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A new report is out from Third Way, a center-left think tank. Third Way was evidently responsible for some of the research the successful marriage equality campaigns relied on for the ballot measures last month. The organization conducted a post-election poll in Washington State to determine what all went into the success, and to collect information to aid future campaigns moving forward. For the stat geeks out there, it’s interesting reading.

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A new article from The Atlantic provides an in-depth look at the four-state victory in November for marriage equality, going back to earlier roots and discussing behind the scenes decision making and strategizing. It goes into quite a bit of detail about things I summarized in a recent post here.

The end of the piece discusses what comes next, and cautions those who might be too eager in attempting to build on the recent successes without first laying the critical groundwork. The article is well worth reading if you have the time and interest.

One paragraph from early in the article nicely summarizes part of why I feel marriage equality is so important, despite the fact I have no interest in getting married myself:

To Wolfson, the fight for marriage was about making gays full participants in American life and fully human in the eyes of their fellow citizens. “This was something that would transform non-gay people’s understanding of who gay people are,” he told me. “It would help people understand gay people as fully rounded human beings, with the hopes and dreams and human aspirations we all have.” Other gay-rights struggles were mainly about convincing people to overlook sexual orientation, in employment or medical care or military service. Marriage is about what makes gay people who they are: their relationships with others of the same sex. In ratifying marriage for gays and lesbians, society would be ratifying the core of their identity — their love for one another.

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Yesterday the state of Washington started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. King County made a big production of it, opening the clerk’s office at 12:01 am on December 6th, and holding a little ceremony. (Video: news coverage, outside the courthouse, a short piece, full ceremony.) Weddings will not start taking place until this Sunday, because Washington has a three day waiting period.

After all votes were counted, Referendum 74 was approved 54-46 statewide. Washington has 39 counties and the referendum was only approved in 10 of them. Only one county in the very conservative eastern half of the state (where WSU is located) approved the referendum.

Those bare numbers are only part of the story. The most interesting numbers are from the counties where the referendum failed. Adams County, a rural area with a low population, had the lowest approval rate at only 28 percent, which looks rather daunting. But only 3 counties had an approval rate of under 30%. In 14 counties where the referendum failed, is was still approved by over 40% of voters.

These numbers are promising, not only for the eventual general acceptance of married same-sex couples as they become a common part of our communities in this state, but also for the nation as a whole. Washington is a deeply divided state between liberal and conservative halves. Yet even in most of the conservative bastions there exists a significant base of support for equality on which to build.

Marriage equality would not be possible without the efforts made by our straight allies. Minorities, by the fact of being minorities, are only able to accomplish a certain amount on our own. Technically the US Constitution grants all citizens equal rights, but the truth is that most minorities have had to fight to obtain equality.

As minorities we have to bring our issues to the attention of the majority, demanding the respect and equal treatment we are due. At a certain point we usually have to depend on the fairness of the majority to recognize our plight and join us in the fight to make equality a reality. So I want to thank all the fair-minded straight people of Washington State who made this a reality by staffing phone banks, donating money, and voting. Dan Savage said it pretty well here.

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), is the primary organizer against marriage equality. Going into the November 2012 elections they said they would be victorious, continuing their substantial winning streak at the ballot box, because the majority of Americans still believe marriage is only between one man and one woman. But they lost in a clean sweep of all four states.

NOM now claims that they expected to lose because the four states are deep blue states, and because their opponents were better funded. There is truth in both of those reasons, but you have to look deeper than that.

Why were they underfunded and understaffed compared to equality proponents? It’s because their cause is no longer a popular one. There are more people and companies supporting equality than there are those against it enough to cough up hard-earned dollars or their precious time to campaign. NOM is not yet willing to concede this point, but it’s there for anyone to see. In 2009 five donations made up 75% of their funding, and in 2010 only two donors accounted for two-thirds of their funding. They are not a grassroots organization.

More importantly though, marriage equality supporters have learned the necessary lessons from past losses. They were aggressive this time in controlling the conversation and in quickly responding to the lies told in ads by the anti-equality groups.

The central message changed from one of gay people demanding equal rights, which is more cold and abstract, to one of average citizens, including people of faith, talking about family, love, and commitment, which is a warm message people respond to positively on a gut level. The anti-equality people only trotted out the same old bigotry and lies they’ve depended on in the past, and that doesn’t play as well as it did ten years ago.

