Tuesday, October 23, 2012

From my sister: "Do you hate gays? Well, if you do, join me this election day and vote Yes on One." (Yes on One is a vote for marriage equality)

My sister is a big believer in framing.  If you want to convince people you have to speak in a language they understand and all that stuff.  You know, telling the truth, but telling it in such a way that people hearing that truth would do something they would never ordinarily do, hence this post on facebook:
Do you hate gays? Well, if you do, join me this election day and vote Yes on One. Yes on One means taxing the most open gays at a higher tax bracket. Yes on One means less government and hospital subsidized benefits for gays. Yes on One means taking money away from gay couples and putting those dollars directly in the hands of churches. Yes on One means the end of joint healthcare for domestic partnerships. If you are fed up with tax and benefit loopholes and special rights for gays, join me in voting Yes on One. Please be sure to tell all your like-minded friends to do the same.

Later an explanation follows but before that:
I never said I hate gays. All of these are true good reasons why people who dislike gay people should vote Yes on One.
And then:
Not sarcasm. "Heartwarming stories" is a damned stupid approach for rationalizing with a group that lumps homosexuals with child molesters. It's like saying," Look at the cute family my ten year-old niece have and I have. We're having a baby." If you want the right to vote your way, bust out your ad framing fox news style.
Claim One: Means taxing the most open gays at a higher tax bracket. Couples who are open enough to get married will be taxed on their combined incomes. Claim Two: Means less government and hospital subsidized benefits for gays. Combined income will push some out of mandatory free hospital care and benefits such as foodstamps. Claim Three: Means taking money away from gay couples and putting those dollars directly in the hands of churches. Gay people as soooo gonna get married in churches, the UU where I got married (and then divorced in the courthouse about a block away) will have a long waiting list. Claim Four: Means the end of joint healthcare for domestic partnerships. Insurance companies will get rid of domestic partnership insurance as soon as gay marriage becomes legal because they are cheap bastards. So no, [name redacted], people can hate gays and vote yes on one. And if you know someone who does, I invite you to use these reasons when you speak with them.
There is a logic and a method to her way of thinking.  My biggest complaint with her reasoning (in general, not here in particular) is that she expects everyone else to be the same way.  For example she'll come up with a completely reasonable plan, but fails to take into account that one of the people who has to sign off on it is an unreasonable person.

In this case I think that in some ways she's making the same arguments that pro marriage equality people are already making.  We have priests pointing out that right now the government is telling them who they can and cannot marry but, should marriage equality become law, only the churches will be able to make that call.  Thus they're appealing to everyone who believes in religious freedom and the government getting its nose out out church business.

We have business people pointing out that anti discrimination laws already exist so this cannot hurt them in the least, but what it can do is bring them new customers.  Thus they're appealing to anyone who likes business or would just like the damned economy to pick up.

Certainly appeals are being made on levels beyond just, "Look at my wonderful family, we want to get married," or, "Look at my fellow fireman, when I go off duty I go home to my spouse; I think he should be allowed to do the same."  Don't get me wrong, those appeals are being made, but they're not the only ones.

I think my sister's primary problem in the above is that she's trying to appeal to a demographic that simply will not be reached.  Her claims are true, and someone who hates gay people may well be swayed by them in a vacuum, but they're not in a vacuum.

No one in this country wants to defend traditional marriage because traditional marriage sucked.  Monogamy was an economic and political agreement entered into for means entirely divorced from the values we all claim to cherish.  Plus it was pagan and the people who usually claim to defend it are emphatically not.  It was a product of the traditional Roman (pagan) traditions that Christians inherited along with the empire.  Traditional Biblical marriage involved one man, multiple women as wives, and slaves.

Perhaps someone who put up one of those "defend traditional marriage" signs is calling for a return to polygamy and slave-holding, but somehow I doubt it.

So she's right that it's not about marriage, and thus the focus on people who hate gays as the opposition makes a certain amount of sense.  But it's not just hate, it's also fear, and even if her way did work it still wouldn't treat the root of the problem which is the hate and the fear.

That's where the "Look at me, look at my mothers, this is a real family," (actually I think that ad was from the election we lost) can make a difference.  Hate and Fear are easy things to feel about some exotic Other.  It becomes harder when you realize that the person is just like you but for a few, relatively minor, differences.

More than that, I think that the people who really hate gay people are, for the most part, the ones leading the charge.  No argument is going to sway them because they know exactly what they want and what they want is No on One.  They don't matter though.

The people who matter are the ones following them.  And I don't think, for the most part, that the followers hate gay people.  I think they've put their trust in the wrong people, I think they've been led astray, I think they're afraid of monsters that don't exist and dark futures that will never come to be.  I think they're in this because they've been lied to.  I think they're in this because they're afraid.

The cure for that is truth.  Not truth you can spin in such a way as to make voting for marriage equality the option people who hate gay people will take.  The simple truth that gay people, bisexual people, and all other people are people.  They are not monsters.  This is not the apocalypse.  Doom will not befall us if we treat others with dignity and respect.

Always, always, be aware of the target audience.  If you want to win the election the target audience isn't the cynical ass who lumps non-heterosexuals in with child molesters, it's his flock.  You don't need an argument that can sway him (though if you've got one go for it) you need one that can sway the flock.

And the flock probably isn't made up of cynical assholes with interesting if dark and lumpy minerals where their hearts should be.  The flock is probably made up of scared people whose primary source of information is cynical assholes with interesting if dark and lumpy minerals where their hearts should be and as such are filled with misconceptions and fear.

To reach them we need to correct those misconceptions and erase that fear.  Part of that is putting a human face on those they would harm.  Part of it is making sure they know that the choices they make may well result in harm (and definitely will if they make a certain choice), part of that is appealing to the better angels of their nature rather than trying to convince the lower demons of their nature that they should vote the right way for the wrong reasons.

So I disagree with my sister, but if you know anyone who can be convinced by her points, and you live in a state where marriage equality is on the ballot, it is worth noting that the points are, in fact, true.


  1. Reading Altemeyer's The Authoritarians greatly clarified this for me. (It's free online.)

  2. There's also the issue that many of the flock won't be swayed from the position of their carbon-hearted leaders in a top-down appeal unless you can put up someone with equal or stronger authority saying to do the opposite thing. (Even then, it's difficult.)

    And for your sister's argument, yes, they're all true, but none of them compare to the moral argument they have been fed that says anything that might benefit gay people is to be resisted and denounced. Like you said, it's not a vacuum.