The recent success of Annise Parker, the gay candidate for mayor in Houston, Texas, has got me thinking.
More and more, gay candidates are viable contenders. People vote for them regardless of their orientation, judging instead by their abilities and views. Here in Oregon, where we not long ago soundly rejected marriage equality for lesbians and gays with Measure 36, Kate Brown was elected Secretary of State. California instituted Harvey Milk Day. It seems that individuals have crossed a tipping point, and the majority of Americans, even in conservative areas, are willing to judge gay people by criteria other than their sexual orientation.
Compare that to gay causes, however, and there is a shift. Nowhere has a public election instituted gay marriage, or failed to prohibit it. DOMA and Don't Ask Don't Tell appear to be in no particular danger, even with a Democratic president and majorities in both houses of Congress. Some gains have been made, with Hate Crimes legislation adding sexual orientation, but even the domestic partnership law in Washington passed with an alarmingly narrow margin.
Comparing these phenomena, I come to an interesting conclusion: the motives of voters in rejecting gay causes are not personal, but instead are meant to either protect society, or resist demands and express autonomy, or both. I think there has been a cultural shift away from fear or disgust of gay individuals and homosexuality in general, which bodes well for the future. But why the difference?
Nearly every day, I receive at least one email from a liberal organization, such as the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, or Equality California, which centers around the statement, "Demand that your legislators (or whoever) (fill in the blank)." Frankly, it reminds me a lot of my kids when they were two-year-olds. They demand this or that, and throw a tantrum if they don't get it. And I notice that when my kids demand something of me, I tend to resist it – even if it's something I'd be willing to do if it was requested.
I think people have sincere needs for autonomy that are not met when organizations or individuals "demand" something – and I also think that making those demands, in that tone of tantrum, sounds immature. I've noticed that I even feel resistant to joining in these "demands," not only because I don't care for the language, but because they feel like demands on me!
I wonder if the response to those demands would be different if that word were simply changed to "request?"
I don't know. But I do believe there is a more mature way to approach these issues that are so important to the lives of individuals. A way that recognizes that everyone's needs are legitimate and real. A way that leaves options open for different solutions, which may meet all those needs. For instance, same-sex marriage meets a need for gay people to have their families recognized and to be treated equally in taxes, inheritance, and so forth. What other strategies might meet those needs?
And how might those who reject gay causes react, if they thought their needs mattered to gay people, too? Would they be open to recommending new solutions that meet everyone's needs?
Maybe it's worth a try.