The state where I live has had a tumultuous relationship with marriage equality in the past few years. After a vigorous campaign on both sides of the issue (during which I worked on the pro-equality side), same-sex marriage was legalized by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. However, the state has a very open referendum law that allows for a “people’s veto” of unpopular legislation, and later the same year the law was repealed by popular vote, with roughly 55% favoring repeal.
That was three years ago, and after a successful campaign to put the issue back up for referendum it will be back on the ballot in November. This time the question will be whether or not to establish same-sex marriage in the state. Poll numbers have been encouraging, with 54% now saying they favor marriage equality. However, the polls looked more encouraging last time, too, so I’m very wary about getting too happy just now.
Anyhow, this is an issue of tremendous personal importance to me. The Better Half and I worked hard on the previous campaign, and opened our home to out-of-town workers who needed a place to say. We were both devastated by the defeat. In fact, when we saw how the area where we lived had voted (almost uniformly in favor of repeal), it was a major factor in our decision to move somewhere else in the state. We care a lot about this, and have signed up to start working again on the new campaign.
The other night we attended a meeting presented by one of the major organizations in the state working for LGBT equality. It was, in many ways, very encouraging. The Better Half and I were among the youngest people there, and there were probably twice as many 50+ people there as people in their thirties. All of them were straight, and many identified as Catholic and/or Republican. These are the people we need to be reaching out to friends and family and advocating for us, and it was wonderful to see them there.
In fact, the comments and actions that gave me pause came from my more obviously liberal confreres. First of all, there was way too much Republican-bashing. I can understand why several people decided to take pot-shots at Rick Santorum, who has made hating gays a central theme in his presidential campaign. But there were numerous off-the-cuff jokes directed against Republicans in general. As I said, there were several there, and they seemed to take it in stride, but they shouldn’t have to. We want to have Republicans supporting our campaign, and it serves no purpose to alienate them.
The other reservation I have is less clear-cut, and concerns a practice that the sponsoring organization apparently does at all its meetings. The leaders ask everyone to introduce themselves, and in their introduction indicate what kind of gender pronoun they prefer. I happen to think that’s a bad idea. I totally grok why they do it, and sincerely salute their dedication to being inclusive to the transgendered people who fall under the “LGBT” banner. But I think it’s off-putting to a roomful of people for whom gender identity is a non-issue, many of whom clearly didn’t understand the question. Asking an 81 year-old Catholic man to stipulate that he prefers to be called “he” creates a sense of “otherness” that I worry will be unhelpful. I doubt any of the people who would show up for a campaign meeting so early in the process are likely to be thrown off by it, but when more undecided people are approached by the question I can imagine it weirding them out.
This is probably my vestigial conservatism speaking, and it’s the same feeling I get when I see some of the freakier elements at gay pride parades. On the one hand, yes — I agree that people should be free to be themselves. Similarly, I agree that movements that support LGBT rights should be true to that mission, even if parts of it are a tougher sell than others. But on the other hand, some of the stuff that marches proudly down the street has me gaping in shock, and I’m ostensibly part of the club. It practically begs to be used in a Focus on the Family fund-raising video, and it’s hard to argue that it’s not representative of gay people when it’s right there in our parade. To an obviously much lesser degree (and with a much more laudable intent), I wonder if asking people who show up to support marriage equality about their preferred gender pronoun is a worrying sign that some elements of the campaign are out of touch with the people they’re hoping to rally and persuade.