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Angelo Matera | 11.20.08


Why Prop 8 Won: TV Commercials Based on Reason, not Fear

To understand why Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that banned gay marriage, won in California, watch the campaign’s TV commercials at the What Is Prop 8? website. Not only were they well-made, featuring a multi-ethnic cross-section of very normal, quasi-hip, young to middle-age Californians, the commercials were models of serious, rational political argument. While anti-Prop 8 commercials resorted to showing Mormon missionaries conducting Gestapo-like home invasions of same-sex households, the “Yes on 8” commercials went out of their way to calmly explain both sides of the debate, and present gays and lesbians in a positive light. When was the last time you saw that in American politics? How about never.

The commercial I featured here isn’t typical, but it caught my attention because it’s so amazingly emo (the music is great). It also takes the time to clarify what tolerance really means, and that opposition to gay marriage has nothing to do with hatred or bigotry towards gays and lesbians (or even about rights, since domestic partnerships in California confer all the rights of marriage). The issue is about preserving society’s right to say that there is a transcendent purpose to marriage, based on the objective reality that through the complementary sexual union of human persons created male and female, life and families are created.

The TV ads convincingly argue that society can’t be neutral on marriage. Either marriage is transcendent—built into reality—or it’s not. It’s one vision or the other. Whichever vision prevails, is the norm for all, enforced in schools, in the workplace, in the public square.

If that’s so, is it fair for the particular views of the 4 percent of society that identify as gay to prevail over the 96% who aren’t gay? Does that make sense? Is that what’s best for the common good? I wonder whether even a majority of gays believes that would be wise. Elton John is one high profile gay man who says he doesn’t need marriage; he‘s perfectly happy with civil unions. I’m sure there are more.

What’s shocking is how utterly intolerant the liberal establishment is towards mainstream America on this issue. State after state has passed gay marriage bans, and still, there is not one liberal who will publicly allow for the possibility that opposition to gay marriage can be motivated by anything other than hatred, bigotry or ignorance.

The worst example of this intolerance was the embarrassing six-minute video rant delivered after the election by the insufferably cloying Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. You can watch it here, but be warned: it’s irrational. smug, stupid, insulting and nauseating. The man is a moron. I’m very anti-war and pro-social justice, but give me Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter before Olbermann any day. Based on that video alone, he deserves to receive the label he so smugly awards to others on his show: “The worst person in the world.”

Olbermann is what Flannery O’Connor had in mind when she warned of tenderness leading to the Gulag.

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By AgapeMargaret AT 11.21.08 07:05PM Not Rated


As a California resident, I think the Prop 8 campaign did a great job. I commented numerous times how logical all the ads in print and on TV were. I am surely exasperated from being accused of bigotry and hatred for my support of Prop 8 and I hope we can continue to share the message that we who support traditional marriage are NOT
1. Full of hate and malice
2. Insecure in our gender roles (See http://www.slate.com/id/2204661/pagenum/2 )
3. Forcing religion on others
On the contrary, we support traditional marriage because as you said, it IS transcendant, it goes beyond merely a social contract. It creates LIFE and is important to the foundation of society.

I feel as though we are holding back a dam from bursting in California, and the battle has just begun. But a victory is a victory, and so I will celebrate, but stay alert to what is next.

By Kathleen Lundquist AT 11.24.08 08:06PM Not Rated

Kathleen Lundquist

Great post, Angelo - that video is very well done, and makes the sort of heart-level, concrete statement that gets underneath all the abstraction and ideology.  It’s very encouraging and helpful in my thinking and speaking to my friends on this issue.

By Dave AT 11.26.08 01:28AM Not Rated


Do civil unions have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as marriages in those states that banned gay marriage?

By AgapeMargaret AT 11.26.08 05:25PM Not Rated


Dave- From my understanding they do in California for the most part. I don’t know if they are 100% the same rights/privileges etc., but they are almost exactly the same. I am not sure about other states.

By chassup AT 11.26.08 05:42PM Not Rated


“Gay marriage” proponents aren’t just looking for equal rights under the law, they are seeking societal acceptance and affirmation through the word “marriage.”  They seek a legal re-definition of the word, which of course, would only supply a false sense of acceptance.  Most Americans would still look upon “gay marriage” as an abomination, leaving gay people with all the same internal brokenness.

By AgapeMargaret AT 11.26.08 05:48PM Not Rated


I totally agree Chassup

By rightdemocrat AT 11.27.08 09:34PM Not Rated


I am certainly not out to make life difficult for gays and in fact have supported non-discrimination in employment, fair treatment by law enforcement and increased funding for AIDS research. In general,I tend to be for the underdog.

Unfortunately, the gay and lesbian movement over the past 15 years or so has shifted from seeking tolerance and fairness to demanding glorification of a particular lifestyle. The gay activists seem to have become the new bullies on the block. Anyone who disagrees with gay marriage or questions if the public schools should be focused on teaching young children that “Heather has two mommies” is now labeled a bigot by these zealots.

