As I’ve noted before, Minnesotans United for All Families is the primary group reaching out to voters on the marriage discrimination amendment on the ballot in November. At least, it’s the primary group not trying to enforce discrimination.
Jeremy Yoder of Denim and Tweed moved to Minnesota last spring as a biology post doc, just in time to get hit with this. Minneapolis is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the U.S., so he didn’t expect that less than a year later, he would be making phone calls asking people not to change their constitution so that his right to marry would be out of reach.
The strategy, informed by an intense—possibly somewhat frantic—burst of messaging research in the wake of 29 consecutive defeats at the ballot box, represents a significant change from those previous, unsuccessful campaigns. In the past, campaigns for same-sex marriage have emphasized the abstract values of equality and fairness; this time around, the plan is to get personal. Ask about specific people the voter knows who will be affected by the amendment. Ask her how she’d feel if that person could get married. Tell this stranger on the other end of the phone line about yourself.
“Well, ma’am, I’m making calls tonight because I’m gay, and this amendment would affect me personally. I’d like to get married some day. To find someone to settle down with and build a life together. And to stand up in front of friends and family and make that commitment to each other.”
I’ve met Jeremy. We had dinner together, not here in the state where we both live, but at the ScienceOnline conference a little over a year ago before he moved. I like Jeremy, but even if he were a stranger to me, I would find it difficult to read what he’s putting himself through in order, not to secure his rights, as defeat of this amendment still won’t make same-sex marriage legal here, but to simply keep them from slipping further away.
Even with the conversation guide and a good deal of preparation, I fully expected that I was signing up for an evening of having, over and over, the kind of conversation I’ve successfully avoided having with a good half of my extended family.
In practice, it hasn’t been like that, exactly. Minnesotans are generally too polite, for one thing. For another, it’s funny how much easier it is to let absurd and offensive statements wash over you when the only thought in your head is “be polite,” and you can always jump ahead to the closing question, hang up, and never talk to that asshole again.
But Minnesotan voters are entirely able to be astonishingly, densely homophobic, even when they’re being Minnesota nice.
There was the lady who said she had lots of gay and lesbian friends, but she wasn’t quite ready to support full marriage equality yet, because she thought that if we could get married, “it might become cool,” and then too many attractive, intelligent folks might never reproduce!
There was the gentleman who told me that the Bible had “ordained” me to be a eunuch, and who noted his concerns about a (completely fictitious, do I need to say?) proposed bill to legalize bestiality.
There was the woman who agreed with me on every point from the basic unfairness of the question to my own desire for a wedded commitment, but said she’d probably vote for the amendment because her church told her to.
There was the lady who responded to my telephonic coming-out by asking if I didn’t want to have children? And when I said that I might, but that lots of same-sex couples have kids, and I’d rather adopt anyway as there are plenty of children in the world who need parents, she noted that—in the hypothetical straight marriage she was planning for me—I could always adopt after I’d made a few biological kids. To which I asked how many children did she want to saddle me with, here? —and she laughed.
I don’t know how she’ll vote, but somehow her laughter was encouraging.
I can’t think of a better argument for keeping the rights of citizens out of the hands of voters than this. Please, go read the whole thing. Then start having these conversations where you can, because they shouldn’t be left just to Jeremy and the people for whom the outcome matters most.