Gay Marriage: Should Tactics Change?

If I am going to blog about anything as controversial as gay marriage, I should state at the outset that I fully support the right of gays to marry. Two people in love should be able to marry. Period. The claim that gay marriage will weaken traditional marriage is, in my opinion, ridiculous. Here in California, I have voted for gay marriage every time it has been on the ballot (which may only be one time…I can’t really remember) and will continue to do so.

Yet while I completely share the goals of the gay marriage movement, I am going to recommend a change in tactics: stop pushing on marriage, at least for a while, and focus on strengthening civil unions. I say this in the wake of Maine – flinty, individualist Maine, state motto: “I lead” – voting against gay marriage. As we have seen in state vote after state vote (including super liberal California), the populace of this country is simply not ready to support gay marriage. Gay marriage laws have been put to the vote in 31 states and have lost every time. As the graph below shows, this is changing, and over time will continue to change, but for now, gay marriage is a losing vote.

Gay marriage attitudes over time

Gay marriage attitudes over time

While some might argue for continuing to push ballot initiatives until they win, I posit that strategy is counter-productive, because it riles up the opposition. As the NY Times reported, Maine’s vote attracted all kinds of outside money and support, including from the National Organization for Marriage and the Catholic Church. Civil unions, on the other hand, do not attract that kind of organized opposition. Marriage itself is the bright line that conservatives clearly intend to hold. The more we push gay marriage initiatives, the longer it will be until they pass, because we will continue to inspire the opposition.

Civil unions are clearly not as good as marriages. They don’t address federal laws like taxation and social security. But they do, or can, address many important issues: health care decisions, wills, community property, adoption, etc. And they can be made stronger because, as noted above, they attract less conservative opposition. So my argument is to spend the next few years focused on passing and strengthening civil unions, state by state, and wait for the citizenry of the country to catch up. As the graph below shows, they ARE catching up. As older people die and kids (who are used to seeing things like Eric come out of the closet on Gossip Girl) become eligible to vote, the tide will turn and gay marriage initiatives will be able to pass.

Attitudes toward gay marriage by age

Attitudes toward gay marriage by age

I recognize that this is all easy for me to say as a straight man. I don’t have to settle for the inferior civil union, nor do I have to live every day feeling like my society is not treating me fairly. While I can imagine that feeling, I can never completely understand it, since I can’t live it. I readily concede that saying that we should delay fairness is awful. So when gays say that they have to fight for their civil rights now, I get it, and I don’t mean this post to argue against it. This post is purely about tactics, and about what I think is the quickest way to achieve the gay marriage goal.


5 responses to “Gay Marriage: Should Tactics Change?

  1. This is a very good idea, in my opinion…but likewise I am straight and therefore can’t speak for the gay community. But it is true…I know far, FAR more youth who are in support of gay marriage than I do people above 40 (granted there are some). I’m just praying that in 20 years when this generation is a little more grown, they decide to tackle this issue and stop letting it be decided by their conservative parent generation. Here’s to hoping…

  2. very interesting graphs. thank you for including them. i am in agreement with you on the need for new tactics, though it makes me sad that postponing seems to be the way to go. sigh.

  3. My family gave three votes for marriage equality in Maine this week. Because they were all transplants from Virginia, they had all voted against the gay marriage ban there in a past election.

    Maine was an unpleasant defeat. The minor victory in Washington State suggests that you might be right on the tactical aspect.

  4. Can you please tell me how you created that graph? I am trying to track students who drop out of school and return. I do not know how to graph such fluid data over time. What program are you using?

  5. Can you please tell me how you created that graph? I am trying to track students who drop out of school and return. I do not know how to graph such fluid data over time. What program are you using?

    Posted wrong email last time, sorry!

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