Friday, June 20, 2008

George Lakoff on Marriage Equality/Freedom

Last night I attended a talk by George Lakoff, Berkeley professor of Cognitive Linguistics and author of the progressive communication manual "Don't Think of an Elephant!" (Thanks to our local indy bookstore for hosting the event.)

A good talk -- I highly recommend "Elephant" if you haven't read it already. That book changed the way I discuss politics (think about the different frames invoked by saying "gay marriage" versus "marriage equality", or "We must end the Iraq war", versus "We must stop our continued occupation of Iraq." Think about it -- "gay" marriage is a special right, but equal is equal; quitting war is cowardly, whereas an occupation is immoral.) I've read only the first few chapters of the new book, "The Political Mind", but it's interesting so far.

During the Q&A session, I asked, "We now have marriage equality in California, but those rights are on the ballot in November. In the public's eye, marriages for same-sex couples trigger both the Stern Father frame ("It's not a family without a father") and the equality frame ("Gays should have the same rights as everyone else.") As we talk to our colleagues, family, & friends about this issue before November, what arguments and language help bring people to vote for our rights?"

Lakoff's response, paraphrased: While stressing equality to straight voters is good, it's also important to stress freedom. The argument goes like this: "Everyone should be free to marry the person they love. The government once barred interracial couples from marrying. If the government can prevent you from marrying the person you love, how else can it interfere in your life?" This argument speaks to many "conservative" voters' libertarian impulses -- they don't want the government messing in people's lives.

So, something for you all to think about as you discuss the ballot initiative with your California friends, family, and acquaintances between now and November.

PS -- The cool thing I didn't realize until this morning: The talk venue, All Saints Church, just married its first female couple yesterday, a few hours before the talk (photo above).

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