Taking Initiatives: Reconciling Race, Religion, Media and Democracy in the Quest for Marriage Equality

94 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2011 Last revised: 21 Apr 2011

Anthony E. Varona

American University - Washington College of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2010


Election Days 2008 and 2009 were disappointing ones for advocates of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans, especially supporters of marriage equality. In this comprehensive article, I identity and examine five interrelated tactical lessons the LGBT movement can glean from these recent defeats. Following is the roadmap I provide at the end of the Introduction to the article, describing the five subsections devoted to these individual lessons:

Section I, following the Introduction, provides an overview of what occurred in the various statewide ballot initiative battles in 2008 and 2009 and then describes the preliminary analyses of the reasons for the gay community’s defeats. Section II presents five interrelated lessons that the movement should glean from these ballot initiative losses, which, if used to inform pro-gay campaign strategies going forward, should result in better outcomes at the polls. First, I discuss how and why the LGBT rights movement must remedy its failures by incorporating diversity – especially racial, ethnic and class diversity – in its institutional leadership. Second, I propose that the LGBT rights movement engage religious arguments and communities much more substantively and authentically, instead of ceding religious arguments and circumventing faith communities in favor of what may appear to be a more hospitable, putatively secular ground. Third, I examine the need for more LGBT people of color (POC) to share our identities and family lives with other members of our respective POC communities. Fourth, I discuss the need for better and more proactive movement strategies to contend with the new atomized digital media environment, which poses difficult challenges in countering political misinformation, responding to anti-gay defamation and promoting public education. In the fifth part of this Section, I attempt to show that although the gay community’s travails in the recent ballot initiative battles illustrate both the dangers of and constitutional infirmity inherent in direct democracy, more strategic and proactive engagement by the LGBT rights movement in direct democratic lawmaking may actually accelerate progress towards marriage equality, both by building favorable support for plebiscitary campaigns and by catalyzing support for legislative and judicial advances. Finally, Section III concludes by discussing the importance of patience and perspective in the movement for LGBT equality.

Keywords: Proposition 8, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, marriage equality, ballot initiatives, direct democracy, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, religion, race, culture, media, law, constitution

JEL Classification: J70, J71, J78, J79

Suggested Citation

Varona, Anthony E., Taking Initiatives: Reconciling Race, Religion, Media and Democracy in the Quest for Marriage Equality (December 1, 2010). Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 805-897, 2010; American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2011-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1762239

Anthony E. Varona (Contact Author)

American University - Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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