Editor's Note: Joe Dellosa is a University of Florida junior majoring in advertising. He's also the president of Human Decency Now, a student organization at UF that works for gay rights. Their website is at www.humandecencynow.com.
I wanted to make the case against Florida's Amendment 2 in terms of standing up for the gay community.
What I was worried about was a situation like in Arizona. In 2006, Arizona voted down a "definition of marriage" amendment, making it the first (and only) state in the country to do so. Opponents of the amendment successfully argued against it because the wording could've thrown domestic partnerships in the state in jeopardy, so the amendment's backers came back in 2008 with a more narrowly-focused amendment only targeting gay marriage. Arizona's statewide "No on 102" campaign was left with the awkward task of telling voters to stand up for gay people after assuring them that it wasn't really about gay people two years earlier.
The point wound up being moot -- Amendment 2 passed, even with the "domestic partnership" messaging. And while I have a huge amount of respect for the statewide campaigns in Florida for their hard work and dedication, it was more than a little frustrating to see the gay advocacy angle of the amendment downplayed.
I understand the pragmatism of doing so, but I cringed every time a "No on 2" volunteer or advertisement said that Amendment 2 wasn't "just about gay people" -- unintentionally creating the impression that, if it were just about gay people, then it'd be okay. And as someone who cared about the intangible impact of the amendment (what message does this send to every gay middle or high school student who already feels alone and unwanted?), I hated the notion of defeating Amendment 2 in spite of Florida's gay community instead of for them.
So when my group created a website and distributed flyers about Amendment 2, we asked people to vote "no" out of a sense of decency and compassion for their fellow human beings. And we asked a variety of different people, too:
Yes2Marriage, the "Yes on 2" campaign, made a concerted effort to make a "yes" vote seem like the Christian vote. They quoted scripture in TV commercials, made "sample sermons" available on their website, and sold $275 "Church Action Kits" to pastors and priests across the state.
We asked: how is this anything but the exploitation of faith for political gain? How is contributing to the ostracism and stigmatization of a group of people that have already been picked on a "Christian" thing to do? Many Christians I spoke to said they're voting "no" on Amendment 2 because of -- not despite -- their faith: Christians who said they don't want their faith used as a political weapon; Christians who, regardless of how they felt about gay rights, didn't want to enable those who spread fear and hate towards gay people; Christians who just couldn't see how this amendment spread the word of God's love. There's no reason to "cede" the Christian vote. In fact, when one side tries to cast the issue as "Christian" vs. "anti-Christian," it's our responsibility to reach out to Christian community and stand with those who want to make it clear that no political group is allowed to claim sole ownership of faith.
I don't know what it's like to be gay, but I do know what it's like to try to find someone to love. And while it's cute to say how fun and exciting it is, the truth is, it kind of sucks sometimes. Most everybody's been through unreciprocated crushes, awkward first dates, and painful breakups. It's a process that has no shortage of embarrassment and heartache, and the desire to prevent it from being any more embarrassing or painful for anybody else is as good a reason as any to stick up for gay people.
Perhaps one of the most cynical tactics those opposing gay rights use is dismissing the love gay people have to offer as little more than a random perversion. After all, it's easy to question whether someone's love is worthy of recognition if you assert that their love isn't actually love at all. But it's a tactic that only works if there isn't anybody to provide a counterargument.
There's a lot being made of the CNN exit polls showing that 94 percent of California's black voters supported Barack Obama, yet 70 percent voted "yes" on Proposition 8. (The same polls show 96 percent of black voters in Florida supported Obama, and 71 percent supported Amendment 2.) Some who are frustrated with those statistics can't believe a group of people with a history of being discriminated against would support the discrimination of others; some argue that the numbers are misleading or require context.
Regardless of whatever the numbers really mean, it underscores the importance of drawing the historical parallels between the black and gay civil rights movements. Some people may be reluctant to get into the business of "injustice comparison," but how seriously we appreciate those who fought for dignity and equality in the last century has to be measured by our willingness to do the same in this century. And it's not something that's automatic -- just because one group experienced injustice doesn't mean they will, en masse, get on board to help another group without being asked. So let's do a better job of asking.
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This isn't to say we didn't talk about domestic partnerships (we had a flyer for that, too). But it didn't seem right to talk about Amendment 2 without using words like "Christian," or "love," or "black civil rights," or even "gay." It seemed to work, too -- anecdotally, among the people with whom we spoke, those leaning towards voting "no" solidified their decision; many leaning towards a "yes" vote agreed to at least reconsider; and those who remained unconvinced at least appreciated the candor and perspective.
Working against anti-gay ballot initiatives is an exercise in optimism predicated on the belief that voters are understanding, compassionate, decent folks. And even after 30 state constitutional amendments, my faith that voters are indeed understanding, compassionate, and decent remains unchanged. It's just a matter of talking with them.