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Lessons from a solid campaign

by Jeremy Hooper

We did so much right in Maine that it's hard to fault specifics about the campaign. But after committing so much time to this particular fight, I do come away with a few personal takeaways. Consider:

  • The schools issue: It was our opposition's winning argument in both CA and ME. We can't wait for them to base yet another deceptive campaign around school books: We have to take it on year-round. We need to be forthright about the fact that LGBT people will, can, and should be addressed, protected, and acknowledged just like everyone else. Unabashedly and unapologetically. We should also point out the fact that there are only two sets of "outraged" Massachusetts parents that they can find, out of the hundreds of thousands of families that have gone through the Bay State's public school system in the past 5+ years (with both sets motivated by deep, conservative faith). And we have to show that the concept on basic tolerance does not hinge on whether or not a particular state has marriage equality, but only on the fact that the particular state has LGBT people! Maybe this would be a good area for GLSEN?
  • Lifting the monied curtain: We have to more fully show the public what the opposition's major donors are really all about. For instance, take Focus on the Family (puh-leeze). The same group that gave a huge sum of cash, also supports "ex-gay" therapies (as did Bob Emrich, a top dog at "yes on 1"). So what does this tell us about their endgame?! If the campaign says it's not about hurting gay people, then we must turn around and demand that they answer why it is that their big donors want us "changed"! Our side is ALWAYS playing defensive, even though one doesn't have to look hard within their ranks to find deep offense. We must highlight these kinds of affronts, unabashedly and unapologetically.
  • Heterosexual allies: We have to ensure that we're effectively speaking to those whose biggest adversary is apathy. In these kinds of referenda, our opposition is going to rally its vast church network for all that it's worth. We know that. That's not going to change. And while those of us who have something to lose can for the most part be relied upon to turn up at the polls on election day, there are slews of folks who are with us in spirit, in anecdote, in reality, but who don't realize the importance of their one vote. I saw this all over Portland, ME, where I was able to drum up several previously unmotivated votes for our side by simply talking to my servers, bartenders, hotel staff, strangers on the street, etc. They were all gay-supportive yet heterosexually-identified -- and the latter label had weakened their commitment to preserve the former. We must change that all-too-prevailing mindset.
  • The faith question: Americans have MAJOR trouble disconnecting civil marriage from religious ceremony. It's nobody's fault, really. We're given the whole church, white dress, marry at the altar meme from birth. So many people never stop and think about the civil marriage license, other than in terms of it being a mere formality that they they have to do before their big day. And many who marry in a house of worship or via the voice of a person of faith never think about the millions of folks who marry without any religious component whatsoever. But Americans do understand church/state separation. In my opinion, the church-state issues, and the specific faith motivations of the opposition, have never been highlighted as effectively as they could be.
  • The idea of voting on minority rights: After both Prop 8 and Question One, the resounding cry is that minority civil rights should not be subjected to the whims of minority tyranny. It's of course true, and an understandable rebuttal to the "winning" side's gloats. But just like we have to take on the schools issue as a year-round campaign, we also have an opportunity here to turn the outrage into an on-going series of teachable moments. We must highlight why a fair-minded government must protect its vulnerable citizens. We need to bring up incidents from the past wherein ideas that are now non-brainers were considered "controversial" to the public. And we take this information to the broadest population swaths possible, drilling home what truly is the key issue in these kinds of referenda.

Those are but a few. What are yours?

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Your thoughts

Good suggestions, Jeremy. I've been thinking about this a lot over the past few days, too. I think one thing the campaign did well is put a face on gay and lesbian people and families. Many people say they don't "know" any gay folks, with "knowing" meaning, "I don't have a gay family member and no one in my close circle of friends is gay." But while that might be true, everyone knows plenty of LGBT folks: we are all part of a community and we are all here, whether as the cashier at the supermarket or nurse at the doctor's office. I think this contributes to the heterosexual apathy you mentioned.

So I guess what I would suggest is that LGBT people be a bit more out, to keep that face on that the campaign introduced. How? Well, one way is language. Instead of using the generic partner, how about saying boyfriend or girlfriend? Or even going one step further and saying husband or wife, for those couples who have been together forever. I know one man who calls his beloved, "My husband in every way but legal," and yes, it's a mouthful, but it gets the point across. Another strategy would be what I call "appropriate casual affection." I saw lots of this at campaign events, because couples knew they were in a safe and welcoming place: holding hands, an arm around a shoulder, a peck on the cheek. Again, I suggest being a little more out with that in every day life, not just in known LGBT-friendly places.

