Why Marriage Matters: Getting the Movement on Message

Why Marriage Matters (WMM) was a national public education framework/campaign, created by Freedom to Marry based on collaborative research and testing among a group of partners, offered free to movement organizations. We recruited more than 40 national and state-level partners and through the WMM portal, shared state-of-the-art research findings, personal stories, and ready-made tools like videos, graphics, speakers bureau and house party kits to reshape the national conversation on marriage and help each state build a customized marriage campaigns.  

The Research Behind the Message

Messaging, Messengers, and Public Support

Don't miss this more detailed look at the extensive messaging research behind the Why Marriage Matters program.

Read More

Freedom to Marry always emphasized not just messaging, but message delivery. WMM was a vehicle to get a variety of messengers (including our key movement partners) to drumbeat the authentic and effective frames and content in an echo-chamber of reinforcing delivery that would reach and move the next swath of the public we needed. Our aim was to grow the majority we had built by late 2009-2010 into a super-majority, engaging and persuading the people we considered the “reachable but not yet reached.”

Creating a Branded Public Education Campaign

One of the lessons from our long string of losses was that we couldn't wait until the final stages of a ballot campaign to try and shift public opinion on marriage. By 2009, we were more determined than ever to begin conducting public education campaigns in states for at least a year (or more) before we went to the legislature, court, or the ballot to try and win.  

Once we developed the new messaging in 2010, we branded the campaign “Why Marriage Matters.” (A prototype campaign in Oregon had been called “Marriage Matters” but we received legal warning from a Christian-based organization in the Midwest that they owned the “word-mark” on that phrase. Luckily, Why Marriage Matters had been the name of Evan Wolfson’s 2004 book, and we were able to word-mark that phrase for our own use.) The two catchwords were “love and commitment” but we added “family” as the third key word on the logo, noting that the theme of “family” also resonated strongly, particularly in communities of color.


Why Marriage Matters

Our first task was to get our own movement on message. We conducted scores of telephone and in-person briefings in which we shared the research and messaging, and created a sign-up form to engage national and state organizations to join (free of charge) as partners. By not overtly branding WMM as a Freedom to Marry program, we made it easier for partner organizations to take and use the frame and materials, furthering our goal of creating a drumbeat from many quarters. 

Freedom to Marry provided briefings to Washington, DC opinion leaders, think tanks, political consultants, and congressional staff, to help them get on board with the new messaging to replace the outdated messaging that conflicted with ours. We developed an “Electeds Guide” to assist in helping elected officials become more effective as messengers, and to assist in answering the questions they most frequently encountered.

Once the national WMM platform launched, we used the name and brand in the 501c3 public education efforts we were building in close partnership with, and often embedded in, our state partner organizations: for example, Why Marriage Matters Washington, Why Marriage Matters Maine, Why Marriage Matters Ohio, Why Marriage Matters New Mexico. (Initially we provided state-specific logos, but later our Digital Action Center would create entire web sites and social media campaigns for these state public education efforts, becoming the central back-end for almost all the state campaigns.)

Sharing Why Marriage Matters Messaging and Materials

Freedom to Marry created a unique website – www.WhyMarriageMatters.org – as a portal for our partners. It contained the core talking points, some FAQs, and links to storytelling ads and videos. While we never drove a lot of general public traffic to the WMM site, it became the “go-to” location for WMM partners to access materials as they changed and developed over time. The site was very useful as a training tool, and as an example of the right approach, and we and our partners would often point people to that site. When states developed effective public education ads and videos, we would often asked if they would allow us to create a “national version” with the WMM logo on the end card, for posting to the site and replication by others. Thus we developed, cooperatively, a large body of work that could be shared from state to state, battle to battle.

Once an organization signed up as a WMM partner, Freedom to Marry also provided access to a confidential Dropbox folder which contained an extensive library of materials for their use. Some of the materials were used heavily, i.e., the sample powerpoint with the core talking points was easy and useful to adapt for local trainings. Over time, as the research delved more into particular demographic groups, we added community-specific talking points that had been adjusted for use in leading discussions among communities of color, Republicans, Catholics, and other groups. We also developed one-pagers to answer key questions that arose, i.e., "Why Civil Unions are Not Enough."

