How do you change the deeply held beliefs of a nation? Here’s one strategy.

April 17, 2015

Updated 6/25/2015 at 10:15 a.m. EDT

A box of cupcakes are seen topped with icons of same-sex couples at City Hall in San Francisco

A box of cupcakes topped with icons of same-sex couples at City Hall in San Francisco, June 29, 2013. . REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The transformation over the last 20 years in how Americans view gay people is the result of one of the most successful social justice movements of modern time.

The stunning shift has taken place because we have shown Americans who gay people are — that we are family members, neighbors and co-workers. With this awakened understanding, public support for the freedom to marry has now increased to 63 percent from 27 percent in 1996. There is majority support in every region of the country.

As recently as 10 years ago, Republican officials viewed the freedom to marry as a sure-fire wedge issue. But support for ending marriage discrimination is now a bipartisan political imperative across most of the United States.

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Credit: MATT MAHURIN

Same-sex couples were unable to marry anywhere 15 years ago, but today gay couples can officially marry in 20 countries across five continents, in addition to here in the United States.

The freedom to marry has just been ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court;  a 5 to 4 decision that matches the consensus of the country.

How did we build this broad social consensus that it is wrong to discriminate against gay people and unfair to exclude same-sex couples from the freedom to marry? The chief engine of this extraordinary change has been the wider discussion, greater visibility and increased awareness of shared values, understanding and empathy generated by the freedom to marry movement.

After some losses and blows to our efforts, we decided to overhaul the messaging in 2010. Working with partner organizations and movement supporters, we combined polling data research with the lessons learned through experience to figure out what messages and messengers could help build the majority we were seeking.

Research showed us that we had to shift our emphasis from abstract talk of rights and benefits to more personal connections tied to values. We had to touch the heart as well as the mind. Rather than focusing on, for example, how exclusion from marriage can mean denial of health coverage, Social Security or other critical legal protection, we talked more about the love and commitment that are at the heart of the desire to marry for gay and non-gay couples alike. We needed to highlight our connectedness.

Same sex couples take their vows during a group wedding at the First Baptist Church in Seattle

Same sex couples take their vows during a group wedding at the First Baptist Church in Seattle, Washington, December 9, 2012. REUTERS/Jordan Stead

After cracking the code on the right kind of message, we focused on the delivery. We told true stories about how crucial marriage is to the lives of same-sex couples. We built a powerful drumbeat with reinforcing messengers — not only same-sex couples, but their parents, grandparents, children and friends. We elicited affirmation from respected community members, including first responders, labor and business leaders, military officers and elected officials.

We invested millions of dollars in building strong, well-resourced media and digital campaigns, recruiting staff, partners and talent in states that were debating freedom-to-marry legislation. And we saw artists, bloggers and journalists step up to pose questions and move hearts in important ways. ,

To help widen our reach and base of support, we worked with allied groups — Latino and African-American civil-rights organizations, labor unions and faith congregations — to enlist and present the stories of same-sex couples and their families. This demonstrated the breadth and diversity of support and reinforced the understanding that the need for the freedom to marry is personal, local and involves people like you.

We also turned to notable individuals to champion our cause — from former Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wy.) to legendary civil rights leader Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.). We used TV ads and social media and launched public-education campaigns, such as Why Marriage Matters (a set of resources and partnerships to give people clear reasons to offer when making the case) and Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry (to encourage right-of-center allies and advocates).

Married couple Bill Hacket, 53, and Thom Uber hold hands in West Hollywood

Married couple Bill Hacket, 53, (L) and Thom Uber hold hands in West Hollywood, California, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, June 26, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

We sought to open the window so all Americans could hear the stories of gays and lesbians and the non-gay people who know and love them.

A big part of our campaign focused on “journey” stories — showing how parents, neighbors, veterans or die-hard conservatives had changed their minds and come to support the freedom to marry. When key people spoke out, notably President Barack Obama, it gave undecided Americans permission to “evolve” in their thinking, at their own pace.

