by Leah Waldron
In the gay marriage war in Maine, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington State, the stakes are higher than ever at the ballot this November. If Maine’s Question 1 passes, it will be the first time gay marriage legislation has been passed by a public vote. If Minnesotans vote down the Constitutional amendment to redefine marriage as between one man and one woman, it will break the nations’s 32-0 record for Constitutionally banning gay marriage at the state level. In Maryland and Washington State, voters will decide whether to repeal the same-sex marriage legislation that passed earlier this year. And finally, if Mitt Romney is elected President, marriage will be Constitutionally redefined at the federal level, and we all lose.
With the fight for gay marriage in a state of turmoil at both the federal and state level, it seems counterintuitive to me that, despite a majority of the pro-gay marriage funding coming from gay donors, gays are not being depicted as happy, well-adjusted and law-abiding American citizens in the pro-gay marriage TV spots.
In fact, gays are hardly being seen at all.
A report out this week shows that of the seven pro-gay marriage TV spots in the four states with ballot initiatives, only one (in Maine) features a gay man. The rest highlight straight couples talking about gay rights (for example, a husband and wife discussing lesbian neighbors, or a pastor speaking out about the rights of his gay parishioners), but not actual gays, themselves (one ad shows a brief glimpse of a lesbian couple, then the image disappears).
The theory behind the straight-but-not-narrow campaign, according to at least one high-level campaign adviser, is that on-the-fence voters are more likely to vote for gay marriage if they see people like themselves—other straight men and women—living among their gay neighbors, gay parishioners, and even gay couples. This theory may test well in focus groups, and, I have to admit, it holds a bit of psychological truth, but the absence of gay people in marriage equality TV spots is insensitive and hypocritical at best, and politically damaging at worst.
Gays, unlike racial or ethnic minorities, are often an invisible minority. When a gay individual’s life (or, in some cases, his political campaign or religion-based career) is threatened, it’s amazing how quickly he can hide in plain sight. In many countries around the world, hiding is the only way to survive, and a skill that can save your life. While America does not criminally outlaw homosexuality, gay Americans still hide in every facet of society, particularly in parts of the country where their minority status is more profound. Forcing gays out of marriage equality ads perpetuates this problem, while sending a message that straight people are not capable of empathizing with anyone unlike themselves. So it’s not only insulting to gays, but to the intelligence and humanity of heterosexual voters.
It’s also interesting that while gays are absent in political TV spots, we seem to be coming out of the woodwork in every other media outlet. When a pro-gay marriage ad (sans gay people) airs a few seconds after a “Modern Family” or “The New Normal” episode segment, does the ad seem disingenuous to the at-home viewer? If gays can be portrayed as normal, everyday citizens on a TV series, why can’t we be depicted as equal in a political ad that, ironically, seeks to legally ensure our equality?
At this stage, it’s impossible to gauge whether this new campaign tactic will help or hurt the four gay marriage state initiatives this November. We won’t know know for sure until the votes are counted. With so much at stake, I guess the campaign directors thought this was a risk worth taking.
Let’s hope they’re right.
Washington United for Marriage
Freedom to Marry