailing some of the big hurdles still facing the gay rights movement.

As the Proposition 8 battle was just getting under way, I remember a leading figure in the California gay rights movement, speaking in a public forum attended by news media, sounding extremely confident that public opinion in California was on the side of gay marriage. That leader was very wrong.

The WSJ opinion article details just how wrong, by showing how much the public as a whole still has some very fundamental reservations about not only gay marriage, but gay people in general.

Among the contentions of the article is that opposition to gay marriage is firmly rooted in people’s continued discomfort with gay people. There is still educating to do, according to a new poll the article author referenced, on whether being gay is a choice, a lifestyle, or a hard-wired trait. Plurality of respondents still think it’s a choice. I find that very telling, since many people in insular, urban gay communities question whether America is well past the question of gay acceptance, well past questions of whether being gay is a choice, and well past the type of discrimination prevalent as recently as the 1980s and 90s.

As that gay rights leader found out – a leader at the forefront of the losing battle against Proposition 8 – overconfidence, and a lack of understanding of the world outside of the comfortable, safe urban bubble, can be disastrous.

It is even more disastrous, when coupled with a lack of dialogue with those who don’t look like you, since on election night even Los Angeles County voted to approve the gay marriage ban. With a larger than usual turnout among Latino and African-American voters, analysts attributed the gay marriage ban victory in Los Angeles to the surge in minority voters.

Gay people of color have long complained that they are not well represented in affluent, gay communities. There seems to be an internal, subtle segregation among a disparate community that has but one trait in common – sexuality.

And so Proposition 8’s victory in Los Angeles County was evidence that the gay rights movement not only didn’t speak to people outside of urban centers, but also to people of color inside urban communities.

And what was the response following the crushing defeat of Proposition 8? Vilification of the opposition.

Angry protests last November surrounded Mormon worship centers, since the Mormon Church was thought to have donated a huge sum to the Yes on Prop 8 campaign. Church leaders denied that.

And today, as the California Supreme Court decision was handed out, gay marriage supporters were chanting “shame” outside of the supreme court building. This is the same court that ruled in favor of gay marriage in California, which then triggered Proposition 8 on the November ballot.

The WSJ article addresses this as well, pointing out that the civil rights movement on which the gay marriage movement aims to model itself, had a method described as “turn the other cheek.”

Could such angry attacks against those who don’t agree with a point of view actually backfire?

It will be worth watching to see how the gay marriage campaign in California develops from here, both on the pro and con side. Will gay marriage proponents change their tactics? Could all this attention paid to Proposition 8 already have changed some voters’ minds one way or another?

The answers could prove a fascinating study in civics, civil rights, and democracy.

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