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30 seconds to connect: What worked? What didn't?

by Jeremy Hooper

In our last post, we looked at the deceptive campaigning that duped masses of Californians into eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry.  But let's be fair and now look at the messaging on our side. Messaging that, for whatever reason, failed to connect with hundreds of thousands of would-be, should-be allies:

Did we take many missteps?  Or was this an advertising task that even Don Draper couldn't have turned into a success?  Discuss.

***It should be noted that as of 9:30 Pacific time, the CA results (currently 52%-48%) are not final.  There is still a small percentage that has yet to report.

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Your thoughts

The miss-step was not showing enough of the real thing.

Gay marriage threatens kids? Oh look.. here is a child of a gay couple who is totally..... normal and well balanced as a human being!

Oh look two men in their 60s who have been together for 40 years..... they are so......... um...... normal.

You get the gist.

Posted by: GT | Nov 5, 2008 10:50:54 AM

I hope you'll consider Massachusetts for your wedding. Don't let the hate in California force your hand.

Posted by: Mark | Nov 5, 2008 10:59:43 AM

In the face of the delusional brainwashing tool that is religion, I'm not sure there's anything that could have been done. It's a sad, pathetic fact that people would rather live their lives according to a bullshit book in the promise of some fairytale afterlife that preachers claim exists with absolute certainty, rather than simply living life trying to make the world a better place for humanity simply because we're human.

Posted by: Incognito | Nov 5, 2008 11:00:55 AM

Honestly, I think we were possibly too soft. So much of the No on 8 campaigning tried to appeal to a voter's emotions about love and partnership and "if two people love each other..." It sent the message or "aren't these gays so cute...why not let them marry?" It still seemed like such a choice. Do gays merit marriage? Have they earned it?

I really think it needs to be more explicit about how it's just plain wrong. The "it's unfair and it's wrong" ads were a step towards that, but they didn't really explain why. They focused on how it's wrong to take away someone's right, but I don't think they asserted why gay people had been given that right in the first place. I think a lot of voters might have just responded that it's not a right at all. We need to prove why it is and how it's akin to all other fundamental rights for racial groups and women.

Posted by: Eric L. | Nov 5, 2008 11:04:04 AM

Too much was spent to try to undo their lies....couldn't be done...after all the sky was falling! so no one listened to that. After reading all the wonderful stories in different Wedding Registries on HRC, EQCA etc...IT WAS OBVIOUS to anyone with a brain that we just had to get the STORIES out. I sent email, after email, after email to EQ CA about that, but they were too busy collectiing$$ to run HORRIBLE ads to pay attention to what was happening. I also blame ALL the CELEBRITES who only had to give a news conference and tell their stories, and their friends stories... after all, all those who are out in WEHO and SF could have been the ones to help. ELLEN should have had EVERY PROGRAM about a different couple and family...etc. PFLAG groups and GSA's should have been telling their stories.... ah well... still a shred of legal hope I guess. Sorry, again all.

Posted by: LOrion | Nov 5, 2008 11:26:56 AM

Back in 2006, I was one of the field organizers for Arizona Together (No on 107, which we barely won). We had a message that worked, but didn't work. We, like Florida with Prop 2, were up against an amendment with such sweeping language, it could have reasonably been used to hurt a lot of people, despite the fact that it was aimed specifically at the gay community. Our message focused on everybody, except the gay community. I remember discussing the flaws with one of my volunteers, who said to me, "You know, marginalizing a group that is already under direct attack is really disgusting." Indeed.

The problem is, as we learned this year, no matter what message you use to fight against them, even if you win, they'll come back. They learn, just like we do, which messages work, and which ones don't. If California had won this year, they would have come back again in 2010. Massachusetts has been in a continual fight to keep their rights. I'm not sure if there is an overarching message that is powerful enough to connect with every voter in a state as diverse as California or Florida. And even if there were, they'd come back.

Last night, I watched the work I did in Arizona in 2006 go up in flames (I have since moved out of state). I watched a group of subversive Mormons work with one of the political arms of Focus on the Family (the Center for Arizona Policy). These two are sworn enemies, and neither has much respect for the other, but both of them have even less respect for us. And I am amazed that they could work together long enough to outraise, outmessage, and outperform us in every way.