Just as importantly, it was the questions being asked on the ballots. Social science and polling has long demonstrated that how a question is asked, or which question is asked, will to a great extent affect the answers received.

Much earlier in the year marriage equality advocates suffered a big loss in North Carolina, where voters approved an amendment to the state constitution banning all recognition of same-sex relationships, including marriage. It passed by 61%. Some of that large margin was due to voter confusion about what the amendment actually did, but a lot of it was due to the question being asked: should marriage between one man and one woman be the only domestic legal union recognized by the state.

There is a highly crucial distinction between voting about the definition of marriage, and voting about the rights of fellow citizens. There are a significant number of people in this country who occupy a middle ground on this issue. They believe on a personal level that marriage is only an institution between men and women, yet at the same time they’re fair-minded and believe that others should be allowed to enjoy full rights as citizens.

These middle ground people often vote according to which question they are asked. If asked: should marriage be defined only as a union between one man and one woman, they’ll often vote yes. It’s what they believe. But if asked instead: should same-sex couples be allowed to marry, many of them will vote yes on that, especially if the language includes explicit protection for religious freedom. It sounds like a semantics issue, but it’s much more than that. How a question is asked taps into people’s deeply held beliefs about what is right and what is fair.

In all three states where marriage equality was approved in November, the language used on the ballot was directly responsible for helping to insure success. Straight voters were not asked about the definition of marriage, they were asked if their fellow citizens should have the same rights they already enjoy.

These lessons about controlling the message, making the message more accessible to the average person, and insuring that ballot language reflects what is actually being voted on will help pave the way for future success down the road in other states.

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Obama Wins a Second Term!

Yeah, everyone knows by now. I don’t really have anything of worth to add about that. But I will say that I’m giddy with relief. I think changing horses midstream at this point, especially to Mr. Can’t-hold-an-opinion-longer-than-two-weeks-and-forty-seven-percent-of-you-suck Romney, would have been disastrous.

Gains for women!

A record number of women will be representing American citizens in the US Senate. Currently there are 17 women serving, which was also a record. After the new senators are sworn in for the next session, there will be 19 women serving in the Senate. Possibly 20, if Heidi Heitkamp manages to pull out a win in her very close North Dakota race.

Even more exciting, Tammy Baldwin is the first openly gay person to be elected to the US Senate.

It’s rather discouraging that after all this time women will make up only 20% of our Senate when we are over 50% of the population. But at least we’re heading in the right direction, even if agonizingly slowly.

Akin and Mourdock lost their races, giving women everywhere reason to breathe a sigh of relief. If the names don’t ring a bell: Akin was the astoundingly ignorant candidate who thinks women have mystical woo-woo reproductive systems that automatically shut down in the case of “legitimate rape”. Mourdock holds the repugnant view that a child conceived via rape is “a gift from God”.

We’re here, we’re queer, we’re gonna get married!

Well, okay, I’m not gonna get married. Not my thing. But lots of my brothers and sisters will be tying the knot.

Maine had an initiative put on the ballot by the people to legalize same-sex marriage. With 75% of the votes tallied, it is passing by 53%.

Maryland and my beloved state of Washington had referendums on the ballot. Our legislatures passed marriage equality laws earlier this year and people who didn’t like that gathered enough signatures to put the laws on the ballot for approval.

With 97% of the votes tallied in Maryland, their referendum is being approved by 52%. Washington is a bit trickier because our elections are done entirely by mail, and any ballot postmarked by the 6th counts. So only 51% of votes have been tallied so far. But the referendum is being approved by 52%, and I’m optimistic that will hold.

The state of Minnesota had a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The amendment would have banned same-sex marriage. With 97% of votes tallied, it has been rejected by 51%. That doesn’t mean gay people will be able to get married in Minnesota yet, because there’s already an existing state law against it. But it does mean that the discrimination will not be enshrined in their state constitution.

This is all very big news. The fact that it’s a clean sweep is rather startling. Especially since polls leading up to the election in Minnesota were not very encouraging. Up until now, marriage measures, whether initiatives, laws, or amendments, have always failed when put up for popular vote. (There’s one exception, but it was turned back later in a followup vote.) Not only has that string of losses been broken, it was broken four times in one day.

