“Mom, guess what I learned in school today! I learned how a prince married a prince, and I can marry a princess!”
Kids say the darndest things, don’t they? Over the past decade, the Right has drummed up fears that marriage equality will indoctrine children into a homosexual lifestyle. In the overwhelming majority of the state ballot initiatves on same-sex marriage up until 2012, the Right’s tactics in advertising and other areas have carried the day.
A new Political Research Associates briefing paper, “The Right’s Marriage Message: Talking Tolerance, Marketing Inequality,” (pdf) authored by researcher and activist David Dodge, provides an analysis of right-wing messaging–including insights into why they lost this year–to help LGBTQ organizers preparing for the next round.
This past November, equality organizers won in Minnesota, Washington, Maine, and Maryland, either passing same-sex marriage or defeating attempts to enshrine discrimination in the state constitution, in a surprising sweep. But, as Dodge warns, the Right will be back and better prepared, so we must remain vigilant.
2012 witnessed a significant shift in the Right’s messaging strategy. Advertisers largely abandoned their overtly homophobic messages, such as “Kids in Schools,” in favor of “Victims” religious liberty messaging, which details the “harm” done to churches, businesses, and individuals who oppose marriage equality. While other factors were in play, giving up the consistently successful “Kids in Schools” message took its toll, while the emerging religious liberty argument didn’t test as well in this field trial.
What, then, will the next campaign look like? In the new PRA report, Dodge analyzes the language in and data on dozens of ads over the years, outlining messaging strategies, how often they are used, and how effective they are in reaching voters. As the Right recovers from this election and does some soul searching, it’s likely they will revive faithful winning strategies. For this reason, Dodge’s historical context and analysis will be particularly helpful to advocates planning next steps.
As we enjoy the touching photos and stories coming out of Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington this month, we can also use this report to look to future campaigns and, hopefully, victories.