Gay marriage ad campaign begins in Maine

by on November 22, 2011  •  In Marriage, States

A new ad campaign with nation-wide ramifications begins today in Maine, described in the San Francisco Chronicle:

…[Today] in Maine, where voters in 2009 repealed a state law that would have legalized same-sex marriage, supporters of gay nuptials will launch a new TV ad that shows what they have learned – much of it culled from research in California and led by an Oakland pollster.

Maine is being targeted because the issue probably will be on the ballot there next year. Instead of being preachy, the ads aim to empathize with the "journey" voters are taking as they try to sort out their conflicted feelings about same-sex marriage.

National gay leaders and funders will closely gauge the reaction from the target audience: the one-third of Maine voters who are comfortable with civil unions but conflicted about supporting marriage. Reaction to the new messages will have implications for how activists approach other state ballot fights.

"You bet that people are watching this nationally," said Rick Jacobs, chairman of the 750,000-member Courage Campaign in Los Angeles, whose online members contributed $250,000 in 2009 toward research into the marriage question.

Nationally, the movement is nearing a tipping point. Although polls show that most Americans support same-sex nuptials and the military has ended its "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gay and lesbian service members, the movement has failed to win a ballot initiative in nearly three dozen tries.

Winning at the ballot box in Maine could have national reverberations, analysts said, reviving fatigued donors in the gay community to support other state ballot fights, including possibly in California. But winning won't be easy. Past ad campaigns in support of same-sex marriage have been criticized as too preachy. The language used didn't connect with independent voters. In 2009, 53 percent of Maine voters supported overturning their legislature's decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

Pastor Bob Emrich, who helped lead the repeal campaign in Maine, said the new ads aren't going to persuade Mainers. There is "lingering resentment" among opponents of same-sex marriage, he said. "People here don't want to talk about it," said Emrich, who leads a 150-person congregation at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Plymouth. "They don't want to make it so personal. People here … don't want to change what the institution of marriage means."

Still, supporters of same-sex marriage see Maine, a geographically small state with 1 million voters and a mostly white electorate, as a state they can swing. It is small enough to make direct contact with voters, which is key to changing minds on such an emotional issue…

Timed to run around Thanksgiving, when families gather around the table and in front of the television, the first 30-second ad features a close shot of an elderly Catholic couple from rural Maine who have been married 42 years, describing the journey they took to accept that one of their daughters is a lesbian. At first, Jeanette Rediker says, "there were a lot of emotions." But after they asked their priest for advice, Rediker says, "I will never forget the answer he told me: 'She is the same person you loved yesterday.' " The closing frame features the words "Love. Commitment. Marriage" over two gold wedding bands.

A second 30-second ad features a self-identified conservative United Methodist Church minister, wearing his religious collar, and his wife as they talk about how they "really struggled through this issue."

They prayed about it, Pastor Michael Gray says in the ad. What's changed his mind has been the personal stories he heard. "No clergyperson will ever have to go against their core set of beliefs," he said.

Same-sex marriage supporters say the difference from past messages is that the new campaign emphasizes shared values between gay and straight couples. It acknowledges religious differences. The tone of the ads is similar to that used by national gay rights organizations earlier this year to win the New York Legislature's approval of a law legalizing same-sex marriage and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

"Talking about marriage in terms of shared values – like commitment, family and responsibility – has been an effective strategy for us, particularly earlier this year in New York," said Kevin Nix, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign.

The time to speak to voters in an "empathic" tone is before a campaign starts, Simon said. The goal is to create a bond with voters before they are hit with more aggressive messaging during the heat of a campaign. 

Same-sex marriage backers in Maine have gathered more than 100,000 signatures – twice as many as are needed, to place a measure on the ballot next November. They are not likely to make a final decision until early next year.

"We want to see if this kind of positive messaging will have an effect on these 'middle voters,' " said Matt McTighe, the Maine director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders…


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