Thursday, November 20, 2008

Prop 8: the legal challenge begins

And so it begins, the legal arguments and decisions that will impact the everyday lives of gay and lesbian Californians.

A brief digression: in my day job, I'm the government relations officer for a non profit and I basically see that role as one that explains to interested (or apathetic) parties why my organization matters and why the work we do is meaningful and how others can contribute to that meaning.

The other day I was reading a messaging document about the way to frame a particularly complicated campaign we're about to launch in coalition with other orgs in the state and it presented a novel (to me) idea - that when advocating for a social cause, it might be better to promote materialist thinking, rather than mentalist thinking.

Using a materialist approach in social justice communications concentrates on the concrete advantages of better policy decisions rather than factors that are outside the public sphere of interest, like character, choices or individual motivation.

It's kind of confusing but it works like this: you have to give folks a reason to discard their binary thinking, largely based in fear or ignorance. "Gay marriage will mean the end of heterosexual marriage" or "Gay marriage is unnatural" (because being gay is unnatural.)

A mentalist approach (something I do all the time because I get so easily pissed off) says that 'Gay marriage is good because gays are people too and it's just fair to legally recognize their relationships, too! You're such a bigoted asshole!'

This is one effective way of communicating the issue.

Might there be a more effective way to communicate the issue?

Perhaps. (And I'm working this out as I'm writing here, so bear with me.)

A materialist approach might say this (and the RHR piece references messaging like this):
"The right to form a family without the interference of state or federal government is a core American value, along with fairness, equality and freedom. To deny gay marriage, or other legal arrangements that replicate (though aren't the same as) marriage rights, is to deny them a basic human need and separates them from a national identity that is rightfully theirs."

Or something like that.

The advantage of this kind of framing:
It neutralizes the kerfuffle about 'protecting' families and maintains the importance of families to an intact social fabric. You are correct, sir. Families are the foundation of society and gays and lesbians would like to have families of our own.

It allows a conversation about how gay families support society. Gay families provide parenting, support children and each other, are invested in and contribute to the various structures/institutions that are involved in raising a family.

It connects the narrative of gay and lesbian equality to a national narrative of liberation. It's not just about one community, it's about the connection to a big ol' community. The struggle of other people and other communities to live lives of independence and freedom, away from social and religious oppression, is no different from this struggle.

It erases the binary Us/Them. Family is family, no matter who's in it.

And it doesn't waste time pleading for reluctant hetero acceptance of a gay 'lifestyle,' whatever that is. Homophobia will probably never go away; but with family, there's strength.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts off the top of my head, if anyone was wondering how to communicate this kind of stuff.

Ok, I really should get on the phone now and do some work.

CA Court Case Challenges Prop 8, Anti-Gay Rights Measure |

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