The offensive tactics of the gay activists in California and Florida probably turned the tide in favor of the initiatives to ban same sex marriage.

By CCV AT 11.28.08 09:16PM Not Rated


Quick comment from Canada (whom Jon Stewart called “our gay neighbor to the north”).

Rightdemocrat, you hit the nail on the head - gay advocacy has become downright bullying. I liked this advert but the narrator is a bit cap-in-hand, almost apologetic for having his own opinion. I wish he also said that gay activists need to chillax and that tolerance isn’t one-sided, i.e. “grow up”. You can’t have everything 100% your way - that’s life, that’s compromise, that’s tolerance.

Was it Emerson who wrote “the mark of a free mind is the ability to make distinctions”? Gay-rights advocates have lost their intellectual freedom and, it appears, want to take it from others (Angelo, I loved your Flannery O’Connor mention). I know Americans hold their “right to liberty” very dear. It gives one living in a country that ratified same-sex marriage pause. I really admire the balanced way you’re holding your ground on this.

God bless America.

By leftymn AT 12.19.08 02:50PM Not Rated


“The issue is about preserving society’s right to say that there is a transcendent purpose to marriage, based on the objective reality that through the complementary sexual union of human persons created male and female, life and families are created.”

The problem with this argument is that nowhere is this to be found in the Constitution, it is strictly a principle ascribed to from a subjective religious belief.  Marriage as we know it from a governmental standpoint is really about the enforcement of property rights. The government sanctions a contract between two parties and their relationship and its “production” , be it assets or offspring, are then under the purview of the laws of the state and federal government. The state may have an interest in marriage partners being fruitful and multiplying, (and tax law in a sense does do that, which in my opinion is not fair to childless couples ) but it really is not , nor should not be interested in the “sexual union” of the couple involved. 
The state has ruled that marriage between siblings or close relatives is forbidden because it results in biological and physical harm to any future offspring as an established fact. The state has also said that polygamy and bigamy are not allowed, not because of sexual or “moral” reasons, but rather because it complicates the issue of the property rights and parental rights.
However removed of any religious belief to the contrary, objectively there is simply no real reason to bar a monogamous marriage between two parties of the same sex. They would be subject to the exact same laws as parties of opposite sexes.

The Catholic Church and the LDS certainly have a right to believe in marriage solely between a man and a woman. But your argument as expressed in the quote above is hardly “objective”, it is subjective in the extreme.

By CCV AT 12.31.08 06:04PM Not Rated


How about this - all couples, regardless of gender, are granted the same civil union status from the State. If they want to get married, they go to their church.

Separation of Church and State is intact, respecting the religious view of marriage and every couple has the identical rights/benefits under the law, which is just.

By SFCatholic AT 07.01.09 06:48PM Not Rated


Good article, Angelo!  However, I would refrain from calling names and using emotional language to describe videos or persons with whom you disagree - by using words like “moron, smug and stupid” you are contradicting your praise of ads that are “rational, serious and calm”.  Attacking opposition or individuals is not a good way to get your point across…whenever a discussion turns to negativity and personal attack, it loses it’s credibility.

By psgrenier AT 07.06.09 11:41PM Not Rated


I admire your courage for even taking on this theme; I’m impressed with this essay’s rhetorical style; I agree that the Youtube segment is a model of calm and reasoned political discourse. 

I disagree, though, about Olberman. Olberman’s biggest problem is that he doesn’t belong on T.V. It’s like the guy never has even heard of Marshall McLuhan. His STYLE is all wrong for T.V. He makes the sweaty, nervous mug of Dick Nixon look positively inviting to bring onto your living room floor, I mean, by contrast.

But I think there is a real danger in aestheticizing political argument. One can have extremely well made ad copy that feels great but is factually or morally wrong, after all, as of course you will agree.

I blush, sometimes, for Olberman, but when in the early days he called Bush on the carpet for lying us into a war, he was one of the few people calling it like it is. And there are lots of similar cases one could name. I’m surprised at your ability to stomach Coulter. Do you mean her style, or her content?

By star AT 07.09.09 04:49PM Not Rated


In my humble opinion, i think homosexuality is just as mysterious as to why poverty and illness exists in this world. It is a strange cross, an inclination in some souls, that if handled properly according to God’s laws, would bring souls to higher perfection, / or if not, i hate to say, eternal damnation like Sodom and Gomorrah. Their plight may not be easy, but God in all His Mercy is constantly within reach, to embrace such souls if they are willing to open their hearts for God’s healing grace to work in their souls, to enlighten and strengthen them , just like any other temptations. I guess, our Religious men and women, have to really work harder to preach God’s Word to these souls / to help them in their journey to God , and society as well with a non condemning attitude , ” hate the sin but not the sinner.” Freedom to be happy in human standards in this case, is just like a house built in shaky grounds, a facade vulnerable to succumb into ruins even just by slight blow of the winds of time and circumstances.
” Male and female God has created them… “
May God bless our world with love, harmony and understanding.


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