Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Obligatory Prop 8 Post

This was going to be a light-hearted post. I had it all mapped out. I was going to write about the dueling lawn signs in the courtyard of my apartment complex. How "Yes on 8" and "No on Prop 8" had faced each other at near-perfect angles across the grass, like gunfighters waiting for the building manager to yell "Draw!" How the people who had put up the signs destroyed the stereotypes each side wants to believe about the other. How while playing with my dog, the neighbors' two little boys had looked at the signs and went "Two ladies? Ewwwwww!" and I had thought, Kid, in a few years, "two ladies" is gonna be all you ever think about. How neither sign ever once got defaced, or torn down, and how that gave me hope for a real, two-sided tolerance, despite our disagreements on politics or theology.

This is not that post.

Let me say at the outset that I voted "No" on Prop 8. I've lived in the gay ghetto of a major city. I've owned a small business with a gay partner. Part of the first date my wife and I had involved her taking me to a fabulous gay coffee shop in West Hollywood as a test of how tolerant I was. (I passed.) I've even kept my cool and gently talked down a drunken homosexual as his fingers tried to do the walking down my pants. (Sloppy drunks come in all sexual persuasions.) And two of the best parents I know are a lesbian couple, and raising a young son who is a joy to behold. So, I give no ground to anyone when it comes to my anti-homophobe street cred.

With that said, those of us who support gay marriage have a serious problem. And it's not the Mormons, or the blacks, or the Hispanics. Or even the "haters."

We tell the opponents of gay marriage that it won't be taught in schools, especially to the youngest children, and a first-grade class goes on a field trip to watch the "teachable moment" of a lesbian wedding performed by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. We tell the opponents of gay marriage that the court rulings in our favor won't open the door to legalized polygamy, even though no one who argued for passage of the 14th Amendment probably would have imagined the Due Process Clause in a living document would one day form the basis for Roe v. Wade and abortion rights. We tell the opponents of gay marriage that no one is even interested in legalizing polygamy, and the head of the ACLU says otherwise. We tell the opponents of gay marriage that we're not trying to impose our views or affect their own lives in any way, and then a man is driven out of his job for donating money to the "Yes on 8" campaign. We tell the opponents of gay marriage that they're falsely stereotyping all gays and lesbians, and then far too many of us stereotype everyone on their side, from those who would beat a 19-year-old to death without a second thought simply for looking effeminate to those who have supported gay rights for years, or even decades, but who stop short of marriage, as being "haters."

Or we tell other supporters of gay marriage who think it's better in the long run for us to achieve this through the ballot box and the legislature rather than through the courts, even if it does take longer, or who think that those on the other side who worry about court rulings opening the door to legalized polygamy deserve a better answer than "Don't be stupid," well, too many of us told them that they're "bigots," too. It's happened to me more than once over the last few years, and especially over the last few weeks.

Do we not see the inconsistencies here? Or do we just not want to see them?

Granted, we can find reasons and explanations for almost all of these, and I've heard most of them. Gavin Newsom is a publicity hound. The head of the ACLU, speaking about the agenda of the ACLU, was not actually speaking for the ACLU. The people who pushed Scott Eckern to resign as artistic director of Sacramento's California Musical Theatre were postmodern artsy types who just wanted to be able to watch movies about the Hollywood blacklist ironically. The people who would label as "bigots" those who agree on gay marriage but who disagree about tactics, or those who are only 95% of the way toward our position, are just a small and vocal minority. But whatever the justifications and the explanations, these things create an impression, and it's not helping us. At all.

And then there was the now-infamous "Home Invasion" ad:

I saw this on the morning of election day, about an hour before I got to the polls. And watching it, I couldn't help but imagine a similar ad from the other side: Instead of stereotypical Mormons, two stereotypical San Francisco gay leathermen in chaps invade an "Ozzie and Harriet"-style home, tear up their heterosexual marriage certificate, take the wedding rings off their fingers, and replace their daughter's illustrated book of Bible stories with King & King or My Two Uncles. We wouldn't have considered that to be an ad that "satirically skewers" the LGBT community, as the makers of this ad, the Courage Campaign, actually described what this does to the Mormons. We would have gone righteously ballistic, and what's more, we would have been in the right.

The Mormons are such easy targets, though. They believe in such unbelievable things, like "holy undergarments." They dress so uptight. They bother us by coming to the door and wanting to talk about God. They always travel in pairs. They don't agree with us politically and give money to the wrong causes. And unlike the Courage Campaign, they're just so...uncool.

Yes, they really stuck it to the "haters" in that ad. Unfortunately, they also stuck it to me.

