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11/17/2009

A more measured look at majority tyranny

by Jeremy Hooper

Adam Bink puts the oft-cited "gays have lost in 31 states" talking point into perspective:

The oft-quoted number, one I've used myself, is that we are 0/31 on statewide marriage votes. I've used that number in the sense that it's a streak we need to break. One colleague used that number as evidence that the strategy for marriage equality isn't working. When you're batting .000, you have to change the strategy, the argument goes.

I would actually argue that only two of these losses were the result of the execution of a strategy. From 2004-2006, something of the dark ages for marriage equality, 24 states adopted constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. But during that time, we were playing defense, and not in venues in which we chose to fight under a strategy. They were reactionary moves set off by a court decision in Massachusetts and a unilateral move by Gavin Newsom, and with an assist from George W. Bush, not the failure of some comprehensive state-by-state strategy.

The two I will say were evidence of failure are California and Maine. In CA, we passed it through the legislature twice, it was vetoed twice. A court challenge coordinated by Lambda Legal resulted in a favorable decision. Each of these were executions of strategy that resulted in Prop 8. We lost with 47.53% of the vote. In Maine, the we passed a bill through the legislature, which Gov. Baldacci signed. It went to the ballot, where we lost with 47.18% of the vote. Okay. But both losses were by a field goal, not three touchdowns. We lost by 31,909 votes in Maine. I still believe a better No On 8 campaign could have won in California. In reality, the execution of this strategy has failed on two fronts, not 31. Not evidence to argue a wholesale change in strategy.

KEEP READING: The question of LGBT incrementalism [Open Left]

He's absolutely right. There's no comparing Utah in 2004 and and Maine in 2009. While we've been somewhat active in most every state where our lives have been attacked, the vast majority of the 31 states were scenarios where we were not prepared for the onslaught, were not anywhere close in any public opinion poll, were not defending an actual judicial or legislative victory, were not financed in a viable way, or all of the above. They were all losses, undeniably. But most of them were sucker punches, not fair fights (as if voting on minority rights is ever fair).

The "0 for 31" line is a good blurb for TV soundbites and conservative headlines. But as with so many aspects of our civil rights fight, the terse idea falls away when extrapolated and examined. We need to be ready and willing to do exactly that, since it's a near certainty that this losing track record is going to be thrown at us anytime that a war on our ring fingers is declared.

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Your thoughts

The way we win in California is on two fronts. We need to campaign in a very positive way and show our partners, children (families), extended families and friends. Then we also (to a little lesser degree) need to show the failures of the extremists who have tried and succeeded by a thin victory to take our rights away. We need to show make sure that people associate the bigots with people like Carrie Prejean (porn star Carrie) and NOM, etc. They need to see how sick, twisted and most of all hypocritical these people are. If some people are motivated by fear then let's play that game in as honest a way as we know how and we can win this time.

Posted by: Benjamin | Nov 17, 2009 2:32:54 PM

The scenario laid out by Bink pretty much meshes with actuality up to or through California. But, remember that in Maine, for five years we took the offensive, and executed a plan, and won in the legislature, and then did lose in the election. That there was an election should have scarcely come as a surprise, since Mainers have consistently balked (at least originally) at the notion of extending protections to same-sex unions. So, for five years we did execute a strategy, and then we managed to lose in the final minutes.

And, understandably, the "strategy" in ME was to get a legislative victory (even though we should have known that we would also be required to defend that victory against a people's veto). And in both California and Maine, we were pretty shocked that we actually won - and then, that we had something to defend at the ballot box. And, for the record, I think that California's No on H8 was run pretty poorly, and, to their credit, Maine's No on 1 was run quite well.

One could argue that the No on 1 campaign was pretty much a wholesale repudiation of the No on H8's methodology / "strategy". So, Bink more correctly should have said that we already have tried at least two separate and distinct strategies, and both have failed. But, I would agree with him that the other 29 basically followed something of a similar plan. And would suggest that "that plan" might even constitute a third "strategy" - that failed at least 29 times.

I do think, and I have absolutely no evidence to support my supposition, but I do think that we are learning from our mistakes. And, that we are scrapping the ineffective bits, and at least trying different tacts, even though the revised strategy is not any more effective. But, none of the execution to date, is in any way a rousing, gung-ho endorsement any of these "strategies".

But, as far as always playing a defensive game, I really don't see us ever in a ballot initiative where we can ignore "defense". The liars are always going to spout their lies, and we will always be defending against those lies. That we never take an offensive stance, a stance where we show the liars in action in our ads, is probably the biggest problem that I have had with the last two campaigns. And that we have "played nice", may be the reason why the bullies have won.

But, if you haven't caught on, I am suggesting that the more we do this, the better we get at it. The third rail in Maine was "showing our faces in our ads". The unthinkable, was to turn negative, and attack the liars for being the liars that they are. Perhaps the next time we will even throw that caution to the wind, and at least get in a few good punches ourselves.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Nov 17, 2009 3:13:19 PM

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