Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

CA Proposition 8: Outlawing Gay Marriage

California ballot proposition 8, designed to outlaw gay marriage, is the one that's justifiably garnered national press. While California is solidly in Obama's column, twelve state propositions are on the ballot, and a strong turnout is essential to ensure a No on 4 and a No on 8 (here's a rundown on the entire twelve). If the "Yes on 8" movement succeeds, it'll be a serious setback for gay rights. Somehow, despite plenty of gay marriages here in California this year, the sky has not fallen, and despite allowing gay marriage years ago, Massachusetts is still intact and maintains the lowest divorce rates in the nation. Considering anti-gay ballot measures were a key method for getting out the conservative vote in 2004 to defeat Kerry, it'd be rather poetic if 2008 saw both an Obama victory and a defeat of Prop. 8.

The actual language of the summary is:


• Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.

• Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

I'd suggest reading the arguments and rebuttals. The Yes on 8 crew actually claim that Prop. 8 "is about traditional marriage; it is not an attack on gay relationships." That must come as news to some of its backers, and no one has ever offered a convincing argument for how gay marriage imperils "traditional" marriage. So why is this proposition even necessary? I'd also recommend the No on 8 site, which allows donations and a helpful Fact vs. Fiction page on the most common false claims by the Yes on 8 movement.

False Claims

The greatest fear-mongering from the Yes on 8 crew has been about the threat of gay marriage to the poor, defenseless children. From the aforementioned page:

Fiction: Teaching children about same-sex marriage will happen here unless we pass Prop. 8.

Fact: Not one word in Prop. 8 mentions education, and no child can be forced, against the will of their parents, to be taught anything about health and family issues at school. California law prohibits it, and the Yes on 8 campaign knows they are lying. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley has already ruled that this claim by Prop. 8 proponents is “false and misleading.” The Orange County Register, traditionally one of the most conservative newspapers in the state, says this claim is false. So do lawyers for the California Department of Education...

Fiction: A Massachusetts case about a parent’s objection to the school curriculum will happen here.

Fact: Unlike Massachusetts, California gives parents an absolute right to remove their kids and opt-out of teaching on health and family instruction they don’t agree with. The opponents know that California law already covers this and Prop. 8 won’t affect it, so they bring up an irrelevant case in Massachusetts...

Fiction: Unless Prop. 8 passes, CA parents won’t have the right to object to what their children are taught in school.

Fact: California law clearly gives parents and guardians broad authority to remove their children from any health instruction if it conflicts with their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

The Sacramento Bee gives a similar overview. Here's Education Code Section 51890-51891. You can see that "marriage" is barely mentioned. Johnny California rounds up most of the other relevant statutes. Sex ed is decided on the local level, parents are informed of the curriculum, and they can opt out with their kids. What I find most interesting is Cal Ed. Code 51933(a)(7), which states "Instruction and materials shall teach respect for marriage and committed relationships." This only comes into play if sex ed is taught, but you'll notice that this particular line seems designed to appease people who feel students must be told to marry and stay monogamous. So a piece of law likely insisted on by conservatives is something they now claim will undermine the fabric of society. Interestingly enough, the law does not mention "gay" anywhere. That particular line is about monogamy, not about sexuality.

The No on 8 site also covers false and ridiculous claims about churches losing their tax-exempt status if they refuse to perform gay marriages. You probably won't be surprised to learn that the Yes on 8 crew has distorted, 180 degrees, a statement by a law professor to support this claim.

I want to return to the "teach gay marriage in schools" thing, though, because it's always seemed like an extremely misleading charge to me even if one buys some of the Yes on 8 gang's false premises. Some of it might be a generational or state education thing, because no one I've asked remembers being "taught" about marriage in school, whether in sex ed or otherwise. But say the schools did – what does "teach gay marriage" actually mean? They'll tell the kids the truth, that it exists? Don't homophobic families teach their kids that gay marriage exists as well, just that it's evil or unnatural? So what really is the issue?

