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Whatever the Outcomes, Volunteers & Groups Fought Hard for Marriage Equality

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Monday Nov 5, 2012

With Nov. 6, LGBT voters are fully engaged, both with the presidential election but also marriage-equality ballot initiatives in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. have prompted local and national organizations to form United for Marriage, a campaign to recruit grassroots in these battleground states.

Leaders from the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and Freedom to Marry have joined with local organizations to form United for Marriage, which is bringing volunteers to the battleground states. "We are three national organizations working for LGBT equality, and this is a great opportunity to show we are all united in the fight for marriage equality," said HRC Deputy Field Director Jeremy Pittman, who is optimistic of victory in all four states: "The polling looks good with about 50 percent support nationwide, so there’s strong momentum nationally and in the states." He also points to important new allies, most notably President Obama and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (better known as the NAACP).

The coalition is trying to get people to "take a vacation from whatever else they’re doing and join us in this campaign" for a week or so before the election, said Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. After online training, volunteers use airline miles to fly to one of those key states for a weekend to talk to residents about the issue.

Celebrities, including Sandra Bernhard and John Waters, have joined pro-gay rights politicians like Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to present, a social media campaign encouraging young people to vote that is releasing videos every day about the ballot initiatives. In Maryland (where the NAACP is headquartered), a group of leading African-American pastors has announced support for marriage-equality legislation. "We are urging Marylanders to vote ’Yes’ on Question 6," said Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of the Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, "and to make sure all couples and their families are treated fairly and equally under the law."

Cashing In On The Friendly Skies

Through Travel for Change, people can donate their airline miles to get volunteers where they have to be to work for passage of marriage equality ballot initiatives and the defeat of an anti-marriage amendment in Minnesota. No matter what happens on Election Day, said Nipper, the campaign will generate a lot of data and a strategy to maintain momentum.

"We are really at a tipping point with marriage equality and feel very strongly that a majority of American people are OK with people getting married," she said. "We will take these lessons we learn and keep moving forward toward a country where anyone is able to marry whomever they love."

Jay Cash, campaign director for United for Marriage National, said this is the first time these organizations had cooperated on a joint field effort with combined staff and funding.

"We have committed people who are passionate about this and flying across the country because we’ve seen on the ground that when someone that excited and prepared comes in, it can really uplift a campaign," Cash told EDGE. Having volunteers from other states invest their time in outreach campaigns also lets the organizations demonstrate to their donor base in states like Texas and Louisiana that they are contributing and connected to a national movement. This is important, because the big battles of the future will be waged in the red states.

Freedom to Marry has invested more than $3 million in these four campaigns, with $525,000 going to Washington alone. In Maine, the group recently announced a pledge to match donations up to $200,000, which would bring its investment to $1 million this year.

"With the launch of ’Yes on 1,’ there’s no better time for this incredibly generous match offer," said Marc Solomon, national campaign manager at Freedom to Marry. "It has always been a lifeline for our campaign, and this latest critical infusion will help put us over the top to win at the ballot in November. The goal is very clear: it’s to provide these campaigns with the resources and volunteers they need in this final stretch."

Grassroots Action the Key to Success

New York won marriage equality in 2011 after a carefully orchestrated, multifaceted campaign in which Gov. Andrew Cuomo brought the state’s LGBT and human rights groups together with unions, political groups and sympathetic religious organizations. United for Marriage hopes to find similar success with its coordinated four-state effort.

"The New York campaign showed us a lot of things, including the power of a strong coalition," said Pittman. "They included all the LGBT organizations, but also labor unions and other political groups willing to go out and be front and center about marriage equality, and activate their members to take action. Another key lesson from New York was the importance of having one-on-one conversations, having rank-and-file members talk to family, friends and neighbors."

On the opposing side, groups such as the conservative National Organization for Marriage invested large sums fighting the re-election of the four Republican New York state senators who voted for marriage equality last year. But despite millions pledged, the primary results hardly measured up to NOM’s claim that "a vote for gay marriage is a career-ender."

That President Obama and the Democratic Party are standing strong for marriage equality is helpful but, ultimately, one-on-one conversations make the most difference, according to Solomon. "It’s about making the case to people why marriage matters, why loving and committed same-sex couples want to marry, and why it’s important to them," he said. The local campaigns are "actually encouraging people from the state where these campaigns are happening to go home and take some time to work for marriage equality."

Marriage Equality USA has produced a one-page summary of the party platforms, available here.

"It is clear from the research that how each of us votes has a profound impact on not just our own lives but the lives of our LGBT friends and families," said MEUSA Executive Director Brian Silva. "Analyzing the party platforms is essential to understanding their philosophies and plans; their effect on LGBT Americans has not been documented in one place until now."


  • Wayne Madden, 2012-10-31 22:05:12

    Get out and vote - and in spite of anything else they may promise, support only those candidates that will support our equality and human rights as well as the equality and human rights of others.

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