Friday, February 3, 2012

Equality Opponents on the Defensive

It's high time that the forces of anti-equality are put on the defensive.

You probably know by now that the Washington State Senate recently passed a marriage equality bill. The House is almost certain to follow suit by an even greater margin. Governor Christine Gregoire will sign the final bill into law. As the ink begins to dry, marriage equality opponents will propose their ballot referendum seeking to undo a carefully considered legislative act --- one that reflects the growing understanding that the rights of our fellow citizens should be based on fairness, not on fear.

The purpose of any referendum in Washington will be to undo what was done by the duly elected representatives of the people of Washington. Generally, such acts are considered to be the will of the people. But not if you're the National Organization of Marriage. For them, the will of the people is what NOM says it is. Why practice democracy when you can pervert it? NOM and their allies have promised to take their assault on American values of fairness and civil rights wherever marriage equality is proposed. These bullies may have gotten their way when they were in high school. This isn't high school anymore. They may have gotten their way in past ballot measures around the country. Not this time.

We have the high ground. We have to keep it. The arc of the moral universe is bending. The people of Washington have a chance to be part of that process of bending toward justice.

I used to live in Washington, so this hit particularly close to home for me. It saddens me that so many equality opponents' emotional development froze in their teenage years and they seem lack the capacity to understand fairness in our civil society. That doesn't mean the rest of us will be beaten down by their bullying in adulthood. They're not just bullying us as LGBT people, they're bullying the rest of society as well. Even more disheartening is the fact that many equality opponents don't even realize they are at least complicit in denying basic human dignity to members of their family, their friends, their co-workers, their neighbors, and their fellow citizens.

What is so alarming about groups and individuals behind referendums to define civil rights is that they appear not to trust that a republic (at the state or national level) can properly function when an issue of public importance doesn't go their way. They are misusing the referendum process, even though they will surely comply with the technical requirements of that process. Efforts like this purport to protect the will of the people, but in reality they serve mostly to stoke the flames of mobocracy, based on intentional misinformation and fearmongering.

If marriage equality opponents want to change a law that was enacted in the proper way, after full and open debate, subject to time-honored parliamentary rules and procedures, they bear the burden of proving why the law should be different. They also bear the burden of showing their fellow Washingtonians why millions of dollars from outside the state should be allowed to help in their effort to undermine the integrity of the legislative process and restrict the civil rights of their fellow citizens. Most marriage equality opponents aren't bad people. But many don't think through to the consequences of their votes against equality.

Of course, the most vocal and voracious marriage equality opponents feast on fear. NOM, Focus on the Family, The Family Research Council, the American Family Association and similar groups are the hosts of all manner of anti-gay gluttony. They are skilled at serving cold dishes of misplaced feelings of "culture war" revenge slathered with a comforting gravy of family, faith and founding fathers. These feasts also feature bitter old wine in new bottles mixed with a syrup of carefully selected traditions. Equality opponents will feed the Washington electorate the usual nine-truths-and-a-lie slurry about what will happen when gay people are allowed to marry. They will be lavished with millions of dollars from outside Washington. A lot of people will think this is all delicious. But a growing number of people have more discerning palates.

This isn't 2008 California. This is 2012 Washington. However, it's almost inevitable that much of what happened in California in 2008 will be repeated in Washington in 2012. One example will be (almost certainly) a letter to Washington Mormons from the LDS First Presidency, read to every congregation, and posted in social media worldwide. This will be followed by pressure from local church leaders and influential local members on every Mormon in Washington to donate their time, talents and everything with which they believe God has blessed them to the building up of the forces of anti-equality and the establishment of the Christian equivalent of Sharia law as applied to marriage. If you think this is an overstatement, then look at the arguments advanced by equality opponents. They have made this about religious tradition. Gay rights groups have tried to focus on civil rights, fairness and love.

From now until November, Washingtonians will be bombarded by TV ads, telephone calls, social media messages, direct mailings and all sorts of information giving a variety of perspectives on marriage equality and the role of gay people in our society. Some will be convinced (or re-convinced) by these efforts. But what will make the most difference are the one-on-one interactions people have with those they love and trust. Then, when people take that ballot and pen in hand, they will think of what is right and fair, they will think of their fears, they will think of their hopes, they will picture the faces of their gay loved ones, and we will see what is most important in the minds and hearts of the people of the State of Washington.


  1. One thing that makes me happy is that almost all of my same-age pers who are Mormon support marriage equality. A conflict is starting to emerge for many, many Mormons-- support my gay/lesbian friends or the leaders of my church? I predict the church will start to bend because so many people are leaving the church over issues like marriage equality. Unfortunate for the church, the world is better connected than it has been at any other point in history and information is more freely available. Mormons are no longer as misinformed as they used to be. Let's hope dogma doesn't continue to blind the remaining Mormons who oppose marriage equality.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Ryan. I share your hope that more information leads to more open eyes.