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Opening Arguments

When the outsiders want in

In the new book, "The Battle Over Marriage: Gay Rights Activism Through the Media," Leigh Moscowitz  chronicles the brilliant public relations campaign that completely turned around public attitudes in slightly less than 25 years. The gay community won hearts and minds by a strategy of convincing Americans that "we're just like you." But while winning the gay marriage debate, she says, the gay community lost something, too:

The campaign against negative representation, particularly in the gay marriage debate, was effective. As Moscowitz points out though, the LGBT community’s public relations successes have created some problems as well.  In particular, the push for gay marriage has drawn attention away from other issues. For example, lesbian and gay people can still be fired for their sexual orientation in 24 states; transgender people can be fired in 44.  (A national LGBT employment non-discrimination law is currently stalled in the House.)

More generally, the very topic of marriage equality foregrounds assimilation; those b-rolls sent to the studios presented LGBT people as typical middle-Americans, working middle-class jobs, raising kids, living the American dream.  The half-naked Pride paraders were carefully pushed off center-stage. At the extremes, this trend meant gay people themselves were sidelined, as in the much-maligned failed 2012 Proposition 8 campaign in California, which focused on straight politicians and allies touting gay marriage rather than showing pictures of gay families (though, as Moscowitz says, a campaign in Maine the same year which centered on gay families also failed).

Moscowitz writes that, "in selling one particular version of gay and lesbian life, the movement risks unintentionally casting other forms of gay identity (not being part of a monogamous, married, child-rearing couple) to the margins." She argues that when news media chose LGBT weddings to highlight, they inevitably included couples who looked and acted as much like traditional heterosexual couples as possible. In a couple of instances, Moscowitz says, "one partner took the last name of the other, ironically participating in a heterosexist and patriarchal practice historically rooted in property ownership."

I think this comes under the heading of "be careful what you ask for."

I've been interested  in minority-group dynamics ever since I took the first course on my way to a sociology minor in college. All minitority groups -- whether blacks among a white majority, gays among a straight majority or libertarians trying to cope with the liberal-conservative continuum -- engage in predictable behavir meant to cope with their minority status. They create their own lexicon, for example, and often broadly parody the stereotypes about themselves, bith as a way of creating solidarity and thumbing their noses at the majority.

Seeking greater assimilation -- which is what the whole gay marriage isssue is about -- necessarily means giving up, at least in part, your outsider status. You cannot simultaneously be "just like everyone else" and outrageously different at the same time.

What this ultimately means I will leave to more sophisticated thinkers. I tend to be optimistic about it, seeing it as one step by the members of one group to get to that highly desired place where the individual is more important than group identity.