Throughout, Freedom to Marry served as a central hub for state campaigns tackling legislative and ballot measures, raising unprecedented amounts to fuel our campaign and making our case through innovative social media as well as traditional forms of communication.

We built on our wins to bring the conversation to regions emerging as new battlegrounds — from the Midwest to the South. With a tenacious investment of time and money to develop needed campaigns in states as well as to navigate Congress, we stuck with our strategy of building a critical mass of states and public support to convince decision-makers, elected and judicial, to do the right thing when it was time for litigation.

Our campaign to attain the freedom to marry finally brought us, as intended, to the Supreme Court. With the ruling announced Friday, we have attained our long-sought, hard-fought goal of winning marriage nationwide. This is a testament to the power of the marriage vocabulary and activist engagement.

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Plaintiffs Kody Partridge and her wife Laurie Wood, Derek Kitchen and his partner Moudi Sbeity attend a same-sex marriage rally in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

But the work is far from over. It should not be legal to fire, refuse services or deny housing to people because of their sexual orientation, sex or gender identity.

Nor should states open a can of worms by allowing discriminatory individuals or businesses to opt out of following a law just because they want to — even when guised as “religious liberty.”

Thanks to an outpouring of support from American businesses — that now understand the urgency of speaking out for gay people — we got a crucial, if still incomplete, fix in Indiana’s atrocious “RFRA” law.

But there still is no affirmative protection against discrimination in states like Indiana and Arkansas. Meanwhile, too many other states are mulling further discrimination.

In fact, there is no federal law prohibiting sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. This is a pressing goal for our movement’s next chapter. We must harness the powerful vocabulary of marriage and transformative engine of winning the freedom to marry to improve lives on all fronts.

As the federal court declared when we won the freedom to marry in Utah, “It is not the Constitution that has changed, but the knowledge of what it means to be gay or lesbian.”

The Supreme Court took a major step Friday in getting our country on the right side of history. Time to end discrimination throughout the land — with liberty and justice for all.

26 comments

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Article II The Constitution states very clearly: “Understanding God’s divine nature is fundamental in setting laws.”

Oh wait. That’s the Iranian Constitution. My bad.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Number of times god or bible is mentioned in U.S. Constitution: 0

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Marriage, legally speaking (and we are talking about the law, not religious doctrines), is a contract between adults that, absent another contract that says otherwise, joins them financially, makes them next of kin and default reciprocal beneficiaries. Under a system of gender equality, there is no good reason to deny that we must keep evolving until an adult, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, monogamy or polyamory, race, or religion is free to share love, sex, residence, and marriage (and any of those without the others) with any and all consenting adults. Polyamory, polygamy, open relationships are not for everyone, but they are for some. The limited same-gender freedom to marry is a great and historic step, but is NOT full marriage equality, because equality “just for some” is not equality. Let’s stand up for EVERY ADULT’S right to marry the person(s) they love. Get on the right side of history!

Posted by KeithPullman | Report as abusive

It’s still the Christians standing in the way of social equality and general cultural progress.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

So, your welcome comments which progress the story are only those comments which support your views. You claim that which you are most guilty yourselves.

Posted by bluewater23000 | Report as abusive

Regarding the activist secular judges:

“This group of so-called intellectuals has to correct themselves. Whatever we are suffering is from this group of intellectuals and judges. What we are suffering is because of them.” -Ayatollah Khomeini (1979)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

This opinion piece is ridiculous. There is one reason and one reason only for the vast change in opinion of the American public. It is a matter of brainwashing, and nothing more. The oligarch .01% in NYC has decided to support the idea of homosexual marriage. A number of them are homosexuals or have homosexuals close to them. They have instructed their proxies in the media, especially the film and television industry, to produce films and programs that glorify homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and attack anyone who disagrees. Audiovisual media, driven by uniform subliminal and overt messages, is a very powerful brainwashing tool.

Posted by JohnManfred | Report as abusive

Interesting piece, especially regarding the change of strategy that took place among gay activists…was unaware of the fact that there was such an intentional and well organized strategy to promote gay rights. The only negative is that the author comes across as someone unwilling to understand a different point of view. Ironic, considering he is a part of a group asking all of America to do just that.

