Coming out is a tough thing to do. It’s tough for everyone involved for the most part. Of course there are those rare occurrences where a kid popped out of his mother’s vagina and POOF! Everyone knew and everyone was okay with it. But for everyone else, it’s a journey. For both those who are coming out and those who are hearing it for the first time.
The same is true for those who are coming around on marriage equality – it’s a process. Just look at President Obama. He was able to model for the whole world that it’s okay to evolve on this issue. We have to take into consideration that for generations, we’ve been told that it’s not okay to be gay and it’s even less okay for two men or two women to be married. The idea for older generations is sometimes simply inconceivable. So, just like
programming a VCR setting up a DVD player learning how to text, it takes some of us a little longer to figure it all out.
So here are some helpful hints on how to have a conversation with someone who may not be 100% on your side about marriage equality.
1. Respect their position – They’ve probably had that position for a long time, and as outlined above it takes time to work through those ideas. Whether their opinion is based on their religious beliefs or tradition or anything else really, it’s a position they’ve had for a long time. Maybe they haven’t had a lot of time or opportunity to even consciously think about marriage as something other than what they’ve always known. So give them the same respect you would expect in return.
2. Don’t attack. – This one’s difficult. Sometimes you’ve heard the same anti-gay, anti-intellectual and amoral arguments a hundred times before. But you have to remember that in many cases, the person you’re talking to is expressing these feelings and thoughts for the first time. If you come out swinging, you can bet they won’t be changing their mind anytime soon. And things may get heated when you least expect it. Wind it back by talking abou
3. Don’t get stuck in the Bible. – For generations, the Bible has been used as an excuse for someone’s bigoted beliefs. While you and I know that marriage between two men or two women was never mentioned in the Bible, and that “Traditional Biblical Marriage” never once allowed for the consent of the woman/women, and that the same book that says “man shall not lie with man,” also condemns eating shellfish, playing football and wearing polyester, these argument will ALWAYS turn contentious. If you wind up in a conversation that goes there, ask politely if you can change the subject to what love, commitment and family means.
4. Don’t say “Gay Marriage.” – Language around this issue is a touchy subject. But at the end of the day, we’re not looking for something different from what our straight friends and families have. We want marriage. We want marriage equality. We want marriage for all. As the now-famous facebook meme goes:
“It’s very dear to me, the issue of gay marriage, or as I like to call it, “marriage.” You know, because I had lunch this afternoon, not gay lunch. And I parked my car. I didn’t gay park it.” – Liz Feldman
5. Make it about Commitment instead of Equality. – Rights, Equality and all those other lovely things we’re striving for are great words that engage and energize LGBT people and our activist friends. But to others outside the movement, they aren’t something most have had to fight for, so they don’t think of them in the same terms you and I do. What most people do understand are words like “commitment,” “love,” and “family.” So instead of using words that aren’t as easy to grasp, use words that we can all identify with. Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and her colleagues at Third Way have done some extensive research in this area and here’s what they found:
When asked why “couples like you” might want to get married, they overwhelmingly said “to publicly acknowledge their love and commitment to each other.” But when asked why gay couples might want to get married, just as many people said “for rights and benefits, like tax advantages, hospital visitation, or sharing a spouse’s pension.” Over 3/5ths of those who thought gay couples wanted to marry for rights and benefits opposed allowing them to do so, but more than 3/5ths of those who thought gay couples wanted to marry for commitment supported it.
6. Don’t make comparisons. – We really love likening our struggle to the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. We love talking about the similarities our movement has with the fights of the past. Funny thing is, this only causes people to spend time thinking about how our movements differ as opposed to our intent to find similarities.Keep them thinking about why this is important to YOU.
7. Don’t get stuck in the mud. – In your discussion, you won’t always come to a conclusion or life-changing realization on every topic. But we all know that we sometimes get to points so frustrating that if we don’t track back, the chat will be done. If you hit a sticking point where clearly you’re not seeing eye to eye, agree to disagree and move on to the next part of your discussion.
These are of course just a few hints to help make your conversation a little easier. If you have other ideas about how to approach a conversation like this, please put them in the comments! Thanks again to Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, Third Way and Freedom to Marry for the excellent research which backs up much of these recommendations.