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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Let's Not Get Carried Away

A recent wave of positive events has added momentum to the effort to defeat a near-certain referendum on the Civil Marriage Protection Act that was signed into law in March.  Not the least of which was President Obama’s offering public support for marriage for same-sex couples.  That was followed by the NAACP’s endorsement of same.  Then Colin Powell added a powerful voice to the cause.  And rapper Jay-Z also weighed in with a strong message. 
These developments are seen by the pro-equality forces as huge steps in helping to mitigate opposition within the African-American community in Maryland given that this support was expressed by well-respected, influential individuals and organizations.

Adding to this string of welcome developments was a Public Policy Poll released May 24 and commissioned by Marylanders for Marriage Equality that revealed an astonishing 20 percent margin—57 percent to 37 percent—favoring the marriage law in Maryland. 
In a memo, PPP pollster Tom Jensen notes there has been a “major shift in opinion about gay marriage among black voters [in Maryland].” Fifty-five percent of African Americans now say they would vote for the law and only 36% oppose it. These numbers have essentially flipped since PPP conducted an identical poll in March.”

Rather than viewing these numbers through rose-colored lenses, however, they should be examined with caution.  Even if the results are accurate, which would be great news, let’s not get carried away.

You may wonder, why put the damp cloth over what appears to be an outstanding and historic few weeks in the quest for marriage equality?  Simply put, we’ve been led down this primrose path before with favorable polling data and we had our hearts broken.  It behooves us to learn why.

Anybody who is associated with Marylanders for Marriage Equality and all other advocates and supporters should make the Prop 8 Report  required reading.  This in-depth analysis of the failed Prop 8 campaign in California is instructive, and it would be foolish and irresponsible to ignore the lessons provided. 

You see, in the equivalent period before the decisive voting took place in 2008, the polling numbers were similarly favorable.  The “No on 8” group (pro-marriage equality) raised  tons of money (over $43 million) and had a record-setting number of volunteers (51,000), so the playing field was level even considering the influences of the Mormon Church, the Roman Catholic Church and others pushing the “Yes on 8” vote.
So what went wrong?  Many erroneously blamed African-American voters who turned out in large numbers to vote for Barack Obama and are generally opposed to same-sex marriage..  But while that group did support Yes on 8 by a decent majority, they are not the principal reason for the disappointing failure.  In fact, African-Americans only comprise about 6 percent of California’s population.  In Maryland it’s close to 30 percent.

According to this report, a large number of people—regardless of race—who claimed they supported marriage equality in the months prior to November 2008 changed positions at the end.  In three-fourths of the cases, those who shifted were parents who have children under age 18 living at home.  The report states, “When parents hear that their kids are in danger, even if it’s a lie some of them believe it—particularly when the lie largely goes unanswered.” 
This swing from supporting marriage equality to voting for Prop 8 occurred several weeks before the election—following a series of TV ads that charged that schools would expose kids to inappropriate information about gay people.  This is the key weapon for marriage equality opponents and why they have won every state ballot measure in the past: scare families that children in school will be taught about the evils of homosexuality.   And there was a two and a half week delay in rebutting the ads by the No on 8 side—a costly tactical misstep—allowing the lies to sink in.

Accordingly, polling taken today does not necessarily presage similar results in the future.  When our highly motivated opponents use their proven tactics of lies and exaggeration—and they certainly will—people could be influenced to change their minds.  And conservative religious leaders will continue to use their pulpits to hammer away at the one “sin” (ignoring all the others) and framing marriage in biblical terms.  The current rosy picture we are witnessing today could be quickly crushed.
On the bright side, the Prop 8 campaign was waged without any national leaders like Barack Obama and Colin Powell expressing support for marriage equality. Their recent pronouncements could make a substantial difference with those voters in Maryland who are soft on the issue and are not tied to deep religious convictions.

But it’s critical that the folks at Marylanders for Marriage Equality do not fall into the same trap that wrecked other states’ efforts.  They should not interpret these positive news developments and poll results as a juggernaut of support.  They cannot afford to take their eye off the prize. 
Fundraising and a solid ground game is crucial.  And we must engage and galvanize our own community to be part of the effort.  There should be no perception that we have this in the bag.  

But equally as important, these leaders should read that Prop 8 report, learn from past mistakes, and use that to formulate a blueprint for this campaign.  As American philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Good things are happening now, but complacency can be a killer.


Hoco Connect said...

One other factor that has moved support of marriage equality is that gay couples are now frequently raising families. It is harder to oppose marriage equality when you see such wonderful children being raised by gay couples. My daughter and spouse are raising two wonderful boys that are a joy in my life.

Hoco Connect said...

Gay families are increasing support for marriage equality. My daughter and spouse are raising 2 wonderful sons that are the joy of my life.

Practice Democracy said...

Although I agree with much of what you put forth here, I take exception to the following: "And religious leaders will continue to use their pulpits to hammer away at..." We, the LGBT community and the press in particular continue to put churches into ONE category. Churches are no more monolithic than is the gay community. The quote should include the word 'conservative' as a descriptor. Liberal churches support marriage equality.

Steve Charing said...

Point well taken, Mark. Revision made.