Moving the Middle on Marriage:  Lessons from Maine and Washington

Moving the Middle on Marriage:  Lessons from Maine and Washington
By Rachel Laser, Lanae Erickson, and Jim Kessler
Published by Third Way, February, 2010

In November 2009, gay equality advocates faced two state ballot initiatives intended to roll back recent gains made in state legislatures on relationship recognition. Question 1 in Maine asked voters whether to reject a law allowing gay couples to marry, and Referendum 71 in Washington State asked voters to approve or reject an expansion of the state’s domestic partnership law. On election day, Maine’s Question 1 passed 53% to 47%, overturning the marriage law in that state, while Washington’s Referendum 71 was approved 53% to 47%, granting domestic partners “rights, responsibilities, and obligations... equivalent to those of married spouses” under state law.

Working with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Third Way conducted two polls, one in Washington and one in Maine, immediately following the elections. This memo offers Third Way’s analysis of the key findings from that research and lays out our thoughts and initial insights about what may be the best way forward towards achieving relationship recognition and marriage in the future.

As evidenced by drastically narrowing margins on ballot initiatives in the last decade, our country is already evolving on relationship recognition and marriage. But we believe that there is a group of people in the middle that has the ability to either speed or slow our journey.2 In order to reach the middle, we must not only identify and emphasize the values that we share with them, like equality and human dignity, but we must also address their concerns head on.

The equality argument which advocates have focused on thus far has taken us a long way, but it does not sufficiently address the underlying fears that are keeping the middle from taking that final step to support marriage. We need something in addition to equality—we’ll call it “Equality Plus”—in order to bring the middle along faster.

In this memo, we’ll discuss four things:

  1. Who is the Middle?
  2. What is the Middle’s Mindset?
  3. Why is Equality Insufficient to get the Middle to Marriage?
  4. What does “Equality Plus” Mean?