I realize this may be seen as risky and dangerous for some folks and I may get blasted for suggesting it, but I think work needs to be done to overcome the invisibility that exists and yes, the "ick" factor. We need to desensitize people to the sight of two men or two women giving each other a little kiss or hug. Straight couples do it all the time (often to the point of inappropriateness) and no one gives a hoot. We need to get LGBT couples to that "no hoot" place too, to show clearly who the people are in our community.

One thing that many people said to me on the campaign, and it was true for me too, was that we all moved beyond our comfort zones. Maybe my suggestions are beyond the comfort zone for some folks, but I think we all need to keep putting ourselves there in order to keep moving forward.


Posted by: Leslie | Nov 6, 2009 9:43:28 AM

Regarding the faith issue. I could be wrong, but from what I could tell the Yes on 1 campaign didn't rely so much on this in their ads and so forth. Nonetheless, just taking a cursory glance at the SFMM Facebook page, one can easily tell religion is their ultimate driving force.

During the Prop 8 campaign however, they did rely heavily on the fear that SSM would erode religious liberties. Their "Gathering Storm" video is an example. Prop 8 was spearheaded as the way to protect religious liberties, but the effect was just the opposite. It severely eroded the religious liberties of at least 21 different denominations with more than 5,500 congregations and over 1.5 million members from the mainstream Protestant and Orthodox Christian communities throughout California:

(The following link is a PDF file)


Prop 8 essentially put the basic human right of religious liberty up for a vote. And by ostensibly using the scare tactic that religious liberties were being threaten, they were able to construct a tyranny of a majority that effectively diminished the religious liberty of anyone who did not agree with their particular brand of theology, irrespective of all other faiths.

While the opposition didn't rely on religious freedom in their "official" campaign this time, there were so many editorials and letters to the editors that claimed religious freedom would erode if SSM becomes legal. They would point to the first amendment and claim that it's purpose is not for the government to restrict religion, but rather for the government to be restricted from interfering with religion, and yet completely ignore that fact that with these very campaigns, they were using the government to restrict the religious freedoms of others.

This is also one area that should definitely be highlighted: That banning same-sex marriage isn't about protecting religious freedom, it's about diminishing it for all those who do not believe as they do.

Posted by: Mitchell Devlin | Nov 6, 2009 12:22:31 PM

The one thing that I would add to your list, JH, is that we need to more clearly stress the real consequences of not having marriage equality. I think that a lot of the apathy may stem from the notion that DPs or unequal civil unions are just as good as marriage, and that there are no tangible detrimental effects of not having marriage equality. In many of the cases, even in this year's elections, where rights of ours (other than marriage) have been put to a vote, we generally do much better. I think the biggest reason for that may lie in the fact that we more clearly articulate the actual harm that comes to us and our families when we don't have legal protections.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Nov 6, 2009 12:36:31 PM

I've learned that until churches are disallowed from meddling in ballot questions as well as individual campaigns, the machine will likely be too strong an opposition to us even in liberal states for a few years to come. We can't win against 75/25 results against us in so many parts of every state, no matter what we do. The pro-equality enthusiasm is just too soft to combat it, and I don't see that changing.

Posted by: Bruno | Nov 6, 2009 1:37:10 PM

Ok Jeremey, first kudos on a great site. As far as Gay marriage; I say forget about it!!

Why? Because there are too many older rightwing-nutbag zealots who are stepford followers of the rightwing vile poo that is spewed upon us every day from the likes of Rush Windbag, Michael (don't call me by my real name Weiner) Savage, et all. And you know what? I say let them have the term "marriage" I have never been to a typical cookie cutter hetro marriage either in a church or temple that had anywhere near the impact of a Gay ceremony. The Gay ceremonies are always 100% more heartfelt, inspiring and loving. We basically need to wait until the geezers die off and let the younger generations who are much more accepting populate the country. Washington proved that we can get separate but equal rights. As long as I have the exact same rights and benefits of a hetro marriage what is wrong with that?? Some will say, we are then a separate class. Guess what?? I don't want to be associated with those who do nothing but hate us. I want to be separate from those...................

Posted by: TERRWILL | Nov 6, 2009 4:04:01 PM

I don't like the argument the Maggies of the world use when they say that marriage is for the promotion of procreation or that we all have the right to marry, as long as it's to someone of the opposite sex. It's just masking the fact that they believe we are choosing to be gay and are trying to force that view onto everyone else without even considering that maybe we don't choose who we are attracted to. We won't marry someone opposite us solely to have kids because we wouldn't be happy (at least I wouldn't be happy).

As long as people believe being gay is a choice, it will remain easier on their consciences to continue denying us our civil rights. Debunking the choice argument once and for all will win over some of the people opposed to our civil rights based on faith.

