Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Moving the Middle on Marriage

The group Third Way has done a study looking at the response of the "middle" to the issue of marriage equality. Their study is now released. They define the "middle" as people who don't support marriage per se, but do support some recognition of GLBT couples.
Our biggest insight is that the “equality” argument is not connecting with the middle on marriage. Instead, we must show the middle that gay and lesbian couples are seeking to join in the true spirit of how the middle sees marriage. The middle thinks of marriage as an ideal as opposed to a legal construct, and they are not yet persuaded that gay couples fit into this ideal. For the middle, the ideal of marriage is about lifetime commitment, sacrifice, responsibility, and obligation—not rights and benefits. To reach the middle, we need to show respect for the tradition of marriage and demonstrate that gay couples want to undertake the responsibilities that come with it, including making a lifetime commitment to another person.

That's huge, don't you think? (my emphasis) They don't buy the "separate is not equal" argument. They don't buy cold, clinical arguments (like those that the no-on-8 campaign used in its infamously gay-free ads in California).

The report says,
They are not yet convinced that gay couples see marriage the way they do: as a weighty responsibility of making a lifetime commitment to another person.
(And I'll tell you, people lauding "open relationships" as some sort of future-of-marriage aren't helping!)

Drilling down deeper, they identify two areas of concern.
The Middle’s First Concern: Redefinition of Marriage...
When asked whether gay and lesbian couples were trying to join or change the institution of marriage, 55% of the middle said change, and only 34% said join. ....They said allowing gay couples to marry would undermine the sanctity of marriage before God (34%), change the way children perceive marriage (20%), and “cheapen” traditional marriage (13%)
I think this is why it is really important for churches to be part of the equality movement so that the religious commitment can be seen. And despite the Prop8 proponents attempts to paint marriage as procreative in purpose, we know it's not. And how does my marriage have any effect on anyone else's? In fact many people who know us have said that our marriage is one of the strongest they know.
The Middle’s Second Concern: What Marriage means for Kids... When we asked them about some of these broader concerns, 40% of the middle thought kids would be more likely to experiment with homosexuality if marriage was upheld, and 58% said they were concerned about that issue. And, as noted above, many of the people who worried that allowing gay couples to marry would change that institution said it would do so by changing the way children perceive marriage
What I found interesting in this part of the report is that they express much less concern about our kids--in fact, they seem to agree that our kids are helped by marriage--and much more concern about their own. I still don't understand how anyone can think that simply by us marrying each other, their kids somehow become more at risk. It's not as though we are suddenly going to swoop down on the community or the schools. We're already there.

The report goes on to suggest three strategies for our side.
1. Show that gay couples will honor and respect the tradition of marriage..... We can do that by talking about the value of marriage as the middle sees it, articulating how important the institution of marriage is to society, and focusing on the sacrifices and responsibilities it entails, instead of the rights and benefits.
I think this is true, and I've really started to try to do that.
2. Demonstrate that gay couples see marriage as a lifetime commitment...... We can capture the true spirit of marriage by highlighting gay couples who are talking about why they want to get married, demonstrating that they take the institution very seriously, and showing that they want to make the major life decision to honor and cherish it.
That means lifelong commitment, monogamy, fidelity, and a certain conservatism about family and sex. It's why I'm SO PISSED at self-satisfied swingers trying to justify "open relationships". It may be a relationship but it's NOT a marriage.
3. Encourage gay people and allies to talk to others about why they support marriage....talking to a gay person helps to convince the middle that gay couples want to get married for the same reasons straight couples do—and that those couples will do their best to honor the lifetime commitment, sacrifices, and responsibilities that marriage entails.
This is SO IMPORTANT. It's why we have been very committed to using the term "wife" for each other, and coming out again and again. It's hard work, frankly, to always be coming out to strangers but as my wife says, we have to be the witnesses for what we are trying to achieve.

Marriage is a huge huge thing. It's not a casual jump over a broom. It's not a form notarized at Kinko's. It's monstrous and immense and incredibly important. We don't want to redefine it. We only want to participate in it, and by our participation, strengthen the fabric of our common society with our commitment to each other.

That's what we have to get across.

Go read the full report at the Third Way website--it's excellent!


enh said...

"That means lifelong commitment, monogamy, fidelity, and a certain conservatism about family and sex."

So only conservatives deserve rights?

"allowing gay couples to marry would undermine the sanctity of marriage before God"

Atheists don't deserve rights?

That's bigotry, plain and simple.

IT said...

Well, we have to reach the middle. We aren't going to reach them on the "rightness" of our cause. That's the point. I don't think a more "traditional" view of marriage as lifelong, monogamous, and faithful is a politically conservative view. And since many religious groups support marriage equality, the other argument also is not insurmountable.

Erika Baker said...

I agree, I dislike the assumptions the Middle is making, but we have to reach them.
One big problem is that most people still have never come across a perfectly ordinary gay couple. They hear about them in the debate but they can't quite imagine them because they've never met them.

The more we live openly and integrated into mainstream society, the more easily will people recognise us as being just like them and prejudice will melt away.

It certainly worked for us in our village, where we changed a number of people's ideas about gay couples simply by living in their midst like any other family.

janinsanfran said...

It seems to me that a "view of marriage as lifelong, monogamous, and faithful" is just fine. In fact I live in one of those (two lesbians; 30 years, etc.)

But such relationships, gay or straight, are simply RARE. The middle folks' anxieties are about the quality and durability of relationships in the society in general as much as LGBT marriages. We simply stand in as a convenient external focus for their (reality-based) fears.

I tend to trust "this too will pass", but I doubt there will be an enormous amount we can do directly to soothe fears of something over which we have no control.

enh said...

We will never get our rights by majority vote. Who ever has? Our only hope is the courts. *After* we get our rights, the "middle" will move, about 20 years later.

IT said...

IF we get the courts. I'm not sanguine at all. If the conservatives don't win, they won't grant cert. Ditto the liberals.

Want Some Wood said...

This dovetails very well with what I'm arguing about a case for gay marriage ultimately being a case for marriage. Very well said.