A new report entitled Moving_the_Middle_on_Marriage, from a DC think tank, argues that the key to success in lgbt efforts to persuade voters to support equal marriage rights is to show "that allowing gay couples to marry won't change the tradition [of marriage] or how their kids perceive it."
The report is based on polls conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research immediately following last November's election in Maine (where voters repealed a marriage law) and Washington (where voters reaffirmed a domestic partner/civil union law). It summarizes the views of people (just under half the population) who stated that they supported legal rights for gay couples but not use of the "m" word. In other words, the analysis excludes those who supported full equality and those who opposed any recognition.
This very large middle "sees marriage as an ideal as opposed to a legal construct, and they have yet to be persuaded that gay couples fit into this ideal." The equality argument doesn't work, the report states, because it doesn't address the concerns that these voters have: that gay couples will try to "redefine marriage," that the schools will teach about homosexuality, that their children will see "gay couples [held up] as part of the ideal of marriage," and that their children would be more likely to experiment with homosexuality if same-sex marriage is legal.
Based on these poll results, the authors recommend that lgbt advocates develop messages to show that gay couples want to join - not change - the institution of marriage and that gay couples see marriage as a lifetime commitment. "We need to show people that gay couples fit into the definition of marriage that they already hold."
Wow, talk about hyper-normalization. There are so many things wrong with this picture.
The entire construct is built on what the study calls the "ideal" of marriage but what could more accurately be described as the myth of marriage. Marriage is not a lifetime commitment at least as often as it is. This has nothing to do with same-sex couples or anyone's "failure;" it is because human relationships are complex and changeable. When marriages that no longer nurture both partners come to an end, that is usually a good thing.
These middle voters are not hateful people, but they are living in a stew of scapegoating, projection and insecurity. The demonized image of promiscuous gay couples allows them to clutch onto an institution and identity that they know is unreal. But by defining same-sex couples out of the myth, they can pretend that hetero-normativity equals success. Sure my own marriage turned sour, but hey - at least I was doing it the right way.
Gay couples will change marriage, but not because they will be more or less successful at lifetime commitment. And children who grow up seeing that gay marriage is lawful will perceive it differently than people used to. Today's youth already perceive homosexuality differently than their parents did, which is undoubtedly one factor driving the concern being expressed. This is a good thing, and progressives ought to claim it as such.
The public presence of two men or two women sharing domestic life in ways that appropriate, rearrange, retrofit, unscramble or even just tweak gender norms will also represent change. It is actually the continuation of a change - the democratization of marriage - that began with the enactment of laws allowing married women to own property. Just as the slow steady growth of interracial marriage has benefited the entire society, in part by its educative effect, so too same-sex marriage will also send a message of acceptance of what once was taboo.
Candor is always a strategic problem, for whatever political movement. I understand the need to un-demonize lgbt people in order to achieve full legal equality. Scaring the horses is not the way to change attitudes. But let's not play into a messaging strategy that is, in the long run, silly and dishonest.