Personally, I think the only way to handle this is on the federal level. It's going to require a SCOTUS ruling in conjunction with a DOMA repeal, and a hell of a lot of fighting on our side. It's going to require a lot of our politicians to grow a spine, put their careers on the line, and throw down for our side. Essentially, the only way I see us getting any form of marriage equality is by cramming it into play from the top. But, of course, if that happens, someone's going to lose his/her job. Someone's going to have to take one for the team.

Posted by: Michael | Nov 5, 2008 11:35:24 AM

I volunteered with the No on 8 campaign here in California, and we tried. We really did try. But some people just refused to even hear our side of the story. They had their hearts set on voting yes, and they would not even give our arguments, our reasons, and our pleas to vote no.

Sorry about your wedding getting ruined by all of this hate Jeremy.

Posted by: FP | Nov 5, 2008 11:41:35 AM

How about the fact that an abysmal fraction of the LGBT community turned out for this election? Have you seen the numbers from San Fransisco?

Posted by: Alex | Nov 5, 2008 11:48:03 AM

I think one of the biggest mistakes of the No on 8 ads is almost none of them really showed how children would be hurt if 8 passed.

The other side kept hammering the point that Yes on 8 was all about the children - we could have countered that by telling the story of the 1000s of children of Gay & Lesbian households across California that are going to be affected by the passage of Prop. 8.

Posted by: Alonzo | Nov 5, 2008 11:51:23 AM

FP: Thanks for your hard work. There are countless people who did all they could do, yet will never get thanked for their noble attempts. So thanks.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Nov 5, 2008 11:59:37 AM

Massachusetts has had to fight to keep its rights, but since 2007 when the court decided that the civil right of marriage was not voteable, everyone seems to have settled in for the general long haul of happy gay marriages. Sure, they might come back in 2012, probably will, but by then even more young people will support gay marriage and marriage will be even more normalized. Marriage is here to stay in Massachusetts, especially with Deval around. *knocks on wood*

Posted by: Marianna | Nov 5, 2008 11:59:59 AM

Gay is the new black in California.
So what are our next steps?

Do we repeal the court decision by activist judges that allows blacks to marry whites? - it seems fair considering the reports that almost 70% of black voters supported prop 8.

Do we put all of our efforts in getting the government out of the marriage business altogether in an "if we can't get married no one can" strategy?

Do we get to repeal the tax-exempt status of the churches behind prop 8?

Do we try to get a law passed to ban out of state support for ballot initiatives?

Posted by: Q | Nov 5, 2008 1:16:16 PM

Although Obama is against prop 8 and discrimination, he's not in favor of gay marriage (same for most democrats in US congress). Is this a wake up call that we should give up on using the term "marriage" and start pushing for "civil unions" on a federal and supreme court level?

Yes, we all know that separate but equal is bullshit. But as long as we call it marriage it's going to keep coming back, election after election, just like abortion. Perhaps a president obama could pragmatically help push for civil unions with "equal" rights pegged to marriage. But first, the gay community and lobbying organizations should agree upon what is really achievable and what we realistically expect to gain in the next 8 years. We should ask for it in one voice, not in fractured state by state outbursts.

I'm waiting for our 8 year plan!

Posted by: marcelo | Nov 5, 2008 2:52:28 PM

Absolutely not, marcelo. First of all, we HAVE obtained marriage in CA, MA, and CT, and we are surely on the cusp of the same in NY (legislatively approved) and NJ (where civil unions are expected to be bumped up because they've been proven inadequate). This instance of majority tyranny is no reason to stop when we have real, demonstrable, fully equal wins. And persecution should not allow us to settle.

Also, we have to consider what I believe to be true: That Obama is far more with us on marriage than he says publicly. His reasoning about handing the word over to churches is flawed in every logical way. He has to know this. He is a layer. All of the Dem candidates carved out their own way of reassuring gay people without touching the "third rail" of marriage equality. I will never be convinced that this highly educated man who surely has many LGBT people in his life is, in private company, against marriage equality. And even if he TRULY IS, there is plenty of room for us to teach him why that's wrong.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Nov 5, 2008 2:59:26 PM

Marianna wrote,
"Massachusetts has had to fight to keep its rights, but since 2007 when the court decided that the civil right of marriage was not voteable, everyone seems to have settled in for the general long haul of happy gay marriages. Sure, they might come back in 2012, probably will, but by then even more young people will support gay marriage and marriage will be even more normalized. Marriage is here to stay in Massachusetts, especially with Deval around. *knocks on wood*"

That's not true. The courts never decided that the civil right of marriage was not voteable -- the legislature decided not to forward an initiative petition on to the people. (The way constitutional amendment initiatives work in Mass is they go to the Legislature, must pass 2x, each with at least 25% of the Legislature voting, then they need 50% + 1 vote of the people.) The Mass Legislature voted -- they VOTED -- not to forward this on to the people. They exercised a responsibility enshrined in the Mass constitution -- to vet initiative amendments before sending them to a popular vote.