I was still fuming when I got to the polling place. I was a textbook study in backlash. I could look past the inconsistencies in how my side has presented its arguments, because I would still be voting for what I believed in. I could look past the awful "No on Prop 8" sign, which had all the appeal and uplift of that warning label on a pack of cigarettes and seemed to have been designed by people who actually wanted to lose. I could even look past the hard-core activists I'd encountered and ended up in debates with that were even more heated than those they had with the "Yes on 8" people. There's reason they get called "hard-core" activists, after all. But the "Home Invasion" ad, that was something different.

I know the arguments for singling out the Mormons. Twenty million or so arguments, in fact. But as much as we want to believe that it does, money does not decide elections—especially on a question like this, which for so many people is still a "gut" issue (and with an "ick" factor). And I also understand why the Mormon Church—or any church, on either side of this question—would be interested in Prop 8. But if we want the Mormon Church to stay out of this, then we should also be telling the churches that took a "No on Prop 8" position to stay quiet as well—or admit that it's not religion mixing with politics that really bothers us, it's only those particular churches that are telling us we're in the wrong.

I voted on every race and other proposition first, because I had an image in my mind of the guys who made the "Home Invasion" ad popping champagne corks and storyboarding their next victory for tolerance and diversity. Because when something works, it gets repeated. Again, and again, and again. And I thought how there would be no chance for the kind of honest disagreement—with no "haters" on either side—that I'd been seeing in my courtyard ever playing out on a larger scale.

I wanted to punish the people who had made that ad. I really, really did.

And at least some of it was personal. I'll admit that. Because twenty years ago, I would have thought "Home Invasion" was a brave piece of truth-telling rather than an well-produced slice of religious bigotry. Or a piece of political therapy, designed to make us feel superior to those "Yes on 8" people rather than to change a single voter's mind.

Because twenty years ago, I not only wouldn't have worried about how that ad was going to haunt our side long after the election was over, I might well have written that ad myself. Today, though, I can see how these things look to the people whose minds we're trying to change. Legal merits aside, going to court to overturn Prop 8 by arguing that it's actually a "revision" and not an "amendment" to the California constitution makes us look silly to most voters not already on our side. Being able to convince ourselves that we're the majority view on this issue, even after so many defeats at the ballot box, makes us look naive. Suing eHarmony to provide same-sex matching rather than using one of the many other commercial dating websites that do just that only makes us look petulant (and that's probably the nicest thing we'll call it when a heterosexual conservative sues a gay-oriented website like for discrimination). But the Mormon ad? Like so many other things that have happened since November 4th, just that makes us look like "haters."

A lot of views can change in 20 years, though. I wonder what the makers of "Home Invasion" will feel about it, two decades from now. Maybe then, they'll have come to know people on the other side of this issue who are anything but "haters," however much they may disagree with us. I know that I have. And maybe they'll have become as tired as I am of hearing that particular word being thrown about so casually, to the point that today, it's almost lost any real meaning at all, and become ane empty buzzword that just makes those people we actually have a chance of convincing tune out and stop listening to us.

Yes, I wanted to punish the people who had made that ad, because they were playing to the worst in us. And we keep saying that we're the ones who know better.

Problem was, the only way I could really do that was with my vote.

So I just stood there, with that little ink-blotter in my hand, and tried to figure out what to do. Vote for what I believed in, or vote against it, in protest against the tactics of my own side.

I stood there for a long time.

I couldn't just stare down at the last question on my ballot forever, though. And in the end, it was the young son who is a joy to behold that tipped the balance, and kept me from casting a vote that would have felt very, very good in that moment but that I would have regretted later, and regretted for a long time afterward. I remembered the last time I had seen him, and how he had reached out across the fence and just wrapped his arms around my neck. I remembered about how I had just stood there, holding him, for about as long as I had been standing next to my ballow, and watching how his mothers looked at him and at each other. It's the same way my wife and I look at each other, and the same way we know that we'll look at our own firstborn. And I can only hope that our firstborn looks at us in the way the boy looks at them.

He deserves two parents who are married. And if their marriage is wrong in the eyes of God, then that's for God to judge, not us.

And of all the threats to my marriage—and there are threats to my marriage—the wedding rings on the fingers of his two mothers don't even make the list.

I voted "No," and then I spent time with people who I knew had voted "Yes" and with people who I knew had voted "No." I wouldn't give up a single one of them, not over this or any other disagreement. Because in the end, we're never going to change anyone's mind on this issue with lawn signs, poking-a-big-stick-in-their-eye commercials, parsing legal arguments, or even blog posts. We're going to do this over the long run, face to face—and by accepting that they have every right to try and change our minds as well. We're going to do it by seeing them for who they really are, as we show them who we really are.

A lot of people tell me this is a naive dream. There's just no reasoning or common ground with "those people." But if even Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell could eventually became friends, that means that we can do ever better, because most of us aren't anywhere near as far apart as they were. We just have to stop poking big sticks in each other's eyes long enough for us to see it.

And if the alternative is "Home Invasion," I'll stay in my naive dreamworld, thank you very much.