Sometimes how you say what you say matters most
The California ballot initiative to amend constitution loses support when the state Attorney General changes the wording to reflect its real intention: to take away the rights of an entire class of people.
It's a well-worn tenet of public affairs strategists that people want to be for something rather than against something.
Witness, for example, the fact that both sides of the abortion debate have claimed "for" ground: Pro Life and Pro Choice. In American public debate, fairness and individual rights also are powerful motivators of action. California's Proposition 8 originally qualified for the November ballot under the title "Limit on Marriage," with the exact proposed constitutional language reading "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
But following the historic May 15 California Supreme Court decision that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry is unconstitutional, the state's attorney general ruled that the proposition must be re-worded to "eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry," accurately reflecting the legal and human impact if a majority of California voters were to approve this mean-spirited and bigoted nonsense. (Dear Ben: I promised to hold no bars here. Full disclosure: my partner, Randy and I, are about to celebrate our 20th anniversary, are legally married in Canada and operate www.GayRites.NET as a public service.)
Among the 70% of voters who were already familiar with Prop 8, the change didn't make much difference. But for the 30% who live under rocks and were not aware of Prop 8, 42% said they would vote "no" to the original language. But 54% said they'd vote "no" as the initiative was reworded. A spokesperson for www.ProtectMarriage.com, an unfortunately slick site that now is touting Prop 8 as a measure to "restore" marriage, said that she expected the rewording would "affect the numbers by a few percentage points." Happily, a spokesperson for the polling organization, which has polled on more than a hundred ballot initiatives, reported that "history shows that when an initiative starts out behind, it very rarely passes."