Washington State voters: please approve Referendum 74 for marriage equality

This is me climbing onto a political soapbox, and if you don't want to hear about it, the guts are behind the cut. (Obviously, the title of the post already tells you where I stand)

The anti-Referendum 74 propaganda has put me in mind of the very first political controversy I remember having an opinion on: the Equal Rights Amendment. Does anybody even remember this? It was the last time we were even close to a constitutional amendment. In 1972 — when I was about six years old — it passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification. It was in the news a lot right when I was barely old enough to notice stuff like that.

At that age, I already self-identified as a feminist. I think it was partly a social influence — feminism was in the air back then — but it was also a literary influence. I had somewhere picked up the idea that female characters doing boring domestic things and slobbering over boys was sexism, while female characters doing exciting things like going into space and solving mysteries was feminism. Obviously I was a feminist, because I wanted to read about girls doing exciting things.

This meant I was already pretty certain I was in favor of the ERA when I first read about Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly was an anti-feminist conservative whose big claim to fame in the 1970s was the "STOP ERA" campaign. I remember getting the impression that she was one of those women who went around being an activist and public speaker, while telling other women they should stay home and shut up, so I already wasn’t too impressed by what I saw as her hypocrisy. I also was unimpressed by her argument that women “enjoyed privileges” that would be eliminated by the ERA, because I was pretty sure that true equality was better than vague “privileges.”

When Schlafly tried to get specific about what these privileges were, it seemed like the best she could come up with was, "the ERA would lead to women being drafted by the military and to public unisex bathrooms."

I remember that particular quote vividly. First, I didn’t understand why she thought — why anybody thought — that was a winning argument against the ERA. I didn’t particularly want to be drafted, no, but why should I be exempt just because I was female? It didn’t seem fair. It’s not like I’d be any more enthusiastic about getting drafted if I were a dude. And unisex bathrooms? Who could possibly care about that?

Second, I didn’t understand how the ERA would lead to any of that. So I read the text of it:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification

That’s it. It seems pretty simple, actually. Too simple to explain why people like Schlafly opposed it with such deep vehemence. I think it goes something like this: she believed, deep in her bones, that women shouldn’t be treated equally. Equality was offensive and horrible to her, in the same way injustice was offensive and horrible to me. But she knew that this was not a winning argument with most people outside of extreme religious fundamentalists. She couldn’t just say, “equality equals BAD!” and sway anybody.

So she had to come up with a slightly different argument: equality LEADS to bad.

Even if she couldn’t explain exactly why or how, she knew that if she kept screaming “This will be bad! Watch out! This will hurt you!” that many people would start to kinda sorta believe there must be something to it, otherwise, what’s all the screaming about?

It’s the same thought process that feeds superstition. Never mind that nobody can point to one single mother in all the history of the world whose back was broken by her progeny stepping on a crack — kids hear “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” and get a little bit worried.

And the ERA did not pass. It almost did. It had broad bipartisan support. It’s hard to imagine now that the Republican Party could ever have included support for the ERA in their platform, but in 1980, they did.

In a few days, Washington State voters will have their final say on Referendum 74, the bill to approve same sex marriage in our state. Now, at some point in the last few weeks you might have seen or heard or read an advertisement or editorial that was trying to scare you about 74 — to suggest that nebulous Bad Things would happen if it passed, that it would somehow harm your own marriage, or your children, or your faith. Maybe you’re hearing vague rumors about parents not being able to “opt out” when their kids are taught — something — bad — about same sex marriage?

Maybe, even if you don’t see the exact mechanism by which all that will come about, you’re still beginning to be afraid.

Here is the text of Referendum 74:

The legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6239 concerning marriage for same-sex couples, modified domestic-partnership law, and religious freedom, and voters have filed a sufficient referendum petition on this bill.

This bill would allow same-sex couples to marry, preserve domestic partnerships only for seniors, and preserve the right of clergy or religious organizations to refuse to perform, recognize, or accommodate any marriage ceremony.

Should this bill be:
Approved [ ]
Rejected [ ]

It’s pretty simple, actually. Too simple to explain why some people oppose it with such deep vehemence. And once again, I think the people driving opposition to same sex marriage are people who believe, deep in their bones, that gay people should not be treated equally under the law. They don’t believe in justice or equality for gay people, period. But they also know that’s not a winning argument with most people who aren’t extreme religious fundamentalists.

So, they are trying to scare you. They are trying to make you think that equality, that justice, will cause bad things to happen. But it won’t. It never has, any more than mothers are having their backs shattered daily by children walking to school and taking insufficient care to avoid stepping on cracks.

1 Comment

  1. What a perfect analogy. I was in high school during the feminist revolution and I remember being similarly stymied.

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