But the other more subtle thing that I find interesting, and it’s a portent of real change, is the final vote percentages. Up until now there has been a significant tendency for people to misrepresent how they were going to vote on gay issues when being polled. (Many people would tell pollsters that they supported an issue, when they obviously ended up voting against it.) Also, most of those who stated they were undecided when being polled usually voted against the measure. What this meant was that you needed to add anywhere from 6-10% to the anti-equality poll numbers to get a closer reading on what was likely to actually happen at the ballot box.

A lot of that disappeared this time. It was still somewhat evident, but now falling more within the margin of error. The polls did a fairly good job of predicting the outcomes, or even in the case of Minnesota, underestimating support in the final days. This is a good sign for the future.

Reefer Madness!

Washington and Colorado have become the first two states to legalize marijuana. Not just decriminalize it, and not just allow medical marijuana, but legalize pot for personal recreational use for adults age 21 and over. It will be regulated by the state in a manner very similar to alcohol. (Colorado did it by amending their state constitution.)

The ballot measures passed by substantial percentages in both states, and not only in traditionally liberal areas either. It will be interesting to see how the federal government reacts. I have a feeling this issue will be heading for the Supreme Court eventually.

Passage in two of the three* states voting on the issue is a sign people understand that prohibition not only doesn’t work, but ends up costing us as a society. Both financially, and in the loss of people to the criminal system who don’t belong there.

* Oregon also had legalization on the ballot and I’m surprised at the results. They rejected the measure by the same percentage that it’s passing in Washington. Yet it usually seems like Oregon is on the forefront of these sorts of things. I haven’t looked into it at all, but it’s possible that there were problems with the specific law that people rejected, rather than the idea itself.

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On Tuesday, February 7th, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals struck down California’s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional in a 2-1 opinion.

For those not familiar with Proposition 8, it was a ballot initiative in California in 2008 which amended the state constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. When the proposition was enacted into law 18,000 same-sex couples had already married in the state. Those marriages were left intact.

The 9th Circuit decision was narrowly tailored to apply only to California, but it still has the potential to positively effect future marriage equality court cases because of the published reasoning.

Proponents of Proposition 8 now have to decide if they want to request an en banc hearing of the 9th Circuit or appeal the decision directly to The Supreme Court.

My suspicion is that they will request an en banc hearing because doing so will keep the stay in place that is preventing gay Californians from getting married at this time, and it draws out the process by another couple of years. Delaying tactics are really the only thing they have going for them at this point. (Though, with how quickly US opinion is shifting on this issue, time is their enemy in the end.)

Appealing directly to the Supreme Court would speed things up, likely resulting in a final decision next year at the latest. Because of how the 9th Circuit decided the case, there’s a good chance the Supreme Court will refuse to hear it, or if they do take the case, that they’ll uphold the 9th Circuit decision.

I have been following the case ever since it went to trial before Judge Walker in 2010, and it has been a fascinating experience. I’ve read trial transcripts, briefings, and lengthy court decisions. The whole thing has given me a new awareness of how our judicial process works and the intricacies of constitutional law.

For anyone interested in Proposition 8, or news concerning marriage equality in general, I highly recommend taking a look at this site. In addition to posts whenever there were new developments, and posts discussing legal strategies and comment, there are links to a timeline of events for anyone wanting to get caught up on the history. You can also read many of the court documents, including the decision striking down Prop 8.

The other happy development is here in my own state. Last week, on February 1st, the Washington State Senate passed a marriage equality bill that will allow same-sex couples to marry. Yesterday, February 8th, the House passed the bill. Since Governor Christine Gregoire was the one who introduced the legislation and helped to assure its passage, she will be signing it into law.

Unfortunately, that most likely won’t make marriage equality in Washington a done deal. Conservative religious groups are already gearing up to collect enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot this coming November. They’ll have about three and a half months to collect signatures and experts believe they’ll be able to meet the early June deadline.

I wish these zealots would pay attention to the thoughts expressed by Senator Mary Margaret Haugen from Camano Island. Despite her strong personal religious convictions, and being a Democrat senator up for re-election in a Republican-leaning district, she became the 25th vote for the bill, which guaranteed that it would pass in the Senate. Her full remarks can be read here. I can’t help but admire her dedication to the American ideal.

Just for the record, I have zero interest in getting married personally. I’m a confirmed loner. But marriage equality is important to me for two reasons. The first being the obvious, that all citizens of the United States should have the same rights. The second being that, while marriage is not something important to all gay people as individuals, it is important to gay people as a whole because equality in that area will directly and positively impact and improve equality in other areas.

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