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Campaign Tips for Ballot Measures on Legal Marriage
by Demian
© February 20, 2010, Demian

Of all the political efforts for equality, those that involve the rights of gay men and lesbians carry an extra burden. This extra weight is the anti-gay hatred which thrives in America. It is due, in large measure, to the ongoing efforts of the Catholic, Mormon and Evangelical Churches. Since the 1980s, these groups, and other right-wing, political organizations, have poured multi-millions into fighting our right to be custodians of children, to be domestic partners, and to protect our relationships with legal marriage recognition.

Instead of recognizing our people and the families we form, these organizations see only sex. Instead of supporting our children and next of kin, they make false claims about our morality, and spread fear claiming we molest children. (Statistically, the majority of molestation is perpetrated by heterosexual men.)

The struggle for access to legal marriage brings anti-gay rhetoric to the fore. We often find that while we talk about rights and responsibilities equality and fairness, anti-gay forces talk about morals and protecting the sanctity of institutions. The doctrines of equality and fairness does not stand a chance against the notion that we are — in their eyes — an abomination.

So, it makes lots of sense to gather up those church groups which do not hold us in such low esteem, ask them to join in countering the “moral imperialists,” and start talking the language of spiritual equality.

The following practical tips and strategies for running a campaign are based on the evaluative report by Jonathan Duffy and Sally Steenland titled “The Faithful Divide Over Wedding Vows: A Profile of Michigan’s 2004 Battle Over Marriage Equality.” Their report was published by the Center for American Progress on May 2009. [Center for American Progress, 1333 H St. NW, Washington, DC 20005; 202-682-1611, fax 202-682-1867,]

The Campaign Tips
LGBT advocates need to work with progressive faith leaders before a ballot campaign begins.

It is far easier to join existing alliances than create them after a campaign begins. Having an infrastructure in place saves time, broadens outreach, and often has already located the supporters within faith communities.

These relationships could help prevent anti-marriage efforts from qualifying for the ballot. Along with early financial support, a strong network of advocates and community leaders can research legal strategies and devise communications efforts, such as “decline-to-sign” campaigns.

Embed faith voices and messages within LGBT campaigns.

This can break the anti-gay religious monopoly that often claims to be the sole voice of morality on these issues. Faith language also broadens the values debate so that LGBT issues are not framed in terms of “moral values versus secular rights.”

Religious values can also be on the side of LGBT advocates.

A campaign staying on message must be balanced with the power of voices from various faith communities focused on the moral and social justice aspect of marriage equality.

When anti-gay religious communities use biblical texts and teachings to argue their case, LGBT advocates should have their own religious messages to counter those claims. In putting forth religious messages, each faith community should speak out of its own tradition to its community using its messengers, rather than “one-size-fits-all” themes and speakers.

Approach allies within the opposition churches.

Do not write off a religious community, be they the Catholic, Mormon or African-American churches. While some communities may have official pronouncements against same-sex marriage and campaign against it, frequently there are members within who, by conscience, have different views. These faith members can be effective public allies because they show that there are LGBT supporters even within more conservative churches. They can also help change the minds of fellow members by showing religious support for marriage equality.

Even though some religious communities will never publicly endorse marriage equality, it is still a plus when they are silent rather than vocally oppositional. Also, some communities could effect strategies to create an undercurrent of support for marriage equality, even though they do not go public.

Approach the parent denominations for LGBT support.

Ask for full support of LGBT rights, including marriage equality, immigration and same-sex adoption. Denominations are national organizations with funding sources, communications arms, and a host of services that can be used in campaigns. It is may be easier to work with a denomination than go to many individual churches.

Frame the message in a mainstream way, so that all citizens feel connected to the issue.

Additionally, non-LGBT organizations, such as civil and human rights and faith groups, should be sought as campaign allies. For faith communities, it’s important to talk about LGBT rights and marriage equality in moral and religious terms, rather than shying away from that language.

