Editors' note: Michael Petrelis is a long-time gay rights and AIDS advocate who works in San Francisco. He blogs at The Petrelis Files.
I went to the town hall meeting about gay marriage on July 3 at the gay community center in San Francisco, organized by several gay advocacy organizations and the room was packed full with gay newlyweds, gay activists, gay politicians, gay reporters, and the discussion on defeating California's ballot initiative that would amend the state's constitution and prohibit gay marriage was upbeat about maintaining gay marriage equality.
In my public comment remarks I expressed extreme displeasure with the official campaign signs for our side lining the walls, because the word gay is missing and asked the leaders if we would see gay specific signs before the election. Yes, they said. The signs, by the way, and the stickers and t-shirts with the same closeted message, are from Equality for All, which recently formed to oppose the initiative, and is a coalition of gay and social advocacy organizations.
As always happens with the gay community's campaigns to fight ballot propositions targeting us, our leaders from nonprofit and Democratic clubs have again decided amongst themselves to de-gay the campaign. The rationale is that in not addressing the very real gay angle of the November challenge against same-sex marriage, more voters will vote our way.
And, as always, I get disgusted with the political closetry, bordering on deceiving voters, that says the only way we can win electoral battles is by avoiding use of the word gay in reaching out to the voters. Such a strategy reinforces notions that gays shouldn't wage out of the closet campaigns or that openly gay efforts can prevail with California voters.
The quasi-patriotic sounding group Equality for All, with gay missing from its name, certainly possesses polling and focus group research, and historical voting pattern data, can make a seemingly sound argument for omitting gay from the signs. I believe many voters know the proposition is about a gay marriage ban, not a blanket ban on all marriages, and may see our signs as fudging the truth.
Telling voters to vow, as in a marriage vow, to "Vote No On The Marriage Ban," all too neatly avoids a more truthful slogan, one that would more accurately reflect the fundamental premise of the proposition: "Vote No On The Gay Marriage Ban."
The insightful and fantastic lesbian writer Ann Rostow, in a May column for San Francisco's Bay Times newspaper, wrote of similar concerns regarding a successful campaign to win a victory for gay marriage in the fall.
Rostow posed the follow questions and legitimate concerns:
How are we going to wage this campaign? Are we going to fall back on the poll-driven, cowardly, ineffective and deceptive strategies that have led to huge defeats in marriage campaigns throughout the country? Oh, I know we won Arizona by a point. And that was great. But historically, the gay community's political experts have led us down a twisted path of avoiding the controversy of same-sex marriage and arguing instead that this or that ballot measure will "discriminate" against us, or prevent happy couples from visiting each other in the hospital.
Such claims are either nonsense or beside the point. Yes, of course a marriage amendment will "discriminate" against gay men and lesbians. It will also prevent same-sex couples from continuing to get married. It will abort the freedom to marry and roll back our hard fought victory, sending us back into the dark ages of domestic partnerships. Dark, after all, is a comparative term. And they do seem like dark ages in the searing light of this incredible decision.
The only way to win this election is to campaign for the continued freedom to marry, using all the genuine and heartfelt arguments that we can muster. The only way to win is to appeal to the goodness and fairness of the California voters, not to treat them like fools. This is an all or nothing battle. If we fight courageously for the right to marriage and lose, we would have lost anyway. What? You think the voters are not going to notice that the right to marry is at stake here? If we fight for some vague principle of equality and lose, we will have defeated ourselves.
Hell, I have no reason to think that our leaders in California are planning to run on fear tactics or looking to avoid the subject of marriage. I only know the dismal history of past elections, including the failed effort during the Prop 22 vote. I haven't seen or read any campaign strategy, I'm just worried about it, that's all.
Ann Rostow has good reasons to be worried and I'm looking forward to reading more of her thoughts on the signs, messages and campaign of Equality for All as we move closer to the election.
What would be the best slogan to use on signs to drive home the message of gay marriage equality and defeat the hateful proposition?