Framing Debate Ensues Over California Marriage Ban Initiative

California voters will be voting on Proposition 8, a Constitutional Amendment to ban marriage equality, in November. So far, polls have shown more opposition to this ballot initiative than support, indicating that Californians are ready to uphold the right of every loving couple to marry. Good for us. But the proponents of discrimination are mad. They are pissed. As hell. Why? Because the Attorney General of our state, Jerry Brown, has set the title and summary of the ballot initiative to read that it would:
eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Is this accurate? Yes. On May 15, the California Supreme Court found that gay and lesbian couples had a right, under the equal protection clause of the California Constitution, to marry. Proposition 8 seeks to overturn this decision by writing into the Constitution the definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman. So a right to marry exists, and the amendment would eliminate it. Ka-peesh? Do the opponents of equality even actually disagree that it would eliminate such right? Not really.
Gays have a right to their private lives, but not to change the definition of marriage for everyone else.
Ah ha! So according to "Protect Marriage California", gays should not have the right to marry, because if they do, then it changes the definition of marriage for everyone else. So what's the problem? Why are they suing the attorney general? Enter framing. In the progressive frame, it's straightforward: we believe in equal rights and dignity under law, marriage is such a right, and it exists under the equal protection clause of the Calfornia Constitution. We believe people have the right to form their own families as they choose and expect equal protection as any other family. Therefore, any initiative that would say otherwise is an elimination of such right. Furthermore, in a democratic society based on equal rights and rule of law, rights are not to depend on the whims of a contemporary majority but on the basic principle that all of us are created equal. In the conservative frame, it is also straightforward: they believe that homosexuality is unaccetable, and that gay people are inferrior and are not to be afforded the same privilages as everyone else. Basically, the concept of equal rights does not exist, and marriage is a fundamental institution based inherently upon the inherent inequality (or at least, the differences) of the genders. It's about protecting the exclusivity of the institution. Therefore, the court made a decision to meddle in the social structure and it has no business in doing so. So, protect marriage-as-is and overturn the court. When Jerry Brown makes the ballot statement read that the initiative will "eliminate the right" of gays and lesbians to marry, he immediately places the issue in a progressive frame. People read that and a progressive frame - that of equal rights and equal protections under law - is activated in their minds. Who wants to eliminate rights? Conservatives don't want you to read it that way. They want you to read it as preserving an institution in its current form - like preserving an old building that's symbolic of the past. They want you to think about it in terms of traditions, not logic. If the voter reads "marriage is between a man and a woman" - and they have grown up with the frame of wedding being that of a bride and groom, and that activates the frame of traditionalism and conservatism. They are not even thinking about what it really means - the elimination of rights, and that their marriages will not be threatened by gay people getting married. The frame is one of preserving a tradition, a conservative one. And so, there you have it. The conservative movement is taking Jerry Brown to court because they see the potential for the truth to settle in people's mind with a progressive frame rather than a conservative one. And that is the worst thing for them.

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