Posted by: waiting for my 1138 | Nov 6, 2009 5:43:17 PM

So many opponents use the "redefining marriage" argument against gay marriage. But as an engineer I think that marriage has a much more generic definition which forces it to be the best word to use for any joining of two people.

My dictionary says that marriage means the joining of any two things, processes, concepts, etc. so as to provide enhanced functionality of the whole.

For example, marrying two microprocessors into one computer can provide increased speed, reliability, or robustness compared to one processor.

The marriage of a boat and a set of wheels can make an amphibious machine.

The marriage of two people can result in a family unit with more stability than a single person could achive.

Nothing needed redefinition to properly call it a marriage. It's the term that fits. Particulars of the individuals are not required.

Some might be satisfied with a civil unioned dual-core processor, but I'll take mine properly married.


Posted by: dave b | Nov 6, 2009 6:12:19 PM

I think we need to articulate reasons why full acceptance and equality of gays benefits all of society. Nearly all our efforts seem to focus on why WE want it, why WE have a right to it, and how WE should be treated fairly and equally. Voters need to perceive that there is something in it for them.

Here is an email sent to Andrew Sullivan that he published on his blog http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2009/11/email-of-the-day.html#more . It begins to show how a lack of gay acceptance affects others in serious ways. I hope I'm not out of line for pasting it below. Here it is:

"I'm a straight, married man, 32 years old. My dad is an out Gay man. Mom and dad divorced when I was six, and he came out shortly thereafter. My adolescence was fraught with tense cover ups of my dad's lifestyle; draping a sheet over the bookcase of gay interest books when friends came over; drumming up odd (and, in retrospect, clearly see-through) lies to explain this or that "family friend", and why my divorced parents were still civil and could eat together at holidays. I was full of confusion and self-loathing while playing games of "Smear The Queer" on the playground and listening to homophobic rock and rap music with my friends. I'm embarrassed about my behavior to this day. I frequently feel the need to apologize for attempting to shove my own father back into the closet, even though he was already out, proud, and comfortable.

"My best friend from that time also had a gay parent, and even we didn't discuss it until we were both grown men. Fake aunts, uncles, friends, and roommates were as close as we could get back then. And I grew up in San Francisco! I can only imagine what this might be like for children in less liberal parts of the country.

"I want this discussion to happen earlier in life. I hope kids growing up in the future won't have the same issues. I desperately want this to be normalized, for the children. Because even though I have no problem talking about my dad's sexuality today, back then, I was deathly afraid to address it because of what it might have said about me and him both. What my friends might say, the insults they'd be able to add to their repertoire.

"To focus the debate around kids' understanding of their own sexuality is missing the point; kids will always do what they do when it comes time to experiment. This is really about kids' understanding of the world around them; I pray that by the time I have a couple of my own, that there won't be any stigma attached if one of their friends has two dads."

Posted by: Richard Rush | Nov 6, 2009 7:25:53 PM

And as someone who is a policy wonk, I say we're not re-defining marriage but changing the pre-requisites. E.g. the rights and responsibilities of marriage remain the same. We're just changing gender pronouns.

Posted by: Tony P | Nov 6, 2009 7:51:02 PM

"Some might be satisfied with a civil unioned dual-core processor, but I'll take mine properly married."

Dave, you seem to suggesting that semantics are not only important, but that they are the only thing that will make you happy. For me, a rose by any other name.. is still a rose. Take the phrase 'holy matrimony' as an example. Holy matrimony to me, is a religious term for which I hold zero affinity. Should we eliminate even the discussion of marriage equality if it doesn't also come with the usage of 'holy matrimony' as well? Because there may be some who will never consider marriage equality to be truly equal if it is sans the 'holy matrimony' descriptor.

To me, equality is equality. 1+1 = 3-1 But, even saying that, there is the possibility that using the term 'Civil Union' (which could apply equally to all legal unions that are exactly equivalent to marriage), could carry a certain stigma that "feels" like a lesser designation, but which in every legal aspect "is" equivalent. And that stigma may be enough for many to consider that "equivalence" is not be the same as "equality". But we may be allowing the perfect (marriage) to become the enemy of the good (marriage equivalence).

Semantics do matter, but if semantics are everything, then maybe we're doing our fellow travelers the great disservice of denying to them the protections they need, and doing so in the pursuit of the perfect semantics.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Nov 6, 2009 7:56:51 PM

tl;dr voters are stupid, this is why the majority should not be allowed to vote on the rights of a minority.

