A Q&A with Trinity professor Amy Stone
Published: June 27, 2012
Immediately following President Obama's recent endorsement for marriage equality, a political divide began to form within the gay community. While one half celebrated the president's efforts to foster progress, the other half questioned whether or not anything had really changed. After all, anti-gay ballot initiatives continue to penetrate election offices across the country and gay men and women are still considered, in many ways, separate but equal.
Amy Stone, author of Gay Rights at the Ballot Box and professor of sociology at Trinity University, spoke with the Current recently about the history of anti-gay ballot measures and the activists challenging them.
How long did it take to compile your research?
I started on this project in 2004 with my dissertation on transgender inclusion in Michigan nondiscrimination laws, many of which were challenged by a ballot measure. I've been studying ballot measures nationally since 2006, and I finished the book a year ago. Researching it was really challenging because it involved talking to over a hundred campaign workers across the country.
You focus on the efforts of those campaign workers and activists who fight anti-gay ballot measures. What tactics were most effective?
Organizing early, using people power, talking to voters, and having a consistent "out" message. The most successful campaigns get started months before the actual vote (sometimes a year or two). They realize that a campaign will take thousands of volunteers; it has to recruit people from all walks of life. These campaigns systematically and persistently talk to voters face-to-face frankly and honestly about the issues. They also are "out" in their messages to the public about the way this issue is important to LGBT individuals.
What about our current political climate?
It's going to be a huge election year for same-sex marriage. There will be at least four major ballot measures on same-sex marriage, three of which may lead to legal same-sex marriage. In Minnesota, voters will decide whether or not to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In Maryland and Washington, legislators have legalized same-sex marriage, and it is being challenged in a referendum. In Maine, for the first time in history, LGBT organizers have put same-sex marriage on the ballot.
We continue to hear about so many laws that affect the LGBT community being deemed unconstitutional by various courts throughout the country. Do you think we're making progress?
It's complicated. At the moment it matters what state you live in. In the absence of federal protections, LGBT laws are decided state by state. In some states, there are not only anti-bullying laws and non-discrimination laws but also same-sex marriage. In San Antonio, you can still be fired for being LGBT. However, a tide has turned legally. A majority of American adults favor same-sex marriage for the first time in history, and attitudes towards same-sex marriage are changing quickly.
What will progress look like?
It's more than same-sex marriage, that's for sure.•
Gay Rights at the Ballot Box
By Amy L. Stone
University of Minnesota Press