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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How Do You Solve a Problem like Maggie?

Jane Lynch as Maggie Gallagher in the courtroom drama 8, which
aired live from Los Angeles last weekend; catch the whole video here.

Gay marriage will destroy the family and make straight couples not get married: so goes the logic of homophobes like Maggie Gallagher and all the rest. Marriage, they say, is only for the purpose of conceiving and raising children: conveniently ignoring the fact that all kinds of straight people can and do get married when they either can't reproduce or refuse to, and nobody thinks a damn thing about it.

But how can you make people who aren't rabid fanatics see the truth, as opposed to the lies about marriage equality? An excerpt from Slate magazine's article, "When the Facts Don't Matter":
Research commissioned by the Third Way, a moderate think tank in Washington, illustrates how this might look. A team of research psychologists conducted in-depth interviews with members of the “moveable middle,” or those considered open to supporting gay equality but not yet fully there. They used psychological tools to identify their subjects’ emotional states and concerns around issues of gay equality. What their research revealed were subconscious anxieties around what they perceive to be a world spinning out of control, a feeling exacerbated by a sense that new understandings of old institutions are being forced upon them. Some may oppose same-sex marriage in an effort to seize control and bolster values they see as besieged. . . .

Equality Maryland, the state’s major LGBT equality group, recently helped secure the freedom to marry with a message that gay people, like straight people, seek to “make a public promise of love and responsibility for each other and ask our friends and family to hold us accountable.” The values that would be more likely to appeal to liberals who already endorse same-sex marriage—those of individual rights and entitlements—were not the message. In her forthcoming book, Supreme Court lawyer Linda Hirshman argues that a rhetoric of moral values, which itself strikes many as conservative, was the gay movement’s “surprise weapon” in beginning to win the freedom to marry. Telling the stories of heroic caretaking throughout the AIDS crisis and of committed relationships through thick and thin, advocates stopped relying on feeble appeals to tolerance, and showed naysayers that gay people shared their moral values and deserved equal treatment.

This doesn't mean that liberal equality advocates must turn more conservative in order to advocate to the middle. What it means is recognizing the common ground that already exists, in the form of what I’d call “sub-values” (responsibility, fairness, respect for tradition, sanctity) within the larger values debate around homosexuality.

This was convincing to Ted Olsen, former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, who explained that he joined a constitutional challenge to California’s gay marriage ban to protect conservative values: “We believe that a conservative value is stable relationships and stable community and loving individuals coming together and forming a basis that is a building block of our society, which includes marriage.” Along the same lines, after discovering in their research that some moderates were offended by seeing same-sex couples throwing weddings in jeans or during parades, Third Way recommended that gay and lesbian couples find a way to signal they took marriage seriously, appreciating the sanctity of such a solemn commitment.

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