Something Old, Something New: Talking About Marriage

EDITORS' NOTE: This guest post was written by Thalia Zepatos, Director of Public Engagement at Freedom to Marry and Sean Lund, Messaging Research Director at the Movement Advancement Project 

Today’s oral arguments in the Oregon federal marriage case are the latest in a landmark series of cases (including arguments earlier this month before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for cases involving federal challenges to marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma) that are poised to expand the number of Americans who, after decades of dedicated struggle, may soon be free to marry.

The fact that marriage in Oregon is now before the court is particularly sweet, given the significant role that advocates and couples in Oregon have played in helping shape the discussion about marriage over the past several years. In 2010, a coalition of Oregon leaders and national partners launched a multi-year effort to expand the public conversation around marriage. Using expert researchers, large-scale field outreach and a highly visible bilingual public education effort, the Why Marriage Matters campaign has become a model for marriage persuasion efforts that continue to be used across the country. (Videos from the campaign are still available online here and here.)

Our movement’s current conversation about marriage has been informed by efforts like those in Oregon and in other states across the U.S. (including work by national partners at organizations like the ACLU, GLAAD, GLAD, Third Way and others). As two of the organizations that have long been involved in messaging research, Freedom to Marry and the Movement Advancement Project have been continuously working to refine and expand the growing conversation around marriage. The new edition of An Ally’s Guide to Talking About Marriage for Same-Sex Couples, released today, pulls together the latest insights, learnings and conversation approaches that are successfully helping to open people’s hearts and minds across geographic boundaries, political parties, generations and faith traditions.

Recommendations from the New Guide:

• Focus on the core values of marriage, such as love and commitment, shared by opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples alike—rather than talking about marriage as a right or as a package of benefits;

• Emphasize why caring people don’t deny others the chance at happiness in marriage;

• Affirm our shared values of freedom, treating others as we want to be treated, and not sitting in judgment of others; and

• Share the stories of those who have gone on the journey towards greater acceptance of same-sex couples.

Lessons from the Ballot: 

Updated for 2014, the latest version of the Ally’s Guide includes examples and lessons learned from the successful campaigns in Maine, Minnesota and Washington.

“In 2012, we learned that Minnesotans were not only ready for a conversation about marriage, they were ready for the freedom to marry as well,” said Richard Carlbom, director of Minnesotans United for All Families, the successful 2012 ballot campaign to defeat that state’s proposed marriage ban, and now Director of State Campaigns for Freedom to Marry. “It’s exciting to be able to look at the advances in the marriage discussion over the past several years, and draw from those to provide an up-to-date resource for allies and advocates alike.”

“When people who support marriage have conversations with people who are conflicted, that’s where change can happen,” said Thomas Wheatley, Director of Organizing at Freedom to Marry who was part of the Basic Rights Oregon team that helped develop the Oregon campaign. “These conversations aren’t always easy or comfortable. But as we’ve seen in Oregon and across the country, when we meet people where they’re at and talk authentically about why marriage matters, we build support that lasts.”

“The conversation about marriage has come a long way in the past few years, but it’s not over yet,” said Matt McTighe, who led the Mainers United for Marriage campaign. “We learned so much from the work that had been done before us, and it’s exciting to see that what we learned and did is now helping to shape the way we talk about marriage today.”

Photos on the cover of the new resource by Familia Roots Photography, Emily Wren Photography, and Merlardo Productions Ltd. 

Read and Share An Ally’s Guide to Talking About Marriage for Same-Sex Couples at The Movement Advancement Project or at Freedom to Marry