October 28, 2008

California's Proposition 8 TV Ads

by Alissa Scheller

On May 15, 2008, California became the second state (after Massachusetts) to legalize same-sex marriage. So called “activist” judges, ruled that statutes limiting marriage to a relationship between a man and a woman violated the equal protection clause of the California Constitution, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Since June 17, same-sex marriages have been recognized by the state of California. Proposition 8 is a ballot initiative that would introduce an amendment to the California Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Both the Yes on 8 and No on 8 campaigns have used media outlets, such as television ads, to promote their viewpoints. One television ad sponsored by Let California Ring features a woman going to through various obstacles to reach her wedding, and concludes with the statement: “What if you couldn’t marry the person you love?” Other No on 8 television ads parody the Mac vs. PC ads, and focus on how leaving the state constitution as it is would have no effect on traditional families.

Interestingly enough, few of the No on 8 ads actually depict gay people — the very people the campaign is fighting for. The ads mainly feature heterosexual couples with gay children, friends, or family members urging voters to ensure that all people are treated equally. One ad has two women (who are very clearly not a lesbian couple) talking about the issue. Another has Superintendent of Schools, Jack O’Connell, telling voters that Prop. 8 has “nothing to do with schools or kids” (after a Yes on 8 ad asserted — falsely — that if the proposition failed, schools would be required to teach children about same-sex marriage). The entire ad does not mention the words “gay,” “lesbian” or “same-sex.”

One Yes on 8 ad features a child telling her mother that she learned about same-sex marriage in school (the impossible circumstance to which the No on 8 ad with Superintendent O’Connell was referring). Another shows San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom, proclaiming to a celebratory crowd (after same-sex marriage was legalized in May) that “It’s going to happen whether you like it or not,” and later — again, falsely — claiming that if Prop. 8 fails, its supporters will be sued for their personal beliefs. Again, there are no depictions of actual gay people.

I think that this exclusion of gay couples from the television ads is because it could easily backfire — use words like “discrimination” or “exclusion” and people are more willing to be on your side. Use words like “gay marriage” and, well, a lot of people will disagree with you. However, by not showing gay people in their ads about gay people, it seems to me as if the campaigns don’t want gay people to become the focus of an issue about gay people.

To be quite honest, as a Californian, I fervently hope that Prop. 8 fails, but I think both campaigns have made mistakes in their television ads. I understand the reasoning behind the exclusions of gays from television ads on both sides — to make the ads more appealing to heterosexual voters — but I find it interesting that in the ads, Californians rarely get to hear from the main benefactors of same-sex marriage.

(The photo of demonstrators in favor of gay rights and gay marriage was taken in San Francisco; the photo is by crichton91 via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license. For more on the gay rights debate, please see: "The Story, the Truth and Fred Phelps." Also, please see the iVoryTowerz blog's "Isn't Love All You Need?")

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Reamworks said...

I'm very concerned that Prop 8 will legalize polygamy.. That's why I'm going to leave things as they are and vote NO on PROP 8.

Anonymous said...

How can you possibly know the future well enough to assert, three times at least, that the argument that gay marriage will be taught in schools is false? Once legal, will anyone be surprised if it is taught? I try to be even minded about these things since, even as a pro Prop 8'er, I feel a need to be able to make a rational argument in favor of my position. In my most unbiased moments, I really do believe that once firmly legal, the subject of gay marriage will be taught. Perhaps parents will have an opt-out right, though I'm not sure they will (the concept after all is legal). Legalization will have the effect of removing any stigma, which is exactly what gay rights advocates want, and one of the things Pro 8ers don't. Anti's want approval of their lifestyle. Not just legalization, but approval. That won't happen with this generation and they know it. Pro's don't want their kids subjected to state-sponsored teaching that "either" form of marriage is equal, which will undermine their efforts to teach their children their beliefs. This is a religious freedom issue, and one not about my attitude or any adult opponent to Prop 8 (after all the CA supreme court acknowledged that civil unions have just as many rights as marriages). But it's about who gets to teach the next generation.

Alissa Scheller said...

California educational codes state, pretty explicitly, that parents/guardians of children in public schools can “opt-out” of any activity that conflicts with religious beliefs (Education code 51240 (education cannot conflict with religions beliefs): http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate?WAISdocID=28757918355+0+0+0&WAISaction=retrieve) or instructs about family or health issues, which would include the subject of same-sex marriage (Education code 51513 (parents must be notified in writing before teaching family or health issues, and must give consent): http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate?WAISdocID=28766718587+0+0+0&WAISaction=retrieve; Education code 51538 (parents have the right to preclude their children from all sexual health education): http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate?WAISdocID=28778818875+0+0+0&WAISaction=retrieve) So yes, it would be illegal for public schools to teach children about same-sex marriage without the consent of that child’s parent or guardian. Proposition 8 never mentions a change to any education codes, meaning that even if the proposition failed, schools would still not be allowed to teach about same-sex marriage unless they get consent from parents.
You are correct in saying that if prop. 8 fails, some of the stigma of homosexuality will be removed (I object, however, to your use of the word “legalization,” as same-sex is already legal in California, and has been for months. Along a similar vein, since same-sex marriage is already legal, if public schools were going to teach it, wouldn’t they have started by now? Wouldn’t that already be a bigger issue? Just wondering.), however, I’m not quite sure what exactly your point is. I would argue that removing stigma from any minority group would be a good thing, but you are, of course, free to disagree. I’m not asking you to approve a lifestyle, I’m asking you to treat everyone equally under the law. Approval would be nice, but it’s not necessary in order to give people equal rights. Additionally, how do you know so much about the future to say that approval will never happen in this generation? I prefer to remain optimistic.
This is NOT a religious freedom issue. Not at all, in any way. This is about equality under the law. As I stated before, parents and guardians of children in public schools DO have the option of removing their child from ANY activity that conflicts with their religious beliefs. Churches are not going to lose their tax-exemption, and education codes are not going to change. Religious organizations will not be forced to approve or give same-sex marriages. You are free to believe what you wish a disagree all you like. Prop. 8 does not say any of those things. Same-sex marriage has been legal for months, and nothing has changed. Nothing will change if prop. 8 fails. If, however, it passes, things would change. Discrimination would be written into the California constitution.
I don’t care if you disagree with same-sex marriage; in fact, I celebrate your right to do so. It’s one of the many things I love about this country – we get to disagree. However, I believe there is a difference between disapproval and denial of rights. A lot of things you probably disagree with are legal. A lot of things I disagree with are legal. Disagreement, however, does not make those laws less valid.
This is not an educational issue, and it is not a religious freedom issue. It is an issue of equality. If prop. 8 fails, you and everyone else in California can continue leading their lives just as you have been. If it passes, it will change things for a lot of people – it will take away a right they have been fighting for for years.

Liz M said...

very well said alissa. You make a good point in distinguishing between disapproval and denial of rights.