Posted by: dasdasdas | Nov 6, 2009 11:22:19 PM

Have you guys thought about the other side of the coin. It is always brought up that the youth are the ones that will change the way people view homosexuals and the way society thinks as long as you get to them first. What about the instance where (barring closet case homo-sexuals which would be child abuse in itself) that the youth of homosexual couples (which would be zero, minus the use of science) would cause there to be less and less homosexuals, since a homosexual couple can not create a child of its own. Just something to think about. Have a great day.

Posted by: Art French | Nov 7, 2009 12:12:52 AM

Perhaps some of the ads should have been directed at the immorality of placing an unpopular minority's civil rights up for a public vote.

Posted by: Steven Barton | Nov 7, 2009 12:13:14 AM

Agree wholeheartedly with Jeremy's takeaways. What to add? My sense is that proponents of marriage equality don't have the equivalent of a NOM and maybe it's time to start thinking about what such an org might look like.

And perhaps the best point from which to begin thinking about that is to first get clear about what NOM is not:

It is not a "national" org but rather a minuteman org designed to engage in border skirmishes anywhere in the nation.

It is less interested in list-building and more concerned with maintaining the same small but dedicated crew of astroturfers capable of nimbly shifting their attention to various local/state contests as these emerge.

In terms of what NOM is: it's an intentionally generic operation tasked with delivering the messaging that writes the "permission slips" voters need to assuage their consciences before voting against equality.

The Opus Dei/Evangelical/Mormon connections are interesting to me and many of us. At the end of the day, they don't matter much to low-information voters.

I've mentioned elsewhere that I disagree with arguments suggesting that certain ad strategies are somehow a priori only available to the side opposed to marriage equality. What I'm wondering is if the real problem isn't that we don't have the vehicle in place to actually deliver the required punch to the gut?

Posted by: LdChino | Nov 7, 2009 1:05:34 AM

We have got to figure out another way to make the civil rights argument because right now the two groups are talking past each other on it.

Marriage equality advocates are baffled as to why it isn't persuading opponents, particularly in light of Loving v. Virginia in which SCOTUS said marriage was a civil right.

Marriage equality opponents aren't persuaded because they do not concede or accept the proposal that the definition of marriage can change to something other than man/woman. To them, anything else is simply not marriage. They will readily admit there is a civil right for any man to marry any woman and vice-versa. But a civil rights-based argument that any person has the right to marry any other person in their minds has already changed the definition in a way they refuse to do, it has already declared victory in the fight they refuse to concede.

That's why the civil rights-based approach doesn't work for marriage equality opponents. The two parties can't even agree on the definition. So if this line of reasoning is going to persuade any marriage equality opponent we have to find another way to pursue it, one that starts with some kind of common definitional ground. I'm not sure yet what that is, but I know we have to do it.

Posted by: Alan | Nov 7, 2009 9:26:13 AM

Couldn't agree more with you.

Specially about aways playing on the defensive.

If they play the "family values" card, show then their real face, as incapable of living on what they say to be the real "family values". Show the list of all of those so called "Family value warriors" who have betrayed their wives, who divorced three, four, five times (doesn't the bible say something about divorce = evil?), abused children,... all of their durty stuff they're sooooo willing to forgiven and forget,only when it come to themselves of course.

Posted by: Greyfox | Nov 7, 2009 1:26:14 PM

I think the No on 1 campaign got it right in terms of addressing the "definitional" issue by showing real Maine families. Showcasing such families implicitly challenges traditional definitions with a message of "we're here, we're also families, now look at us and tell us we don't deserve to be included in your definition of what 'marriage' or 'family' means."

That's all fine and good. The biggest problem I can see is that these families were invariably portrayed as happy and well-adjusted. Comfortable, even. Which raises the question in that mushy middle voter's mind: "What's the problem you're asking me to address here?" Such voters are not going to recognize the problem unless it's dramatized, televised, and made perfectly and painfully obvious.

Posted by: LdChino | Nov 7, 2009 1:36:05 PM

Turn your outrage into a winning strategy by asking for the 1964 Civil Rights Act to be amended to include LGBT people and get this state's rights issue over with once and for all. Go to http://www.thepoweronline.org/ and voice your desire for FEDERAL PROTECTIONS.

Posted by: Mykelb | Nov 9, 2009 4:23:46 PM

Here is a link to an article in the Washington Post talking about how gay marriage benefits straights as well as gays:
A QUIET VOICE FOR GAY MARRIAGE; Legalization could avert doomed relationships, straight ex-spouses say


It think it's really important for straights to become educated on how full social acceptance of gays, including marriage, benefits them as well as us.

Posted by: Richard Rush | Nov 10, 2009 8:41:31 AM

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