Minnesota will vote in November 2012 on constitutional amendment that will forever ban same-sex marriage in this state. If approved, it will join a few other seemingly random scribblings at the end of our constitution such as the authorization to pay a bonus to Persian Gulf War veterans and a fundamental right to hunt and fish.
The nature of these odd things that don’t appear to belong in a constitution make the intention clear. They also make it obvious how we have to campaign against the amendment – by having a lot of fun with it.
My own opinion is shaped by the constant right-wing chant that marriage is a sacred religious bond – which, as far as I can tell, has no business being defined or even recognized by any government in the first place by the principle of separation of church and state. But this is a minority view that will probably never get anywhere, so we have to deal with stuff like we have in front of us.
Constitutional amendments in Minnesota are the only way that a referendum can be placed on the ballot. The Republicans like to have something on the ballot that can be used to get their people fired up and turning out. The last time they controlled the Minnesota House they routinely sent such amendments off, including the two that are mentioned above in 1996 and 1998. It’s a way of making sure that their people show up at the polls. It may seem strange, but a case could easily be made that Republican Tom Emmer lost the last election more than Dayton won it because turnout was low in a few Republican areas.
Now that we’re clear what this amendment is really about we have to focus on what has to be done to stop it – which is to say turn out the opposition. This particular amendment may very well go down to defeat, at least according to one poll. But polls don’t tell the whole story – it all depends on who shows up.
However much money is spent on this constitutional amendment, it’s unlikely to change a single person’s opinion on the topic. All that matters is getting people out to vote. Period.
Given what is really going on here and how it has to be defeated, the strategy becomes clear – get people energized about the issue and out to the polls. And that’s where humor comes into it.
Imagine a commercial like this:
A blonde little girl, about 8, peers over the edge of her bed in a room lit only by a night light. The shot is from the floor as she peeks over the edge.
GIRL: (shouting) Mom! Dad! There’s a gay activist under my bed!
Switch shot to man in a polo shirt lying on the floor, finger up to his lips.
ACTIVIST: Shhhh! I have to hide!
New scene: Father and Mother of the girl, two very clean-cut middle aged white people.
MOTHER: (panicked) Oh! I knew this might happen some day!
FATHER: (sternly) That’s OK, we’ll take care of this.
MOTHER: What should we do?
FATHER: You just worry like you’ve never worried before, and I’ll fire off an extended screed on the internet.
Close-up shot of mother biting her knuckle and looking teary
VOICEOVER: Some people want you to act out of fear of everything. Don’t buy into the fear. Vote “no” in November.
New scene: Girl and activist under a blanket with a flashlight, sitting up playing cards.
ACTIVIST: Do you have any threes?
GIRL: Go fish!
This is only an example, but this kind of approach is essential to turning out the younger voters who will make all the difference for this amendment. Unlike the previous amendments sent to voters, this one has very real consequences and should fire up young people to turn out – thwarting the real intention of this little piece of political maneuvering.
There are many reasons to oppose this amendment with humor. It’s hateful, cynical politics and so far away from what belongs in a constitution that it is a self-parody. But more importantly, humor is a way to get people engaged that might not otherwise show up at the polls so that this thing can go down in flames. It may not feel right at first, what with so much at stake, but this is about getting people out to the polls in order to put this little episode behind us. Hopefully it will be the last such little game played with amendments, if we do this right.