The implication is what it always is from homophobes. Teachers will advocate for homosexuality somehow, convincing kids who aren't gay to try it out. Many socially conservative homophobes believe that homosexuality is a choice versus something innate, while other social conservatives do believe it's innate, but something sinful to be resisted. In either case, but especially with the "choice" folks, the notion of temptation is key. They hold the same general belief for most sin, that human beings are incapable of choosing what's right by themselves – for instance, they might have sex for pleasure versus procreation – so they must be controlled. In the case of homosexuality, many social conservatives truly believe, deep down, in "gay cooties." Homosexuality is like a disease you catch, and if you can just keep it away, you can stay straight and safe. In their world, little Oscar was a happy little straight boy until someone introduced him to Broadway show tunes and teh gay sex and he was corrupted and lost forever. Or, little Sylvia already was a budding lesbian, but the school didn't say that was wrong, so she was never shamed off that path (and pushed into living a lie in an unhappy marriage that would fall apart years later). Oh, and Ted Haggard was "cured" of his gayness. It's probably true that most teachers outside of extremely conservative areas are unlikely to condemn homosexuality as evil or unnatural, but that's hardly a bad thing. LGBT kids often have a hard enough time as it is, and depending on their circumstances, their schools may be more tolerant and accepting than their homes. Schools won't "make" a kid gay, but they may – one would hope – be accepting of a kid who is. That's really the issue for the Yes on 8 folks when it comes to schools – the schools might not be intolerant in the desired ways, and somehow basic tolerance of an individual's identity is seen as advancing an agenda (I delve more into arguments about social tolerance here, if it's needed). Somehow, the basic reality of a free society, that other people are free to make choices one might not agree with, is deemed shocking or radical.

Still, all of that assumes that those pushing Yes on 8 are arguing in some smidgen of good faith (intolerant thought that faith may be), and they're not. Even if their false claims were true, they haven't explained why changing California's educational codes, a far easier and less radical step than amending the state Constitution, wouldn't fix the problem. The Yes on 8 campaign has been unrelentingly dishonest. They have consistently pretended that there are no opt-out policies in California public schools for disapproving parents, and the main reason they're bringing up schools at all is a smokescreen to scare mildly homophobic parents with outright lying. Most of the Yes on 8 ads are targeting those parents and preying on some combination of four fears: One, you might have to talk to your kid about sex; two, you might have to talk to your kid about gay sex; three, your kid might be gay – and might come out; four, the schools will somehow turn your kid gay.

None of those fears are entirely rational, but the misleading Yes on 8 attacks tap into what can be deep-rooted discomfort, embarrassment and shame about human sexuality, most of all homosexuality. That can be hard to combat, even if progress has been made for basic tolerance and comfort with sexuality. I think the most successful ads for No on 8 to date have humanized being gay, have shown people who support equal rights for their gay children or friends, or give the message that, it's okay if you're not entirely comfortable with gay marriage, but do you support stripping people of their rights? Prop. 8 is about stripping rights, not about teaching or churches.

Unfortunately, the vote currently looks like it's going to be close, and not only are highly misleading Yes on 8 ads running constantly, the Yes on 8 movement is engaging in some astonishingly low tactics.

I'll link the No on 8 site again for more information, including how to volunteer and to donate. Meanwhile, blogs Mombian and PageOneQ have organized a blogswarm for No on Prop. 8: Write to Marry Day, October 29th. To participate, write a blog post in support of gay marriage opposing Prop. 8 today or tomorrow, and submit the post information here. You can also download and use the graphic below, created by Mike Tidmus.

Ad Watch

Feel free to skip this last section if you like. I find the ad wars interesting, especially because I've seen these ads around the clock and some of the Yes on 8 ads struck me as extremely fraudulent (and lo and behold, they are). If you don't live in California, you probably haven't seen these, apart from on blogs or perhaps in a news story. Not all of them have aired on TV, and if they're over 40 seconds, they're probably web-only. However, there are some that I've seen multiple times a night.

No on 8 "Gavin Newsom" ad (posted 9/10/08):

I believe this longer piece was web-only, but it outlines the stakes nicely.

