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Topics In the News
Love, Commitment, Golden Rule Key to Marriage Equality Victories
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/13/12
Last updated on: 12/13/12
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Analyses of the 2012 marriage equality campaigns in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington indicate that a stress on love, commitment, and the Golden Rule was key to the victories.

The fullest post-mortem of the campaigns is Molly Ball's long analysis in The Atlantic, "The Marriage Plot: Inside This Year's Epic Campaign for Gay Equality", which should be required reading for anyone interested in how the marriage equality movement turned around the uninterrupted streak of rebuffs from voters to achieve November's clean sweep at the ballot box.

Ball includes interesting profiles of Evan Wolfson and other leaders in the movement. She explains why California was lost and what we learned from that loss in order to go on to victory.

The story is complex. The victory that was achieved on November 6, 2012 is due to a mixture of factors and a number of strategic decisions. But what stands out in Ball's story is the lesson that voters respond less to abstract discussions of rights or even to a focus on the concrete benefits that are denied gay and lesbian couples than they do to an emphasis on the love and commitment shared by couples and on the principle of the Golden Rule: "do unto others as you would be done unto."

That is the same conclusion that is offered in a report issued by Third Way, a think tank that has been described "as the new leader of the moderate movement" in U.S. politics. The report, by Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Sarah Trumble, is based on a poll conducted immediately after the election in Washington state.

Hatalsky and Trumble conclude that the Washington campaign was successful because it focused on commitment rather than rights and because it responded effectively to the marriage opponents' fear-mongering ads alleging harm to children.

As Frank Bruni comments in his New York Times blog, "among voters who saw the desire by gays and lesbians to be legally wedded as a bid primarily for the rights and protections that heterosexual couples have, same-sex marriage was a loser. Only 26 percent of them voted for its legalization, while 74 percent voted against."

"But among voters who believed that gays and lesbians were chiefly interested in being able to pledge the fullest and most public commitment possible to their partners, same-sex marriage was a huge, huge winner. Eighty-five percent of those voters supported it, while only 15 percent opposed it."

Bruni continues, "That's a fascinating microcosm of, and window into, broader political dynamics. When an initiative in this country is framed or understood largely as an attempt by a given constituency to get more, the opposition to it is frequently bolstered, the resistance strengthened. Even if the constituency is trying to right a wrong or rectify a disadvantage."

"'Give me' can be a risky approach. 'Let me' is often a better one, and when voters hear gays and lesbians asking to participate in a hallowed institution for the most personal and heartfelt of reasons, voters may have a more positive reaction. At least that's the suggestion of the research and the interviews that Third Way has done."

In addition to showcasing the love and commitment of gay and lesbian couples, the campaigns also evoked the principle of the Golden Rule to persuade voters to do the right thing.

As Ball explains, one of the most potent weapons anti-gay opponents have used against gay people is inciting fear that gay marriage will harm children, especially that if marriage equality is achieved young children will learn about homosexuality in schools.

In previous campaigns, our side responded to such fear mongering by saying that same-sex marriage is not part of the curricula of schools. In the 2009 Maine campaign, for example, the state superintendent of education was called upon to assure voters that their children would not be taught same-sex marriage in the schools. Such an approach did not work.

In 2012, however, the marriage equality campaigns were prepared to answer the inevitable "protect our children" ad aired by opponents of marriage equality. They reframed the question as one about parents teaching values to children, especially the values embodied in the Golden Rule.

Below is an ad aired in Minnesota by Minnesotans United.

The Third Way report may be found here

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