Alex Blaze

If we can predict the future, then why didn't we see the Prop 8 loss coming?

Filed By Alex Blaze | December 10, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: gay marriage, homophobic behavior, inevitable, LGBT, Maggie Gallagher, marriage, marriage equality, National Organization for Marriage, NOM, same-sex marriage

I'm really not getting why everyone in the LGBTQ blogosphere is laughing at Maggie Gallagher's "Eight Reasons Why Gay Marriage Is Not Inevitable." I know it's fun to mock someone like her because she's officially against us, but, seriously, she has a point that's worth discussing instead of just mocking and then wondering why we can't seem to win these ballot initiatives.

Sure, her reasons same-sex marriage isn't inevitable aren't all convincing. They range from so-obvious-I-didn't-know-there-was-even-disagreement-here ("Nothing is inevitable") to factually questionable ("Demography could be destiny"), but her main point, that the country isn't locked in a inevitable drift to a liberal utopia, isn't up for debate.

She mentions women's reproductive freedom as an example of an issue that isn't dead (with Stupak-Pitts passing a few weeks ago, I don't know anyone who thinks that women's autonomy is a given right now), and there are a few other issues that show that she's right: workers' rights, which are more precarious now than they were in the unionized 60's and 70's; income distribution, since the rich-poor gap has been expanding in the last few decades and we've lost the courage to tax the top bracket at above 90% like it was taxed under Eisenhower; animal rights, as more animals are suffering in ways that were unimaginable 100 years ago; and torture, as the civilized world's taboo on that was peeled back this past decade at such an alarming rate that America is now the world's leader in torture apologetics.

Even gay well-being has gone up and down in waves.

Even gay rights have fallen backwards. There were plenty of queer-friendly times in history that were followed by incredible repression, like the famous push for gay rights in late 19th/early 20th century Germany that came to a sudden halt at the debut of the Third Reich. Hellenistic Greece, which, under Christian rule, wasn't so open about the sodomy anymore. And native cultures that were open to the queers in the Americas were destroyed by the advanced and enlightened European colonizers, sometimes specifically because of homophobia.

Most importantly, though, we should acknowledge the destructiveness of accepting anything we want as inevitable. How many No on 8 organizers have I heard from who complained, just after the 2008 election with all these queer Californians marching in the street, "Where were these people when they could have actually helped?" We all know where they were: they were staying home under the assumption that their help didn't matter, same-sex marriage was inevitable, especially in one of the most socially liberal states in the US.

Well, we lost, and we lost hard. Can we blame even a majority of that on apathy brought on by the assumption of inevitability? No, not at all; there were lots of other problems going on in that election. But did it help? Do you really think it helped us to have those early polls out telling us that we were so far ahead that even if we got pounded in the campaign, Californians would pull through for us? I'm falling on the no side there too.

And it's not going to help us to cling to that idea anymore. There is some comfort in thinking that you're on the "right side of history," but that comfort is mostly the sweet slumber of self-delusion. Our rights aren't guaranteed, they can be taken away, Americans are particularly mercurial when it comes to the value of people who are different from them, and we just don't know what's coming our way in the next few decades that could dramatically change the playing field (a war on US soil? a technological development that helps spread conservative ideology? a new gay epidemic that makes us lose focus on marriage?).

The usual reason advanced to prove the inevitability of same-sex marriage, when any sort of reason is advanced, is that young people tend to be more gay friendly than the rest of the population. But Maggie raises some important questions about that logic: are these same young people always going to hold these views, even as their lives change (did single straight people support same-sex marriage a lot more than married straight people)? There's a 22-point spread when it comes to young people's support of same-sex marriage, but shifting a 11 percentage points isn't impossible. And just because this coming generation is OK with same-sex marriage doesn't mean that the following generation will be. We just ended 40 years of conservative rule in the US, what's to say that another wave won't happen again?

If we continue on our current trajectory, then I agree: same-sex marriage will happen all over the Us in the next 50 years. But there's no guarantee that we will stay on the current trajectory, and staying on that trajectory requires money, work, and luck.


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I absolutely agree with you, Alex, that we can't ACT as if same-sex marriage (and other civil rights for LGBT people) are inevitable. Sitting on our hands, waiting for today's 20-somethings to come to power to grant us our rights is a strategy that will undoubtedly give us victory later rather than sooner.

I can't, however, agree with your analysis of why winning our rights isn't inevitable. Both Maggie-G's original comparison to abortion rights and yours to worker's rights and other progressive causes are flawed analogies in a fundamental way: sexual orientation and gender identity are innate, immutable characteristics, similar to race, while needing an abortion, being a blue-collar worker or even being poor are not (or at least are not seen as being so - I could argue that last one). Whether we subscribe to nature, nurture or both, sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be changed, while these other states or actions - at least in the American public's mind - are avoidable.