Educate about the difference between civil marriage and religious ceremonies.

Campaigns for marriage equality must explain that legal marriage confers rights and responsibilities, not “special” rights on couples. Ceremonies have no legal consequence. Also, they are not affected by laws allowing same-sex marriage.

Media rules.

It is important to have a well-managed and potent organization, as well as an effective media campaign, especially in larger states where much of the battle is fought over the airwaves.

Gear up for intense opposition at the very end of a campaign. Often, churchgoers are hit with a barrage of anti-gay, anti-marriage videos, flyers, and sermons the Sunday before going to the polls.

It is also important to balance the goals of a campaign to win the vote with the goals of the long-term goals of the equality movement.

Quickly rebut inaccurate arguments and misleading statements.

For instance, in Michigan, Proposal 2 supporters in 2004 denied that the vague wording of their proposal would take away existing legal benefits from partners in civil unions and their families. After the anti-gay measure passed, benefits such as health insurance for the children of a same-sex partner, were soon revoked. Instances where this “bait and switch” tactic has been used should be spotlighted in future campaigns that deploy similarly deceptive practices.

Accentuate the positive.

LGBT faith advocates should exemplify in their messages the most recent gains made toward marriage equality.

Governments that offer Full Legal Marriage

    Netherlands (2001)
    Belgium (2003)
    Canada (2005)
    Spain (2005)
    South Africa (2005)
    Norway (2009)
    Sweden (2009)
    Iceland (2010)
    Argentina (2010)
    Portugal (2010)
    Denmark (2012)
    France (2013)
    New Zealand (2013)
    Brazil (2013)
    Uruguay (2013)
    New Zealand (2013)
    United Kingdom
      (England, Wales, Scotland) (2013)
    Luxembourg (2014)
    Finland (2014)
    Ireland (2015)
    United States (2015)
    Colombia (2016)
    Germany (2017)
    Taiwan (2017)
    Malta (2017)
US States & Territories

    Massachusetts (2004)
    California (2008)
    Connecticut (2008)
    Iowa (2009)
    Vermont (2009)
    New Hampshire (2009)
    District of Columbia (2009)
    New York (2011)
    Maine (2012)
    Washington (2012)
    Maryland (2013)
    Rhode Island (2013)
    Delaware (2013)
    Minnesota (2013)
    Illinois (2013)
    Utah (2013)
    New Jersey (2013)
    Hawaii (2013)
    New Mexico (2013)
    Michigan (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Oregon (2014)
    Wisconsin (2014)

    Arkansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Pennsylvania (2014)
    Indiana (2014)
    Nevada (2014)
    Virginia (2014)
    Oklahoma (2014)
    Idaho (2014)
    West Virginia (2014)
    Alaska (2014)
    Arizona (2014)
    Wyoming (2014)
    Kansas (2014) - stayed pending legal challenge
    Florida (2014)
    Colorado (2014)
    North Carolina (2014)
    South Carolina (2014)
    Montana (2014)
    Alabama (2015)
    U.S. Supreme Court (June 26, 2015):
      Ruling: All U.S. States must now
      allow same-sex couples the
      freedom of legal marriage.
Native American Tribes

    Coquille Tribe, Oregon (2009)
    Mashantucket Pequot, Connecticut (2011)
    Suquamish Tribe, Washington (2011)
    Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Washington (2013)
    Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Minnesota (2013)
    Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Michigan (2013)
    Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Michigan (2013)
    Santa Ysabel Tribe, California (2013)
    Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation, Washington (2013)
    Cheyenne, Oklahoma (2013)
    Arapaho, Oklahoma (2013)
    Leech Lake Tribal Court, Minnesota (2013)
    Puyallup Tribe, Washington (2914)
    Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming (2014)
    Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, Michigan, (2014)
    Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington (2014)
    Central Council of Tlingit, Alaska (2015)
    Haida Indian Tribes, Alaska (2015)

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