Friday, June 12, 2009

Should we wait to repeal Prop8?

Writing in the Independent Gay Forum, Dale Carpenter argues that we are bound to lose in 2010. He predicts:
On November 2, 2010:
1) A repeal of Prop 8, in some form, will be on the California ballot.
(2) About $60 million will have been raised in the effort to repeal Prop 8.
(3) The repeal will fail.
(4) The margin of loss for SSM advocates in California will be greater than the margin of loss in November 2008, probably in the neighborhood of 46% "yes" (for repeal) and 54% "no" (against repeal).

His reasoning is very logical. But I don't agree with his conclusion.
Everything else being equal, the conditions were about as favorable for SSM supporters in California last November as they are likely to be for many years. They aren't likely to be as favorable in 2010. This is true for several reasons: First, 2008 was a presidential election year, when turnout is higher and when more mainstream, less ideologically committed, voters dominate...... Second, 2008 was a bad year for Republicans. 2010 will likely be a better year in general for Republicans since mid-term elections are usually good for the party out of power. Sorry to say it, but good years for Republicans are usually bad years for gay rights. Third, gay marriage was the status quo in 2008, however briefly, and meant that gay couples were actually marrying. It will not be the status quo in 2010. People have a status quo bias. Fourth, the ballot language on Prop 8 reflected the status quo by indicating that it would "eliminate rights," something Americans don't like to do. In 2010, nobody will lose existing rights if voters refuse to repeal Prop 8..... Fifth, supporters of SSM needed a "no" vote to prevail in 2008. In 2010, they will need a "yes" vote. There is a small built-in bias (maybe 1-2%) for "no" votes. Sixth, some voters will resent being asked to vote on something they just voted on......

The longer we wait for repeal, the more likely we'll win. This assumes that younger voters continue to support SSM, that older voters gradually get used to the idea, and that the oldest die-hard opponents succumb to certain actuarial realities over time. So, all else being equal, 2012 would more likely produce a victory for SSM than would 2010. And 2014 or 2016 would be even more likely.

But is he right, either as a matter of fact, or as a matter of justice?

The momentum right now for our side is looking towards 2010, which everyone acknowledges is risky for many of the reasons Carpenter enumerates, and a few extras like the economy, but has a few advantages: a highly motivated, mobilized force; no competing federal election issues (how many of our potential organizers were working the Obama campaign instead?), and a momentum from other gay marriage victories around the country. Not to mention the 18,000 club, people like me, who are married.

Still, it's a compelling idea to play it safe for the "sure thing". But we can't do that.

I find myself returning over and over to Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

King goes on to say,
I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season."

I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.

Sadly true, I think. How many allies just didn't think Prop8 would pass?
We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

So in answer to the question in my title, NO. We should not wait. We should bring this up as frequently as we need to until justice is done.

Will we lose in 2010? Possibly. Maybe even probably. But the degradation to our community, which was for 6 brief months a full participant in our society, is a cost most of us are not willing to pay any more. Those who oppose our dignity and our full citizenship have spit on us before, and will spit on us again. And maybe what it will take to expose their ignorance, revulsion and hatred, maybe what it will take to cleanse all that from our society, is for us to drag them into the sun over and over again, exposing their lies, until the light sterilizes their hatred and heals them.

Cross posted at Daily Kos

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