As Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, "Know when to fight and when not to." This is what marriage-equality supporters in Michigan must consider.
In 2004, Michigan was among many states that pushed for constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, similar to California's Proposition 8. While it's nice to think the Supreme Court will wash away all of America's sins, leaders in the marriage-equality movement must plan for the future. The ultimate question is about terrain: to fight in 2014 or in 2016?
We must consider everything. Heterosexual Democrats can't decide for us, because their primary concern is on individual candidacies. Their support and concerns can't be dismissed, either. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is up for reelection in 2014, and a failed pro-marriage-equality ballot initiative could stall LGBT rights efforts in the region.
We must survey the terrain. A 2012 Michigan State University study shows that 56 percent of Michiganders support gay marriage. Though positive, this statistic has to be taken with a grain of salt. A weak Democratic turnout and the tightening of public opinion could cause a 2014 initiative to fail, even if by a point or two.
We must fight with what we have. Though a ballot initiative has some political advantages, like connecting Gov. Snyder to slurs made by other Republicans, those advantages aren't something we can depend on. We have to assume that the opposition will be just as organized as we are.
We must fight to win. Failure on gay marriage could also mean a repeat of the failed fight for collective bargaining in Michigan. After Proposition 2 failed in 2012, it was followed by a slew of anti-union "right to work" legislation, which is also anti-gay, though inadvertently. LGBT groups wouldn't have the grassroots energy oor the funds to take up the issue again for a long while. We might not be able to bring this up again until 2020, which would delay similar fights in Ohio, Wisconsin and Indiana to 2022 or later.
Time is of the essence. A 2014 victory in Michigan would spread throughout the Midwest in 2016. It can't be understated how Michigan is the bridge between Illinois and states like Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin. Our win would spurn a pendulum swing to equality. We could have the marriage equality question solved before Hillary Clinton swears in as president.
Prudence is essential. Are we rushing into this fight for ourselves or for those who come after us? When we consider LGBT youth who are coming of age, what is an extra two years? For them, what matters is that we win.
We must be decisive. If we are able to fully mount a campaign this year, then 2014 is possible. If there are any hesitations, 2014 could be a disaster. With current data on support for marriage equality and stronger turnout in presidential elections, we know that 2016 would be a safe win.
We must use our heads, not our hearts. In my opinion, the decision has to be made based on cold data. Sound research from the marriage-equality movement will lead the way forward, as it has in the past.
Recent victories have rallied the army of equality, and we are starting to win the war against discrimination. Without a broad Supreme Court ruling in May, local skirmishes will continue to define this conflict.
Like all great generals, leaders in the LGBT community should fight where we have the advantage. What Michigan does next may spell victory or defeat for the entire Midwest.