What the next generation knows that their parents and grandparents don't is just how immutable they are. To them, trying to stop being gay makes as much sense as trying to stop being black. They know and like LGBT people and think it's just crazy to deny anyone rights based on who they are. That genie is out of the bottle; it's not going back in, short of some kind of theocratic takeover of the U.S. Government.

I can't, however, agree with your analysis of why winning our rights isn't inevitable. Both Maggie-G's original comparison to abortion rights and yours to worker's rights and other progressive causes are flawed analogies in a fundamental way: sexual orientation and gender identity are innate, immutable characteristics, similar to race, while needing an abortion, being a blue-collar worker or even being poor are not (or at least are not seen as being so - I could argue that last one). Whether we subscribe to nature, nurture or both, sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be changed, while these other states or actions - at least in the American public's mind - are avoidable.

I see your point, but immutability is not guaranteed to always be the gold standard of who can be discriminated against or not. Again, no way of knowing what'll go on in the future, and let's not forget that not all that long ago (and quite a few people still believe this), an immutable characteristic was interpreted to mean that God set up discrimination to happen. I.e., God made the races to be separate, made the people of Canaan to be slaves, God made Eve to be Adam's servant, etc.

Immutability, for a long time, was considered a very legitimate way to demarcate a group for discrimination, and history has a funny way of repeating itself. You bring up race, and the fact that schools in the US are as segregated as they were in the 40's and the black-white pay gap is still horrifyingly large, that the prison system is still set up to incarcerate black men at higher rates than white men, proves that there's still lots of racism in the US that people are very willing to act on.

You say abortion isn't about immutability, but being a woman is, and that's what the abortion issue is really about: keeping women's sexuality in line. Quite a few people pointed out that we wouldn't have Stupak-Pitts if there were more women in Congress, considering how Democratic women voted against it at a higher rate than Democratic men. And yet, those men knew that being a woman was immutable and still voted to take away women's rights.

As I said, if we continue on our current trajectory, which includes and increased taboo on discrimination against immutable classes, then I think same-sex marriage will most likely happen in the next 50 years. But there's no guarantee that we'll stay on that trajectory.

Good points Sam.

I would add that Maggie "wins" because she never talks about equality and we lose because we do the same.

Her demographics explanation is very misleading. A persons age is a very good way to predict their acceptance of LGBT issues. (I have reviewed numerous polls and the minds change consistently in our favor at an average of 44 years old.)
The other reality is the older you are, the more serious you are about religion.

Religion has created the belief that we are wrong. Younger people are not very religious. That has been changing as far back as the data goes. Each year we become "less religious," at least to the extent we make religion "important."

Maggie she says what she says to "raise money." It is Politics 101. She is their advocate. We have HRC. HRC talks the same way – to raise money, not to win.

If we actually wanted to create our equality we would work to enroll people in our equality, not more politics.

I've been saying this for a while -- that it's dangerous for us to simply sit around and wait for things to happen because we're on the "right side of history" or because of some authoritative-sounding poll shows that 50.0000001% of the public doesn't think we're the scum of the earth.

The most extreme form of this is people who say things like "Prop. 8 and Question 1 don't matter because WE'RE WINNING! The young people are on our side! We just passed the federal hate crime law! Champagne for everyone!" I utterly fail to comprehend how anyone can say we're winning when 30 states in this country declare us in their constitutions to be unworthy of rights given to straight people with no questions asked.

All this will create is the exact same complacency that led a lot of GLBTs to sip appletinis in the Castro while their fellow Californians flocked to the polls to write us out of the state constitution.

The truth is, society can go from being incredibly open to being horrifyingly repressive in a very short period of time. Observe, for example, how quickly Germany transitioned from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich thanks to little more than a miserable economic situation and a demagogic leader, or how the relative openness toward homosexuality during the early 1900s in the U.S. turned into the repressive attitudes of the 1950s.

If we are to win, we'll have to do it by achieving victory for ourselves and defeat for the other side. We've been far too nice to the religious right, and we can't afford to simply "agree to disagree" with or even respect the views of people who want nothing less than our total erasure from society.

I am happy to hear such serious discussion. Yes, more homosexuals/lgbt people and friends must do something. But how many actually read papers, or blogs and are even aware of the current stall of our progress toward equality? There is a glbt resource in every area so there is no excuse for not doing something-supporting some organization. It seems people spend more time complaining about what is being done and finding excuses for NOT doing anything, than doing something themselves.