"Stop leaving this up to lawyers": Gay Rights Panel Challenges Movement Leaders

 
On February 12, a panel of gay rights experts challenged the gay rights movement to move forward and develop new strategies and tactics. "Stop leaving this up to lawyers," said Lisa Duggan, professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU. Duggan, along with three others, participated in the panel discussion which was entitled "After Proposition 8: The Future of Marriage Politics."

On February 12, a panel of gay rights experts challenged the gay rights movement to move forward and develop new strategies and tactics. "Stop leaving this up to lawyers," said Lisa Duggan, professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU. Duggan, along with three others, participated in the panel discussion which was entitled "After Proposition 8: The Future of Marriage Politics."

Proposition 8 was a ballot measure that aimed to insert the words "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." into the states constitution.

Richard Kim, of The Nature magazine, reviewed the history of Proposition 8 for the crowd of approximately 100 people. According to Kim, Proposition 8 was the most expensive ballot initiative ever contested by pro and anti-gay rights movements and the single most expensive campaign of the 2008 electoral season after the presidential elections.

From June-November 2008, over $85 million was raised from over 64,000 people in all fifty states and more than twenty foreign countries.

Kim also described how the campaigns were run. Yes On 8 ran on a platform of protecting traditional marriage. Kim showed a TV advertisement of a child reading about two princes getting married and telling her mother that she wants to marry a princess. The advertisement, titled "It's Already Happening," implied that children would learn about gay marriage and abandon traditional family values.

No On 8 ran on a platform of tolerance. They argued that Proposition 8 was unfair and discriminated against people's sexuality. The campaign tried to use a libertarian framing, arguing that Californians should reject government interference in people's private lives.

Daniel HoSang, professor of Ethical Studies and Political Science at the University of Oregon, spoke of the electoral paradox in California. Said HoSang, "Sixty-one percent of California voters voted for Obama and 39 percent voted for McCain. Still, 52.3 percent of voters voted Yes On 8, and 47.7 percent voted No On 8."

HoSang explained that the "No On 8" campaign failed because they promoted tolerance, but also demonized Yes On 8, saying that they all hated gays.

Kim agreed, and criticized "No On 8" saying "They seemed to think that the only way people could vote yes is if they hate people." However, Kim found this to be untrue. He said that part of the reason that the opposition failed was because they could not imagine that "Yes On 8" ran an agenda other than homophobia.

Kim noted that while Proposition 8 banned gay marriage it did allow for civil unions which would give same-sex couple many of the same legal rights that heterosexual married couples enjoy. Proposition 8 used this to frame themselves as not being anti-gay.

Katherine Franke, a Columbia Law School professor, spoke about how the movement was run and where it should go in the future. "Arguments that we make when we win set the stage for future politics," said Franke.

She mentioned the 1967 Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court case, which struck down laws barring inter-racial marriage, declaring that marriage is a fundamental right that people have. This was one of the two principle arguments made for same-sex marriage. Thus, it is akin to the ability to control your own body. "Valorization of marriage," Franke argued, "was a necessary step towards making it a fundamental right."

The other argument, equal protection, claims that if a state can discriminate against gays, it is the same thing as racism or sexism.

Franke argued that this was the wrong approach for gay marriage. Instead, she said the strategy should have been to disestablish the institution of marriage. If marriage stopped being a fundamental right, it would not be a government institution and it could not be regulated.

California courts will be holding hearings on March 5th about whether Proposition 8 was constitutional. The argument that opponents are making is that Proposition 8 was an amendment of the constitution, not a revision. A revision needs a simple majority to be passed, but an amendment requires a super majority and public forums, requirements that were not met.

Duggan also argued that gay rights groups should have a broader focus than marriage rights. "Gay rights is more than just marriage, it should be about social justice too," said Duggan.

"We're putting out fires that others started for us," said Duggan. She urged gays to build a movement built on member-based grassroots organizations. Said Duggan, "People in lobbying and litigation don't know how to run a social movement." The real mobilizing organizations are local.

Franke argued that gays should be expanding the movement to everyone who can benefit from it, not just certain groups. "The construction of an 'us' is central to the organizing. Who is the 'us' we are fighting for? Is that the right way to concentrate and organize the a movement?" she said.

Franke asked the crowd to look beyond the arguments made and reminded the crowd that "Part of why they discriminate against same-sex marriage is because they hate [gays], not because they care about kids."

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