Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Marriage Message: "We are normal people."

Rev. Haffner is on the road this week. This guest blog is by Tim Palmer, who leads the Religious Institute's LGBT inclusion initiatives.

Equality California has asked me (and tens of thousands of others) to help “craft marriage messaging that works.” They sent along a report from Freedom to Marry summarizing findings from 75 research studies on marriage for same-sex couples, as well as a summary of what EQCA has learned from thousands of face-to-face conversations with Californians who voted for Proposition 8 in 2008.

I am skeptical about this “messaging” business. If marriage equality were simply a matter of finding the right slogans, we would have it by now. It’s not so much the words we use in one campaign or even in one conversation – it’s the fact that we wage campaigns and have conversations, over and over again, that attitudes begin to shift.

Fortunately, that is what Freedom to Marry prescribes. Its report is not a set of talking points, but a strategic assessment that recognizes that resistance to marriage rights for same-sex couples “takes time and engagement to resolve." If nothing else, the setbacks suffered in California and Maine have taught us how to frame a stronger argument. For instance:
  • Emphasize that same-sex couples want to join marriage – not change it, redefine it, or even rename it. The goal is not to establish “gay marriage,” but to remove the restrictions that prohibit gay people from marrying.
  • Speak to the heart first, then the head. Invoking simple fairness and the golden rule are proving to be more effective than sterile appeals for rights.
  • Show the commitment of gay couples who are already doing the work of marriage in everyday life.
This last point calls to mind the recent story of the lesbian couple in Colorado whose children were turned out of their Catholic primary school. The ensuing controversy compelled two women who would have preferred their privacy to make a public statement.

“We are normal people,” they write. “We have two children, a nice house, and a dog. We both hold professional jobs in the community. You would likely pass us on the street and not take much notice.” The women – both lifelong Catholics, whose children have been baptized in the faith – go on to describe their commitment to the church and their hopes for their children to receive a Catholic education.

These are parents, not activists. They are not arguing that the church must change its doctrine of marriage. They are appealing, rather, for “positive changes in the hearts and minds of others.”

“It is easy to have ideas and opinions when they are abstract,” they write. “When you meet the real people you are judging, you sometimes see things differently. We will continue to raise our children with strong Catholic values and hold faith that through our actions, we are doing our part to create a more loving, inclusive world.”

Sounds like a winning message to me.

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