Mass initiatives differ from those in California significantly in this regard, and one other way that's very important: laws proposed by initiatives in Mass can be changed by the Legislature at any time, and even completely overturned.

Posted by: | Nov 5, 2008 3:45:18 PM

I raised this issue on another comment page: Consider, for a moment, my fellow African-Americans. Here's this huge block of voters, culturally biased against gay marriage, and I have to ask: Did anyone bother to engage them in any meaningful way? (On either side of the debate -- pro-8 organizers always seemed very pale.) Most blacks don't care what folks like Elen DeGeneres or Steven Speilberg think about gay rights and if there was some kind of "No on 8" event in a black neighborhood, it never entered my sphere of consciousness. Perhaps there were quiet, backroom discussions between black and gay leaders, perhaps there were ads that featured prominent black personalities opposed to prop 8, but I don't recall hearing about them. I know it's just Wednesday morning quarterbacking, but if we don't learn any lessons from this it really was all for nothing.

Posted by: Derek in DC | Nov 5, 2008 5:03:20 PM

Hi G-A-Y

Thanks for the response. I'm not so sure about our wins so far. State by state marriage isn't equality when so many benefits (social security, immigration, etc) are on the federal level. Plus, what if you cross a state line?

how do we get as close as possible to equality on a federal level so that we're not relying on these state marriages that can be overturned by popular whim?

Obama publicly supports civil unions, not marriage...

8 year window...

We can try to teach america and obama why they're wrong. or we can try to squeeze as much equality and protection as we can from this government. Hopefully do both at once.

I agree that Obama's reasoning is flawed.
But I don't doubt his pragmatism and stated desire to govern from the center. Roe v wade is over 30 yrs old and still putting up a fight every election. Perhaps obama knows that as long as you call it marriage, you will never be safe from another proposition 8.

I'm excited to see how things shape up...

Posted by: marcelo | Nov 5, 2008 6:21:23 PM

I agree that we could have done better, but it's not like we didn't try.

Having said that, I'd like to draw attention to what Alonzo said.

"The other side kept hammering the point that Yes on 8 was all about the children - we could have countered that by telling the story of the 1000s of children of Gay & Lesbian households across California that are going to be affected by the passage of Prop. 8."

I am speaking as one of these such children. Currently 17-years-old, my mother and legal gaurdian has been together with her partner for ELEVEN years. Eleven. I would have loved for them to get married. Of course, I still have the occasional outburst against her partner due to a case of stubborn thought-clashing, but I know she loves her.

I would have voted, if I could have. "No on Prop 8!" Would have been my mantra as I walked into the voting place.

And you know what? I'll be 18 in less than two weeks. November 21st. SAME MONTH.

I'm sure that if they had taken into account the people that were born in November, the percentage of people against the Proposition would have risen considerably.

I've noticed that most people of my age are against it, but most people of, say... my grandmother's age are for it.

But, I digress. What I mean to say is... what if the main reason that people think that same sex marriage will damage children is because they're afraid that the children of same-sex marriages will all turn out to be gay?

If that's the case, then I better hide. They might use me as an example. (In actuality, I told my mother about me before she told me about her. You'd think it would be obvious, considering the fact that she'd been living with her partner for over 9 years.)

But... my case is rare. I wasn't raised by them. I was in Foster Care.

So... why are we affected? We're really not.

It's all up to fate.

Posted by: Trickster's Treat | Nov 5, 2008 6:57:35 PM

Interesting exit polls from CNN.


As we all figured, it's the Christian vote that killed it. As a gay Christian, that's just so embarrassing and infuriating, but the numbers are there. 90% of people claiming no religion voted NO and 65% of Catholics/Protestants voted YES. There's also a big spike in YES votes when you factor in weekly attendance.

Posted by: Matt Algren | Nov 6, 2008 2:43:03 PM

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