This is the kind of thing which tipped support for Proposition 8 over the 50% mark:
The NYT boils the story down to one paragraph:
A total of $73 million was spent on the race there, a record for a ballot measure on a social issue, resulting in incessant television and radio commercials from both sides. Advocates of the ban played up their belief that without it, children could be taught about gay marriage in schools, while opponents likened approval to denying fundamental civil rights.
And in Slate, even the alternative thesis that Prop 8 went through thanks to Barack Obama’s large African-American support is ultimately discarded in favor of this:
The “Yes on 8” campaign was particularly well-funded and savvy, blanketing the airwaves with ads suggesting that gay marriage would be taught in schools.
I’ve talked to people who are very angry about this campaign, saying that Proposition 8 has nothing to do with education — which is, narrowly, true. They say that supporters of the ban talk about not having a problem with two men or two women getting married, so much as with the idea that such a thing might be taught to children.
But if you were really in favor of gay marriage, wouldn’t you want to have it taught in schools? What does it even mean to say that you support gay marriage, but you don’t want children to be taught that men can marry men, or that women can marry women? That’s a point of view which treats gay marriage as some kind of loophole: it’s maybe OK for gay people who’ve already made their mind up, but it’s not something we want to be proud of, and in fact it’s something from which we should protect our children.
And in any case, if a young girl really can grow up to marry a princess, how on earth would it be possible to ensure that she couldn’t learn that fact in school? If gay marriage is a reality, then yes of course it’s going to be taught in schools — and quite right too.
But I am confused as to why this education tactic seems, by all accounts, to have worked so well. I can see three possibilities:
- A lot of Californians really did support “loophole marriage”. If you’re already an out gay person in a long-term committed relationship, then what the hell, sure, go ahead and get married, it makes lots of people really happy and it’s not like you’re not going to be gay otherwise — plus, maybe then gay people will shut up about this marriage thing already. But the implications, like gay marriages becoming so societally accepted that they get taught in schools and generally become part of the culture, are a little bit scarier: it’s the point at which homosexuality moves out of “the privacy of their own home” and into family units. So you vote Yes on Prop 8 because while you’re OK with them being able to get gay-married, you’re not OK with us being able to get gay-married.
- It’s the old “gays are pedophiles” thing, dressed up just enough to be acceptable. At the end of the ad above, it says “Protect our Children.” From what? Obviously, from The Gays.
- It’s simply an excuse to vote with your prejudice rather than your head. As Ta-Nehisi Coates says, “If someone wants to give me a reason why gay people shouldn’t be able to marry that doesn’t, at its root, boil down to ‘yuck,’ I guess I’d love to hear it.” And the argument about children and education, while not being much of an argument at all, at least is something you can use to kid yourself that there’s a good reason to vote Yes and try and stop yucky gay marriage from taking root in California.
Clearly, the Christians who pumped millions of dollars into this campaign didn’t feel comfortable making an explicitly Christian argument for it, so they pimped out their children instead. I hope that by the time those children become old enough to vote, we will have gay marriage, not only in California but also in the rest of the country. It does seem historically inevitable. But it’s taking far too long, and retrograde steps like this are a particularly tough blow: it’s much harder to lose something you have than it is never to have it in the first place.
Indeed, for the first time in my three years of marriage, I felt ashamed of my married status today, like I was perpetuating some kind of apartheid institution. Obviously, I don’t kid myself that any gay person would appreciate my getting divorced in solidarity with their plight, and that’s not going to happen. But the aftertaste of Proposition 8 is nasty indeed, especially when it was so overwhelmingly supported by the blacks who gave Barack Obama the largest margin of victory any presidential candidate has ever had in California — bigger even than Reagan. And when its passage is accompanied by so much hypocrisy, it’s harder to take still.