No on 8 "I Decide" youth vote ad (posted 9/15/08):

There's a nice youth vote, tolerance and freedom message to this one.

Yes on 8 "Whether You Like It Or Not" ad (posted 9/29/08):

This ad ran around the clock (I believe before it was posted to the web). Newsom sounds pretty sinister, doesn't he? The claims being made in this ad struck me as preposterous, and they are. See the Fact vs. Fiction page for the debunks. My favorite line is the wounded "It's no longer about tolerance. Acceptance of gay marriage is now mandatory." Um, so apparently, there's a type of "tolerance" of gays that doesn't allow them equal rights under the law and requires changing the state Constitution? I take it this is the "We allow you to exist as second-class citizens and won't kill you, but don't push it and get in our faces with your gay-ness" type of tolerance. It taps into the attitude that gays are uppity and encroaching on the rights of others. Of course, no one's suing churches for not performing gay weddings, or anything like that. Anyone would still be free to disapprove of those gay people and their fabulous weddings, they just couldn't outlaw them.

No on 8 "The Thorons – Don't Eliminate Marriage for Anyone" ad (posted 9/22/08):

This ad aired on TV fairly often after the Yes on 8 "Whether You Like It or Not" spot. I think this is one of the best ads, because it really personalizes the issue and the stakes. It turns out the Thorons wrote the argument against Prop. 8 in the Voter's Guide, and Sam is the former president of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

Yes on 8 "It's Already Happened" ad (posted 10/7/08):

This is my favorite of the Yes on 8 ads, and by "favorite," I mean the really loathsome ad that makes me chuckle sardonically. I've seen this one on TV more than any other ad, I think. As we've already covered, the charges this ad makes are misleading or outright lies. Still, what's key here is the subtext – if you don't vote yes on Prop. 8, the schools will turn your daughter into a lesbian!!! Aaaaah!!! The little girl also flubs her line, and her "mom" ain't a great actress, either. (The little girl in the Spanish version is better, actually.)

No On 8 "Conversation" ad (posted 10/8/08):

This ad aired a fair amount. It's a smart spot, because it allows people to admit discomfort while pointing out the real stakes.

No on 8 "Lies to Scare You" ad (posted 10/9/08):

This was a good one to add to the mix, especially because it points out the two biggest lies of the Yes on 8 ads.

No on 8 "Hello, I'm No On Prop. 8" ad (10/13/08):

I think I've only seen this online, but it's a fun spot with two followups.

No on 8 "Ellen Degeneres" ad (posted 10/14/08):

This is probably the most effective of the celebrity ads, because Ellen Degeneres is so well known and has won mainstream acceptance. It personalizes the stakes.

No on 8 "No Discrimination" ad (posted 10/15/08):

This is an okay ad which has aired a fair amount, and it's good to have a spot focusing on the core principles in the mix, but I think the more personal ads are far more effective.

Yes on 8 "Everything To Do With Schools" ad (posted 10/20/08):

As we've covered, this is a horribly misleading ad. Unlike Massachusetts, California has opt-out policies for parents. It's a sleazy spot.

No on 8 "Nothing to Do with Schools" ad (posted 10/22/08):

This is a key ad. I also have to note that the online "rebuttal" by the Yes on 8 campaign is awfully weak. Read the whole piece for greater context, but check out this gem:

Specifically, the discussed [sic] whether schools are "required" to teach anything about marriage, and states that they are not.

By this logic, presumably, they would argue that no one in California is required to have a drivers’ license, only the people who want to drive cars are.

If kids weren't required to receive some sort of schooling and instead chose to go or not, this analogy would make more sense, but the entire piece falls apart for other reasons as well, most notably because parents can have their kids opt-out of sex ed. If the Yes on 8 campaign introduces a law that allows one to opt out of getting a driver's license to drive a car legally, we can revisit this analogy, but funny, it would still fail.

No on 8 "Itzhak Perlman" ad (10/22/08):

Another celebrity ad. I like all the ads in this vein, because they put a human face on the issue.

