New Report: Moving Marriage Forward

By Thalia Zepatos, Director of Public Engagement, Freedom to Marry
The phone rings. 

Do you have time to answer a few questions for a public opinion poll? 
It might be a newspaper or television station calling—or a university, a foundation or even a political campaign. When the interviewer asks whether they support equal marriage for same-sex couples, the respondent is forced in a moment to decide between “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.”

Underlying that response is a lifetime of personal experiences, values, cultural cues, and information—or misinformation—about gay people, and also about marriage itself. 

And while we’re all keenly interested in the “horse-race” question - are we ahead or behind in support? - the rest of the questions asked during each poll (or through other research) contain useful insights that are well worth further study.

When I joined Freedom to Marry as Director of Public Engagement earlier this year, one of the first projects I wanted to take on was producing: Moving Marriage Forward: Building Majority Support for Marriage.  This report, which reviews over 75 polls and focus groups on the topic of marriage from multiple states, summarizes what we’ve learned thus far and provides the foundation we need for our Roadmap to Victory.

And while activists have compared notes and shared a great deal of information all along the way, this report offers the first systematic review of all available data gathered since 2004. It shines a light on some trends we’ve seen develop over time—reaffirming some of our past conclusions, but also inviting each of us to think anew about the ways we talk about marriage with the “moveable middle.”   

What we found is that Americans have deeply held beliefs about what marriage means and why it matters -- and some of them are wrestling with mixed emotions when thinking about marriage for gay couples. Therefore we must address their concerns when talking about marriage, by:
  • Speaking to the heart first, then the head
  • Emphasizing commitment and other shared values
  • Modeling the golden rule
  • Talking about why marriage matters
  • Making clear that it’s about joining, not redefining, marriage
Without saying “we’re just like you,” this couple shows how people can tell their story in a way that allows individuals to make that connection for themselves:
* Basic Rights Oregon “Marriage Matters” Mailer 
The way we talk about marriage isn’t the only consideration; it’s also important who does the talking. Throughout the review of research, we found that personal conversations are the most effective in moving people toward support of marriage for gay couples.  Not only should supporters talk to those closest to us, but we should also make sure to share why this issue is personal.  Whether gay or straight, each of us has a story to tell about why marriage matters.

So read Moving Marriage Forward today, continue having conversations, and join Freedom to Marry in building a majority for marriage.