Christmas in June
Doing a biweekly column means you often end up writing about something that hasn’t actually happened yet. My May 19 column, for example, about the Minnesota Legislature’s passage of the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, was written prior to the House vote.
As both issues approached (the magazine and the vote), I found myself harboring at least a small glimmer of hope that perhaps House Republicans, upon seeing the public’s growing frustration over their inability to pass a budget (AKA their job), would let the amendment die from neglect in favor of a last-minute budget deal. You probably won’t be shocked to learn that I also believed in Santa Claus until I was 13 years old.
Instead, just two days before the end of this year’s paralytic legislative session, with nothing substantial to show for their five months of taxpayer-funded employment, Minnesota’s elected representatives somehow found enough time to write discrimination against gays and lesbians into the state’s founding document.
Incidentally, that also makes us the first group of Minnesotans to have their second-class status specifically written into the constitution. Unless, of course, you include “aliens,” who lost their right to vote in Minnesota in 1896. A joke about gay Martians is in there somewhere.
So it begins. Minnesota joins the ranks of 33 other states since 1998 that have waged costly, contentious, completely arbitrary battles over the status of same-sex relationships. Groups on both sides of the issue are already forming and fundraising.
Between now and November 2012, prepare to be asked to sign countless petitions, Like umpteen Facebook pages, and view untold patience-trying YouTube videos. The culture war continues.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of this whole ridiculous mess is that our community is about to be asked to blow hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to stave off a terror that does little more than perpetuate the status quo. As we know, gay marriage is already illegal in Minnesota.
So, even if we win, we’re still second-class citizens. It’s like spending $500 to put new tires on a car with no engine. You’re out $500, and you still can’t drive the damn thing. Adding insult to injury, thanks to some new research, we now know that even if you spend the $500, you’re probably not getting the tires.
According to a 2010 study by Dr. Patrick J. Egan of New York University, campaigns for same-sex ballot measures tend to have little or no effect on the final vote, regardless of the money spent.
“Did campaigns on same-sex marriage—which in some cases have involved millions of dollars of spending by either side—have an effect on voters’ positions on these ballot measures? A statistical analysis finds that vote intention tended to not change in one direction or another to a statistically significant degree over the course of the campaigns—both across and within states. Rather, voter sentiment tended to hold steady from beginning to end.” (Egan, 2010)
Egan also found that polls “consistently underestimate voter opposition to legal recognition of same-sex couples”—to the tune of about 7 percentage points on average. With that in mind, recent polls showing a slight majority of Minnesotans opposed to a ban don’t seem nearly as encouraging.
Great. Where does that leave us? The referendum is coming, the outlook isn’t good, and no amount of money or clever campaigning appears likely to change the outcome. No Santa Claus, remember?
This is one more blinding example of why civil rights should never be put to a popularity contest.
A part of me thinks we should take the money we’d spend on an antiban campaign, and invest it in our community. Boycott the ban. Don’t let hate-filled bigots and political opportunists scare us into spending our last few dollars, when it’s not likely to change the outcome anyway.
The only problem is, we’re Minnesotans. We believe in the impossible. We thrive despite our challenges. In the depth of a Minnesota winter, we know that, no matter how cold it gets, no matter how much snow falls on us, the sun will shine again. We know that no price is too great to stand up for what is right, despite the odds, despite the hardship.
There may not be a Santa Claus, but I still get gifts every Christmas.