No on 8 "California Clergy" ad (posted 10/22/08):

I haven't seen this one on TV, but I appreciate that it points out that Yes on 8 is not the only "religious" position.

Yes on 8 " Truth" ad (posted 10/24/08):

This is another extremely misleading ad. The Sacramento Bee has a little on the wedding in question, and The San Francisco Chronicle has a longer piece (as well as an op-ed by John Diaz claiming this was a dumb move by Gavin Newsom, who officiated). The kids didn't attend the wedding; they surprised their teacher, who was getting married, outside City Hall. The trip was arranged by two parents (Diaz calls them "well-intentioned but politically naïve"), and crucially, two of the students from the class stayed behind because their parents requested that. I agree that this was an unwise move politically, but even given that, the Yes on 8 crew is pretending kids were forced to attend when that was not the case at all. Oh, and it turns out that Brad Dacus, a key member of the Yes on 8 campaign, "promotes California’s broad opt out law, which allows parents to pull their child from any school activity that violates their religious or moral beliefs."

You can read the cited webpages here and here. We've covered them in general terms already, but you can see that marriage is barely mentioned and it's pretty standard sex ed stuff. The Yes on 8 claims are grossly misleading. As usual, when it comes to matters of curricula, teachers and superintendents are a more reliable authority than, oh, activists with a track record of lying.

You may have also noticed another interesting claim in this ad. It's that "A leading Prop. 8 opponent has warned parents cannot remove students from this instruction." The ad doesn't name this "opponent," who also didn't appear to be mentioned in any of the campaign's press releases as of this writing (if you can find it, let me know). Furthermore, the ad doesn't say this claim is accurate, only that this "opponent" made it.

No on 8 "Moms" ad (posted 10/24/08):

Another human, personal approach.

No on 8 "Ferrera, Plana & Ortiz" ad (posted 10/25/08):

I haven't seen this on TV yet, but I imagine the Spanish version is getting more play.

Parents Demand Prop. 8 ad Taken Down (posted 10/26/08):

This is web only, but it reaffirms the point that parents can opt out of their kids going on field trips (or receiving sex ed, for that matter).

While the lies about education are a smokescreen, they do need to be rebutted, and I think it's important to understand both the mentality of the Yes on 8 crew and who they're trying to target. Prop. 8 is the real radical move here – it would change the state Constitution to deny rights to a specific minority group. The Yes on 8 campaign has consistently lied in furtherance of this goal. Prop. 8 has nothing to do with education or churches – it removes rights. While some of the other California ballot propositions are important as well, Prop. 8 is likely to have the greatest national impact. No on Prop. 8.

Won't Someone Please Think of the Children?

As I was finishing up this piece, Glenn Greenwald posted the following Yes on Prop 8 video from "Clay Music Ministry":

Yikes. As Tim Gunn puts it, "Unattractive." Clearly, Yes on 8 endangers children. And this video obligates a response. So hey, everyone on the Yes on 8 crew!

- I know gay musicians who can kick your ass in song-writing.

- If you think "man" and "eight" rhyme, you really could use some more schoolin' yourself.

- I'm not sure "This Old Man" will help you sell Prop. 8 or your presidential choice on November 4th.

Feel free to add your own response in comments, and please work to ensure a No on 8.

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)


driouxcipher said...

I'm in Illinois. A Mormon classmate accidentally sent everyone in his contact list a giant Mormon propaganda thing about "Yes on 8". It was hyperlinked out the wazoo to a bunch of craziness, and horrifically offensive. To his credit, he apologized for having sent that to his classmates. However, I took the opportunity to inform him that petitioning the American citizens whose civil rights he would like to remove, to vote to have their rights removed, could possibly be perceived as insensitive. I then informed him that his email reminded me to send some money to "No on 8", and to have a nice day.
We are paying attention.
And though he is not a bad composer, I could definitely kick his ass in songwriting!

Batocchio said...

Haha. I'm sure you could!

I'm disappointed that the Mormon Church has been so heavily involved in the Yes on 8 campaign.