Back in June, FiveThirtyEight.com posted some interesting poll data on how differently gay marriage polls depending on the wording. Specifically, the difference was that one poll asked "if the government has a right to pass laws to prohibit or allow" marriages based on various categorizations of the relationships in question (interfaith, interracial, same-sex, polygamous, and involving children under 16, to be precise.) The other polls asked if same-sex couples should be allowed to marry -- quite a different question.
What's the result of changing the wording? 63% of people polled believed that the government did not have that right, vs. the usual 40some% that think same-sex marriage "should be allowed." (Leading me to wonder what people think voting for laws is -- if they don't believe the government has a right to regulate something, shouldn't they vote against regulating it? But people tend not to analyze their voting process, I think.)
I've mentioned before that I think conservatives are controlling the dialog. That's why this is the hot GLBT issue, and why it's being sold so badly: they define the terms and make the attacks, and we argue with the terms and counter the attacks. We aren't fighting more winnable battles on such a public stage, even though they're as important; I think we could convince people that homeless GLBT youth deserve better services, for example, and actually get a lot of support for youth-related issues in other areas, because "the children" tend to be an automatic selling point, but it's not in the limelight. And we're fighting from the position that we ought to be given rights, implicitly suggesting that the government (the voting public, Congress) has the right to deny them to us. Which it doesn't.
The big question is, though, how do we change this? I've talked a lot about what's wrong; we all do. How to make it right is harder. I, personally, will be changing my emphasis in future debates, and I advise everyone who sees this to do the same.
What future debates, specifically? Well, if it's true that an overturn of Prop. 8 will be on the ballot next year, then I'm going to try to find a way to travel to the high-Yes parts of the state and campaign next summer, because there aren't a lot of people I can influence in my own town. The hard part is transportation -- I don't drive and public transit is unlikely to work well -- but I'm optimistic about it.
Someone's got to go, anyway. The highest concentrations of queer people in the state are, not surprisingly, in the most queer-friendly areas, so we really need to be out knocking on doors further from home. As scary as that sounds.