How Gay Marriage Won at the Ballot Box
One of the strongest arguments opponents have used against gay marriage has been that the issue never won at the ballot box.
On 32 different occasions, voters have rejected the concept of gay marriage.
That argument was blown out of the water, four times over, this year with big pro-marriage wins in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.
But it took a whole lot more than just casting a vote to win marriage equality in three states and hold back a constitutional ban in the fourth.
In fact, it took more than $37.5 million and 46,000 volunteers to achieve such a feat. In Minnesota alone, 27,000 people volunteered in the last week alone, making 900,000 phone calls and knocking on 400,000 doors.
"It was amazing," said Richard Carlbom, campaign manager for Minnesotans United for All Families. "We had 68,000 individuals invest in this campaign who donated money at least one time. That is unbelievable. That’s a serious investment. And that doesn’t count people who contributed less than 20 bucks. The fact is thousands and thousands invested in this campaign."
Carlbom said they raised more than $11 million while their opponents raised close to $3-4 million.
In Minnesota, though, gay marriage is still illegal.
"We’re going to now determine what the next step in this conversation will be," he said. "First we want to celebrate the fact that we beat this amendment."
Unlike the other three states, Maine is the only one that had several years to get their message across to voters. In 2009, Maine was poised to become the first state to pass gay marriage legislatively with a governor’s signature. Instead their opponents got it on the ballot and repealed the law.
This time around, instead of playing defense, they played offensive.
"We started from scratch in 2010. We decided to be proactive and take our time, instead of going through the courts. We developed a grass roots approach. We were setting the pace. We were the ones setting the timeline and we didn’t know if we were going to bring it up in 2012 or 2020," said Matt McTighe, campaign manager for Mainers United for Marriage. "Whenever we felt like the approach was working we’d bring it up. The last 2-and-a-half-years have been hard work and we’ve used a sophisticated strategy."
This time around, McTighe said it was all about changing minds one voter at a time.
"Our whole entire approach was different. We took a door-to-door approach. We built a sizable infrastructure and taught our volunteers how to have really in-depth, one-on-one conversations with voters," he said.
The campaign contacted 250,000 people through phone calls and door knocks. They had more than 6,000 volunteers and raised more than $8 million.
Their biggest challenge?
"Gay marriage had never won before. Our opponents had a playbook they had successfully used 32 times. That’s why we put a considerable amount into research and well thought out testing, to create and execute a game plan. We used the most sophisticated voter modeling known to man," he said.
But unlike the other states they also had a considerable time advantage.
"We had some great partners to try new things. We had so much time to work out any of the kinks in the system and really hone the strategy," he said.
The other two states, Maryland and Washington, took similar paths this past year with both state legislatures voting for gay marriage and then opponents getting it on the ballot where they had to defend it.
In Maryland, they focused a lot of their outreach on African Americans.
"We nearly split the vote in the African American community. That’s a huge milestone. We had the sense that African Americans were not willing to vote for marriage equality so we put a lot of time and effort into getting the message out and it paid off," said Josh Levin, Campaign Manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality.
It also helped that the NAACP is based in Baltimore and earlier this year they endorsed marriage equality.
"Our partnership with them was tremendous. I can’t say enough about them," he said.