This article by Tierney Sneed was originally published on November 11, 2014 in U.S. News. Read the full article here.
With 32 states and the District of Columbia granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, it’s no surprise that progressive causes from gun control to the "right to die" to marijuana legalization claim the same-sex marriage movement as their as their inspiration. More than half of Americans support same-sex marriage, up from one-third a decade ago. Even some conservative opponents say legal marriage for gay couples nationwide is inevitable, as the Supreme Court looks poised to take up a case now that a panel of appeals judges have bucked the trend of striking down state bans on same-sex marriage.
However, as longtime activist Marc Solomon, the national campaign director for the group Freedom of Marry, details in his new book “Winning Marriage,” getting there wasn’t easy.
One of the biggest misconceptions, he tells U.S. News, is that “it just happened on its own, and that young people all the sudden came supportive of gay rights and this marriage thing, the few court cases were filed and here we are at this amazing time where everything is sort of toppling.”
Racing through 10 years of activism, “Winning Marriage,” which hits bookstands Wednesday, focuses on the movement’s battles to protect an early win in Massachusetts, to bring lawmakers in New York to its side, and to appeal directly to the people in a successful 2012 Maine ballot initiative. It also lends new insight to efforts to craft a national narrative in favor of gay marriage, through the endorsement of figures like President Barack Obama and with high-profile court cases like Windsor v. United States.
“I don’t want to sound obnoxious or smug, that we have all the answers,” Solomon says. "I do think over that the course of this decade over plenty of losses and wins, we’ve really learned some things about run successful campaigns.”
Don’t Compromise on Your Goals
Among the marriage movement’s early critics were not just social conservatives and religious groups, but many liberals and even some LGBT advocates, who said gay couples should compromise and accept something less than marriage. Solomon recalls not just Republicans condemning the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in the Bay State, but also high-profile Democrats like Howard Dean and John Kerry – both at the time eyeing the White House – who endorsed civil unions instead. (Solomon credits then-Rep. Barney Frank – who in 1987 was the first member of Congress to voluntarily come out as gay – as being one of the only major politicians who supported full marriage equality at the time).
“I remember sympathetic voices even in the gay community saying, ‘Why are fighting so hard for marriage? If the Catholic hierarchy and the Republican Party feels so strongly about it, why don’t we take the rights and benefits and go home?’” Solomon says, who notes not a single state offers civil unions for gay couples now. “One of the things that has definitely changed over time is that our community is wholeheartedly behind the fight for marriage and doesn’t believe that we should settle for something that is second best, and for a lesser status. I think that debate is over.”
Reward Friends, Punish Opponents
When New York lawmakers voted down a 2009 proposal to make same-sex marriage legal, despite some having promised to support it, LGBT activists decided it was time to play hardball, invoking both the carrot and the stick. They rallied behind the legislators who stood up for the initiative, but declared war on those that betrayed them, often by fielding primary candidates to defeat incumbents. Even though the state Senate had flipped Republican, the marriage bill narrowly passed in 2011.
“Nothing tips power more quickly than showing you can win campaigns for your friends and especially knock out a few people who aren’t with you,” Solomon says.
Adjust Your Messaging
The 2009 defeat of a same-sex marriage ballot measure in Maine was a heartbreaking defeat for the movement, but from it the activists took away a crucial lesson: their messaging – which focused on abstract ideas like liberty, nondiscrimination and protecting the Constitution – needed to change.
“We were far too focused on messages that weren’t emotionally resonant,” Solomon says, “and not really explaining in a heartfelt way – why gay and lesbian couples wanted to marry, and hearing from them and especially from their parents and kids about why marriage was so important.”
The next time around, after extensive research and tinkering, ad campaigns and voter contact initiatives featured gay couples and their families making the case for marriage themselves. Canvassers were also encouraged to embrace religion rather than avoid it, if the moment arose for them to speak about how they believed Christianity encouraged an inclusive understanding of marriage. In 2012, Maine voters approved of a ballot measure to make same-sex marriage legal, making it the first state to do so by popular referendum. (Voters in Maryland and Washington that year also approved of laws previously passed by state legislatures that legalized same-sex marriage).
"Our opponents always used fear tactics against us, at every turn a long the way they always have," Solomon says. "If we were to combat the fear-mongering and the fear tactics, we needed to connect with an emotionally resonant message as well."