If you want to defeat Prop. 8, thereby preserving the right of all adult couples in California to marry, I can tell you exactly how to do it. Take the suggestions below seriously, stir in five gallons of funding for media buys, and bake for three months at 350 degrees or until golden brown and bubbling.
1. Lower the temperature. No matter what the provocation, no matter how incensed you may feel, do not get into shouting matches. Do not indulge in name-calling. Do not vent your emotions. There will be plenty of time after the election to vent your emotions — and win or lose, you’re going to have some emotions to vent! Until then, focus on winning.
2. Do not talk about “the right to marry.” The people who support Prop. 8 do not believe that this right exists. If you insist that it does exist, all you’ll do is polarize the dialog. That is, you’ll shut down any hope of changing their minds. A dialog in which you can find common ground has the potential to draw people over to your side. Confrontation will drive them away. Avoid using the word “right” at all.
3. Instead, talk about wanting to make a lifelong commitment and assume responsibilities. For most people, but perhaps especially for conservative Christians, marriage is a serious matter. Show them that you understand its seriousness, and that you feel the same way about it that they do.
4. Praise traditional marriage. Make it clear in every dialog and media message that, far from wanting to undermine the institution of marriage, you yearn to participate in it to the fullest possible extent. Do not talk about the high divorce rate among heterosexual couples!
5. Talk about the practical problems caused by not being able to marry. Talk about hospital visits and custody issues. Talk about inheritance and home ownership issues. Talk about child custody issues. But before you do this, do your homework! Make sure you know what you’re talking about.
6. If you’re religious, show your faith. Do this in positive ways — by talking about your church attendance, Torah study, or whatever observances you practice. Avoid arguments about doctrine. Emphasize the similarities between you and the rest of the religious community, not the differences!
7. If you’re not religious, avoid attacking religion. Religious people take their doctrines and dogmas very seriously indeed. Pointing out the hypocrisy of their doctrines — by quoting the Bible, for instance — won’t work, because they’re well armored with answers to such accusations. If you can respect others’ right to cherish beliefs that are different from yours, and if you can show that respect, you’ll be giving them a real-life model of how they might show similar respect.
8. If you’re in a committed relationship, describe it in ways that anyone can relate to. Talk about paying the bills, doctor visits, gardening, or whatever you and your partner do from day to day. Help others see your essential humanity and goodness. You might want to say, “We hope Proposition 8 is defeated — but even if it passes, it won’t change our love for and commitment to one another.”
9. Deflect crazy talk with a simple, repeated message. If the person you’re talking to starts babbling about pedophilia, S&M, or indiscriminate sex in restrooms, your response should be along these lines: “Most gay people are not like that at all. Most gay people disapprove of those behaviors just as firmly as you do. Most gay people are just like you and me. There are extremes of behavior among heterosexuals too, but you and I don’t have to let a few wife-swapping clubs poison our feelings toward the whole community.” Do not let yourself be drawn into dissecting the details; just repeat the message in a firm, friendly way.
10. No parades. No picket signs. Streetcorner protests are a relic of the Sixties. They don’t change anyone’s mind anymore. If you want to change people’s minds, go where there are lots of people (a street fair, for instance), set up a card table, and talk to people. And don’t make the mistake of putting a big “No on 8″ sign on the card table! If you do that, none of the people you want to convince will come near you. Choose a neutral-sounding name, such as “Gay Life Information.” And don’t wear your damn leather! If you want to be accepted into the mainstream, you need to look like you’re part of the mainstream.
11. Ignore the extremists. You will never be able to get a rabid homophobic bigot to vote your way. Focus on the swing voters — folks who have some concerns (because they’ve been lied to by the extremists) but who also have an essential sense of fairness. Address their concerns in calm, realistic ways, and appeal to their sense of fairness.
12. Avoid demonizing the opposition. Most people, even extreme homophobes, want the same basic things: They want to live in safe, pleasant communities where their dreams and aspirations are supported. Where we differ from one another is mainly in our view of how best to achieve those goals. If you’re talking to a swing voter and you can find something nice to say about his rabid homophobic pastor, you’ve changed his thinking. The next time he listens to the pastor, he’ll listen with less credulity and more skepticism.
13. Be prepared to counter specific stereotypes and misconceptions. Probably the number one misconception held by Prop. 8 supporters is the idea that homosexuality is a “preference” or a “lifestyle.” If these words are used, you need to counter them quickly, but always in a polite, friendly way. Don’t jump on anyone by saying, “It’s not a lifestyle!” Instead, you might say, “You know, I’ve met gay people who practice a wide variety of lifestyles. Some gay people are very conservative. Some are doctors or lawyers or professional athletes. So I’m not sure what you mean by ‘gay lifestyle.’ I don’t think there is such a thing as a single, monolithic lifestyle, any more than there is a single heterosexual lifestyle.” And so forth. Make up whatever responses suit you, but be positive. Provide new information.
14. Agree that protecting children from abuse is important. The stereotype that gay males are pedophiles is deepseated. Simply telling someone that the stereotype is inaccurate probably won’t get you anywhere. Instead, express your own concern with protecting children, and broaden the discussion to a variety of forms of abuse. You might say, “I agree with you that all children should be protected from sexual abuse. I also wish all children had safe playgrounds, adequate nutrition, and at least one parent who was always at home to provide guidance and support. The more stable couples there are in our communities, the better off all children will be. And of course marriage is the best way to give couples stability.”