Minn. Anti-Gay Amendment: Crisis? Or Opportunity?
The approval of an anti-gay ballot initiative to amend the Minnesota constitution was not a surprise given the Republican dominance of the states legislature. But what may be surprising is the hope that GLBT equality advocates have expressed that the state’s voters might make history by rejecting bias in the voting booth come election day, 2012, National Public Radio reported on May 25.
The state senate had already approved the anti-gay measure when the house followed suit on May 21 with a vote of 70-62. If Minnesotans approved the constitutional re-write, they will embed language that restricts the rights of gay and lesbian families into the state’s bedrock law by denying same-sex couples the right to marry.
State law already bans marriage equality, but similar laws have been struck down in other states as unconstitutional. The most prevalent way of ensuring that this does not happen--approved in 31 states--is to change the state constitution itself. There has even been an intermittent and, thus far, unsuccessful push to amend the Constitution of the United States in a way that enshrines anti-gay language.
But GLBT equality advocates, while unhappy that the rights of same-sex families are once again headed to the ballot box in a way that heterosexuals’ rights have never been put to a popular vote, say that there’s reason to think Minnesota might be the state that changes the outcome.
In all but one case where the rights of gay and lesbian families have been put to a popular vote, those rights have been rescinded or curtailed. The single exception was Arizona in 2006, when voters feared that a vaguely worded ballot measure would backfire, impacting unmarried heterosexual couples and rejected it. A subsequent ballot measure refined the language so that only gays and lesbians would suffer the consequences, and voters approved the measure handily.
But arguments about fairness, parity, and equality have never carried the day. Instead, campaigns that spread messages of fear about gays--that they wish to target and "recruit" children, that a marriage between two men or two women will somehow tarnish marriages between men and women, or that allowing loving couples of the same gender to marry will open the floodgates to people marrying child brides, close relatives, or animals--have succeeded in convincing voters to deprive their fellow citizens of their family rights.
Such messages have had fertile ground in which to take root. For decades, political and religious leaders have recited and repeated myths about homosexuals, calling them "sinners" who "chose" a "lifestyle" of loving others of the same gender.
As science has advanced--and, more crucially, as gays and lesbians have increasingly come out of the closet to be seen, heard, and counted--such myths have begun to be dispelled. As more Americans realize that their own family members, colleagues, and close friends are GLBT, they have begun to realize that the mantras of myth bear little resemblance to truth. That, at least, is one interpretation of polls that continue to show an increasing acceptance of GLBT individuals and their families.
With the latest Gallup poll now showing a slender majority favors marriage equality--53%--there’s a sense that the black cloud of bitter, loud, and divisive campaigning that is about to descend on Minnesota might prove to have a silver lining: Minnesota voters may well reflect the current trends and refuse to enshrine anti-gay language in their state’s constitution.
Though the latest poll shows that Republican opposition to marriage equality has not budged in the last year, the last 12 months have seen other segments of society shift on the issue. Moreover, polls have long shown a generational break on the issue, with young voters being much more supportive early on than older voters--which suggests that as time passes, acceptance of family parity for gays and lesbians is likely to keep growing.
Activists on both sides suggests that the proof is in the political pudding--though some of them say that settling social issues via ballot initiatives is not necessarily the best approach.
"For so long, we’ve had these ballot measures, and we keep losing them," the Human Rights Campaign’s Sarah Warbelow told NPR. "But our hope is that Minnesota is going to turn the tide."
In addition to the Gallup poll (only one of a number of polls that reconfirm that a majority of Americans now support marriage equality), a poll of Minnesotans undertaken by local newspaper the Star Tribune also showed that gay and lesbian families had made progress: more than half--55%--did not support the constitutional amendment, noted the NPR article.
"We’re in a cultural shift on this," the HRC’s Michael Cole-Schwartz told NPR. "The polls are indicative of a larger movement." As a result, politicians are now using gays as political footballs less often than used to be the case.
"Party leaders realize this doesn’t play like it used to," Cole-Schwartz noted.
That in itself has contributed to a notable paradigm shift that sees gay conservatives on the ascent--and vocal about it, asserting that they, perhaps even more than heterosexual conservatives, have reason to pursue policies that would limit government’s size, scope, and power to interfere with individual liberty.
Anti-gay groups are not ready to concede ground just yet, however. The National Organization for Marriage, which has poured millions of dollars into campaigns around the nation to prevent gay and lesbian families from gaining the right to marry--or, as in the case of California’s Proposition 8 in 2008 and, a year later, a ballot initiative in Maine, to rescind marriage parity--insisted that the polls were meaningless.
"People doing polls want to get the results they’re getting," NOM head Brian Brown told NPR. As if to underscore Brown’s claim, an NOM-backed poll flatly contradicted the Star Tribune’s survey, tallying up 57% opposition to marriage equality. Said Brown: "The only poll that counts is what happens in the ballot box, and we’ve never lost."