Author’s preface: I am a gay man who is opposed to same-sex marriage. Readers can view my speech on this topic given earlier this year at the Celebration of Marriage Rally here and read my essay “I’m Gay and I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage.”
A recent article in the Daily Beast, “Pennsylvania. Oregon. Is Gay Marriage Unstoppable?” began with the observation that “The cascade of same-sex marriage rulings is now a torrent, each more quotable and image-ready than the last.” The piece ended with this conclusion:
It’s no coincidence that the Oregon and Pennsylvania opinions both began with the stirring stories of the plaintiffs, long term gay couples denied the right to marry. On the surface, those stories are extraneous detail. But on close inspection, they are why the marriage tide won’t be turned.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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The author points out that it is images and stories that have driven recent pro-same-sex marriage rulings by state judiciaries—not the Supreme Court’s 2013 Windsor decision. The real story is this: it’s all about marketing and the cultivation of perceptions, coupled with intimidating tactics.
How did we get to the point where high-profile jurists ignore the will of the people clearly established through ballot initiatives, as well as legal precedent set by the Supreme Court? How has judicial decision-making become so influenced by subjectivity, images, clever marketing strategies, and perceptions carefully crafted by special interest groups?
Thoroughly Tiresome, by Design
To understand this cultural evolution, we must look back a quarter century to the publication of a book which, at the time, went mostly unnoticed. Published in 1989, After the Ball (subtitled, How America will conquer its fear and hatred of Gays in the 90’s), presented a comprehensive plan to establish the normalcy of gays and lesbians and to secure broader acceptance and rights.
The manifesto was laid out by a pair of Harvard graduates. Marshall Kirk (’80) was a researcher in neuropsychiatry. Hunter Madsen (’85) studied politics and went on to work on Madison Avenue, becoming an expert in public persuasion tactics and social marketing. The marketing strategy that Kirk and Madsen contrived is a resounding success. In many ways, what we now see occurring is attributable to their prescience.
Here is a rapid-fire litany of excerpts that provides an outline of their plan. To anyone who has paid attention to what has been going on in our culture over the last few decades, this will sound very familiar:
We have in mind a strategy … calculated and powerful … manipulative … It’s time to learn from Madison Avenue, to roll out the big guns. Gays must launch a large-scale campaign—we’ve called it the waging peace campaign—to reach straights through the mainstream media. We’re talking about propaganda …
You can forget about trying right up front to persuade folks that homosexuality is a good thing. But if you can get them to think it is just another thing—meriting no more than a shrug of the shoulders—then your battle for legal and social rights is virtually won.
Application of the keep-talking principle can get people to the shoulder-shrug stage. The free and frequent discussion of gay rights by a variety of persons in a variety of places gives the impression that homosexuality is commonplace.
Constant talk builds the impression that public opinion is at least divided on the subject and that a sizable bloc—the most modern up-to-date citizens—accept or even practice homosexuality…. The main thing is to talk about gayness until the issue becomes thoroughly tiresome….
[G]ays can undermine the moral authority of … churches over less fervent adherents by portraying such institutions as antiquated backwaters badly out of step with the times and with the latest findings of psychology. [This] has already worked well in America against churches on such topics as divorce and abortion. With enough open talk about the prevalence and acceptability of homosexuality, that alliance can work for gays….
Two different messages about the gay victim are worth communicating. First the public should be persuaded the gays are victims of circumstance, that they no more chose their sexual orientation than they did say their height, skin color, talents or limitations. (We argue that, for all practical purposes, gays should be considered to have been born gay—even though sexual orientation, for most humans, seems to be the product of a complex interaction between innate predispositions and environmental factors during childhood and early adolescence.)….
And since no choice is involved, gayness can be no more blameworthy than straightness. Second they should be portrayed as victims of prejudice. Straights don’t fully realize the suffering they bring upon gays….
In all candor, we’re convinced that the whole of our scheme will work as intended … It is up to you, fearless reader, to act.
Madsen and Kirk’s scheme has worked brilliantly. We are bombarded with evidence of their success in the news every day.
Mainstreaming Implausible, Formerly Novel Ideas
The notion that there is something unconstitutional, if not anti-human, about rejecting genderless marriage has seized the imagination of those who hold power. Let’s be clear: the idea of same-sex marriage did not win at the ballot box in November 2012, or at the US Supreme Court last June, or among certain jurists and legislators since then. The marketing strategy developed by leftist social psychologists did, and it continues to do so.
Let’s also be clear: The American people have not fallen in love with the notion of same-sex marriage—not by a long shot. So how did the radical left gain the upper hand in the same-sex marriage debate? A technique identified by Cass Sunstein and Timur Kuran explains the simple, effective process: Availability Cascades.