This list details the evolution of materials we offered via Why Marriage Matters, over time:

Evolution of Why Marriage Matters Materials

  • Early program materials (2010-2011)
    • Sample PowerPoint illustrating the core talking points
    • Sample mailers and walking pieces
    • Poster
    • Speakers Bureau Tool Kit
    • House Party Tool Kit
    • Ways to Start a Conversation 1-pager
    • Research memo: the research behind WMM
    • Moving Marriage Forward (longer research-based message training document)
    • Allies Guide to Talking About Marriage (publication co-produced with Movement Advancement Project)
    • Why Marriage Matters Style Guide with customized state WMM logos
  • Mid-term updates (2012-2013)
    • Message Guide by Audience
    • Electeds Guide to the Freedom to Marry
    • Talking Points & fact sheets for specific communities of color (African Americans, Latinos/Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders, American Indian/Alaska Natives)
    • Talking Points & fact sheets for Republicans, Catholics, people of faith
    • Fact sheets on economic impacts, health impacts
    • “Why Civil Unions are Not Enough” talking points
    • Additional video content including ads created for state educational campaigns, repurposed with generic end cards for adaptation in other markets
  • Later phase of state support (2013-2015)
    • Updated talking points reflecting new message research and changing momentum
    • Talking points for Southerners for the Freedom to Marry, a new regional approach

We sent periodic email updates to partners, to point our success and new materials developed by organizations involved in the work, and we continually added new materials to the Dropbox. We also invited partners to teleconference briefings when new research findings and related materials became available.

Victory and Expansion

Our unprecedented wins at the ballot in 2012 in four of four states (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington) confirmed the power of the messaging approach promoted through Why Marriage Matters. Those campaigns also fostered new message research and resulted in a plethora of new materials. For example, as campaigns invested in additional research, we were able to further customize talking points for outreach to communities of color. The WMM framework enabled us to share these new materials with all state and national partners.

Winning at the Ballot

2012 Election: The Movement's New Message in Action

Take a look at the work to at last – after more than 30 losses – win the freedom to marry at the ballot in November 2012.

Read More

With the focus shifting back to state legislatures and state and federal courts, we began to offer message briefings to legislative lobbyists, elected leadership, and the teams on the ground in each state as they moved forward to pass bills. We also engaged with the legal teams that were shaping up cases in state and district courts, especially reaching out to pro bono lawyers who were not connected to the larger national movement and therefore did not have access to as many resources.

Freedom to Marry began to provide centralized digital support to many state partners. In the final years leading to the Supreme Court ruling our Digital Action team designed customized logos and web sites that moved away from the common Why Marriage Matters brand while retaining the message discipline inherent in the WMM approach.

Why Marriage Matters Partners

The following organizations signed on as Why Marriage Matters partners between 2010-2015: 

National Organizations State Organizations
American Civil Liberties Union Alaskans Together for Equality Equality Pennsylvania
Center for American Progress Basic Rights Oregon Equality Texas
Equality Federation Equal Rights WA Equality Utah
Family Equality Council Equality Alabama Fair Wisconsin
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders Equality Arizona Garden State Equality
Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Equality Florida Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (DC)
Get Equal Equality Hawaii Georgia Equality
Give a Damn Campaign Equality Illinois Mass Equality
Human Rights Campaign Equality Louisiana One Colorado
Lambda Legal Equality Maine One Iowa
Movement Advancement Project Equality Maryland Outfront Minnesota
National Center for Lesbian Rights Equality Michigan PROMO (Missouri)
Third Way Equality New Mexico South Carolina Equality
  Equality Ohio Vermont Freedom to Marry

Key Lessons Learned

  • We rigorously maintained just a single page of key talking points, which were adjusted over time as the issue and the nationwide discussion matured. If we wanted to add a new talking point, we also had to delete something else. This internal discipline ensured that the most useful talking points were constantly being repeated, creating an echo-chamber effect nationwide.
  • The talking points became the basis for our entire organization’s communication, via earned media, social media, storytelling on our website, etc. This vertical integration of all of our channels helped model for our state partners how to maximize the messaging. 
  • Creating a neutral brand was key to getting a wide range of organizations to buy in—and thus helped ensure that our entire movement was on message -- even organizations that sometimes competed with one another.
  • We instilled a culture where every partner was free to use any of the products that had been developed, and also where they could share their new products with others.   
  • Sharing the research and testing behind the messaging helped motivate new partners to buy into the program, and answered the question of why their preferred messaging had to be dropped. 
  • Initially partnering deeply with a single state-level organization (Basic Rights Oregon) to serve as a laboratory and key thought/experience-partner helped Freedom to Marry shape the program in a way that was useful to the states, and helped build their confidence - which they shared with other state partners - in the value of central resources, central framing, and a central back-end.