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Lee Stranahan

Lee Stranahan

Posted: November 9, 2008 01:31 PM

Four Lessons Gay Marriage Activists Must Learn From Obama


Barack Obama won a historic and overwhelming victory. It's too bad the proponents of gay marriage don't seem to have learned much about how and why he won.

I am in total agreement with those who want gay marriage to be legal. They are right. Being right isn't enough.

In fact, many progressives have found an odd sort of contentment in being grumbling angry losers for years because they were so damn right. Now that Obama has lit the path for being both right and effective, it's time tor the conservatives to be the grumbling losers and time for progressives to chalk up victories on issues important to them by applying the lessons of this election.

1) Anger Loses
The protests and expressions of anger on the part of the GLBT community and their friends and family have been impressive. Thousands of people have taken to the street and their anger is justified. I don't think it's smart, however. I see no evidence at all that it's going to help advance the cause of gay rights.

If anger won elections, John McCain and Sarah Palin would now be the king and queen of America. McCain was practically bursting blood vessels in the last few speeches of the election and he lost in a landslide. Anger turned off the independents at the same time it fired up the base.

Just because anger is justified doesn't mean it's wise. That's where discipline comes in. As Obama said repeatedly, "Don't boo - vote." In other words, channel your emotions into something more productive then the easy road of making loud noises.

WWOD? The McCain campaign threw a fresh pack of lies at Obama every chance they got. The number of death threats towards him increased as the angry McCain campaign cranked up the rhetoric. If anyone was justified in their anger, it would have been Barack Obama. He could have struck back in anger and fired up the Democratic base to take to the streets to protest racism and lies.

Obama could have gotten angry.. He didn't. He won. We all won.

2) Get Organized
The No On 8 people have shown they can get big numbers out to a rally. So why couldn't they run an effective ad campaign, send out a clear message or win the election?

The Yes on 8 crowd had the advantage of a built in organizing system in the churches. It's the same organizational structure that explains why Fireproof, a Christian themed, ultra low budget movie with Kirk Cameron as the lead has grossed more than Oliver Stone's 'W'. Churches are good at getting groups of people to do things en masse. That's not a bad thing; it sure helps when they do charity work.

And the ability to organize people isn't a left / right thing; black churches helped Obama. There's a similar secular power with unions or groups like the National Rifle Association. None of it was harnessed by the people in favor of gay marriage to any significant degree.

Without that structural advantage, the pro gay marriage crowd needed to work harder and not be self satisfied. The forces that defeated gay marriage in California did what Obama did; they organized a diverse group of voters and got them out to the polls.

3) Outreach Works
Barack Obama showed that reaching beyond the base can yield big results. I haven't seen much evidence that the people who support gay marriage did much more than reach out to the people who already support gay marriage. In fact, rallies that have protesters yelling 'Mormon scum!' are negative outreach.

What if the gay community reached out to the black, Latino and Mormon communities that voted against gay marriage? What if instead of merely chalking up opposition to 'fear and hate' they went in churches and communities and started engaging in conversations? Would they meet with resistance? Of course. Would they see fear and hate? Absolutely. Changing a lifetime of thoughts and feelings isn't easy but the election showed us change does happen.

But African Americans, Latinos and Mormons all know firsthand the pain and frustration of discrimination. They have all seen their share of fear and hate. They know the value of marriage and family. The way to expose the things they have in common with their gay brothers and sisters is through dialog, not demonstration.

It may seem like an unlikely alliance but it's just as unlikely as getting a white working class guy to vote for a President whose middle name is Hussein.

4) Pick Your Battles
The Obama campaign showed a lot of discipline in picking which battles to fight and which to avoid. Here's a good rule; pick battles you can win.

The current tactic of trying to fight church tax exceptions is a dead on arrival loser of a battle. It's not going to happen.

Tax free churches have a long precedent in our society. It's a fight that will result in a direct battle with every religious organization in America, not just the ones opposed to gay marriage. Further, selectively going after the Mormon or Catholic church is a slippery slope. Trying to take away the tax exempt status of churches you don't like only makes it easier to take away that status for churches with inclusive agendas, like the Unitarian Universalists. Even that doesn't matter, however, since it won't happen.

Some people don't like the idea of picking battles because they want their entire agenda enacted right now. Well, wisdom says that 'perfect' is the enemy of 'good'. Incremental steps require patience but they work.

I believe that the enactment of Proposition 8 is a delay of the inevitable as our county moves towards a more perfect union. If my comrades will take a moment and learn the lessons of this last election, I hope that delay will be short.

Lee Stranahan is a writer and filmmaker who also blogs about politics at BobCesca.com which may sound like a contradiction but it's not but it is.

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