An AVAILABILITY CASCADE is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation by which an expressed perception triggers a chain reaction that gives the perception increasing plausibility through its rising availability in public discourse. The driving mechanism involves a combination of informational and reputational motives: Individuals endorse the perception partly by learning from the apparent beliefs of others and partly by distorting their public responses in the interest of maintaining social acceptance. Availability entrepreneurs—activists who manipulate the content of public discourse—strive to trigger availability cascades likely to advance their agendas.
In other words, thinking that once was confined to small fringe groups rapidly gains social acceptance—even dominance—because individuals fear that if they don’t publicly support it, they will appear unsophisticated and behind the times, making them social outcasts in their places of work, schools, neighborhoods, churches, or even in their own families. Their critical thinking is pushed aside by their instinct for self-preservation.
No tactic of the powers opposing Judeo-Christian mores has proven more effective than political correctness. Why? Non-adherents are threatened with social isolation and anaclitic depression. Thus, the peer pressure that dominates middle schools, high schools, and college campuses retains all its horrifying power to intimidate American adults, causing multitudes to suppress free inquiry and redirect their behaviors.
Information and opinion cascades (also described by Sunstein and Kuran) promulgated by the left are meant to overwhelm and intimidate. They cause otherwise freethinking individuals to engage in preference falsification (publicly denying one’s true thoughts and values to maintain a positive social standing).
The media play an enormous role in creating information and opinion cascades by controlling the narrative, determining the flow of both information and opinion. In this way, the left has been wildly successful in the manufacture of consent (as described by Walter Lippmann), leading people to conclude falsely that implausible notions, such as same-sex marriage, are inevitable.
Same-Sex Marriage’s Achilles Heel
But the processes that have led to the surprising success of the radical left are also its Achilles heel. Consent that is manufactured is not real. Proponents of same-sex marriage haven’t won in the arena of ideas—they have won through manipulation.
The moral high ground the radical left seems to enjoy is extremely fragile, because its popular support has been fabricated. The left’s only hope of retaining this support is to continue to suppress free speech and religion. They cannot risk the proclamation of truth—whether it be the truth of the Gospel, the truth of natural law, or even simple common sense.
But the ground won by the radical left can be regained. If we are as disciplined and focused as the proponents of same-sex marriage, we can not only retake this ground, we can also pave new inroads. We must not despair; we should regroup and prepare to wage the battle in a new and different way.
Mainstream Media? Work around Them.
Mainstream media are bewitched by political correctness, which makes our task extremely difficult, but not impossible. The media will never stray from the politically correct narrative, no matter how implausible or ludicrous that narrative may be. So we should, for the most part, simply choose to ignore them, brush them aside, and expect nothing but roadblocks from them.
That’s why at this stage in the game, speaking freely one-on-one, in small groups, or within congregations, parishes, and civic organizations is more important than ever. Anything that is said by opponents of the radical left agenda gets twisted in the public square by media collaborators. So, the public square should not be our primary place of conducting business. Our work will continue in our homes and carpools, at lunch tables and on barstools, and in churches and community meeting rooms.
In a sense, we are like those in the not-so-distant past who opposed the tyranny of totalitarian states, who were unable to broadcast their beliefs, but found a way to build large, local networks of relationships that would ultimately lead to the collapse of totalitarianism. We must be creative. People have found success working under much harsher, more tyrannical conditions than those confronting us now.
What Can You Do?
The only way to fight the powerful marketing and intimidation behind same-sex marriage is for each of us to bravely stand up in our local communities, confronting the bullying, silencing tactics of out-of-touch judges, legislators, corporate cronies, and media collaborators.
Stand up for social positions that you know in your gut to be true. Don’t allow yourself to be silenced by political correctness. Stand up for marriage. Stand up for life. Stand up for the right of children to be born and to have both a mom and a dad. You have truth on your side. You are right, and they are wrong, so do not be afraid.
Men and women must rise up to supplant the career politicians and media types who now dominate the national narrative. We can no longer remain silent. We need solid legislators, journalists, and activists to step up to the plate and start filling positions at every level of government—local, state, and national—and filling the blogosphere, the airwaves, and the opinion pages with authentically pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-liberty views. We need to wrest the narrative away from the radical left.
Do not be afraid to speak up. Don’t make the mistake of remaining quiet until you are certain you have a winning argument. Simply speak truthfully and let others know your beliefs. The truth will prevail, if each of us will only open our mouths and proclaim it.
If I may echo Madsen and Kirk: “It is up to you, fearless reader, to act.”
Editor’s note: This essay first appeared June 9, 2014 on Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute and is reprinted with permission. This article is adapted from several pieces previously published at American Thinker.