Posted by TruthOnTrial | Report as abusive

Why do gay people believe they MUST change the minds of people who disagree with them? Do gays really believe they are going to change the minds of 1.6 billion followers of Islam…~25% of the world’s population? By any and all means possible…to the point of outright militancy? The gay fight vs. Islam will not end as they hope…to say nothing of other world cultures who do not embrace them. Why the unending, militant aggression that only alienates them?

Posted by sarkozyrocks | Report as abusive

sarkozyrocks asks: “Why the unending, militant aggression that only alienates them?”

Examples, please. I hear about all these “militant” gays…. but never actually see them. I’m sure you can fill us in though.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

All one has to do to change the “deeply held” beliefs of any nation is to raise up a generation or two of non thinking lemmings marching to the sea.

Posted by drwbbmd | Report as abusive

It’s not that gay people want to “change the minds” of people who disagree with them; I’d guess that the vast majority are comfortable with themselves even though they know there are those who disagree. Rather, gay people want only to live their lives free from the interference of others who have no business getting into the lives of gay people. Being able to live your life free from that kind of interference — with liberty — is one the United States’ core values.

Posted by Randy549 | Report as abusive

The Nazis changed a cultured and intelligent nation’s belief system as well, using very similar tactics as have been utilized by the LGBT group.

Posted by jekelman | Report as abusive

Gay is not a gender neutral term. It’s guys, end of discussion.

Posted by Jaffar29 | Report as abusive

According to the bible and contrary to popular belief, we are all ‘born that way’. We are all imperfect, broken, self-centered people and so end up hurting people in order to preserve ourselves even when we don’t mean to. There’s just something inside of us that makes us like that. True Christianity is about taking our eyes off of ourselves and placing them on someone greater than ourselves – God who came to the world as a man Jesus Christ and humbled Himself to die a criminals death on the cross in order to save us from ourselves by taking away what makes us broken. His is a pure sacrificial love and one that we should all have towards each regardless of what they believe.

Posted by ImJustSaying00 | Report as abusive

Marriage is such archaic, silly institution maybe people just don’t care that much one way or the other. I don’t.

Posted by Steve851 | Report as abusive

You folks failed to brainwash me.

Posted by Nieman | Report as abusive

There is no “right” to marry.
It is Homosexual, not GAY! I am so sick of them changing the very language.
I am not “homophobic.”
2 percent of the population, dictating to the other 98 percent is decidedly UNamerican.
Which poll? Oh, the author fails to mention that.
Most would vote for homosexual pride, just to shut you people up.
It is aberrant behaviour, that is not common in the animal world.
This is likely the worst written “article” I have had the displeasure to read in a long time.
The normalization of aberrant behaviour to benefit 2 percent of the country is not an elimination of homophobia, its an affront to freedom.

Posted by operaghost | Report as abusive

Here’s the way they are trying- NeoFacism. They want to control our very thoughts, they want to force us to embrace sodomy and AIDS spreading and murdering babies as birth control, and if you don’t? Then they go after your job and try to ruin you, saying your personal beliefs are “prejudice” or “racism”.

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

Same sex/same-gendered unions do not constitute Biblical marriages. Fellow believers, let’s not forget who drove them to this point… WE, that is, the Church did. The state is permitted to sanction whatever unions they want to. We have failed to put forth a coherent orthodoxy and follow a consistent orthopraxy. We started the melee, and we lost. IMHO, there are other very serious issues we can concentrate our time and formidable resources toward- other than this issue. Let’s fight something we can win and will do us all some good… affordable healthcare, ending homelessness, equal pay for women, sensible immigration policies, fair tax system, climate control, strong military, etc.

Posted by XavierJustice | Report as abusive

Simple really, once people get past their bigotry and realize in all likeliness that they know someone who is LGBT, they realize that these people deserve the same from our government as anyone else.

Posted by pyradius | Report as abusive

The republicans have lost on this issue. Their platform remains unchanged and pushes more bans, yet their restrictive marriage bans are crumbling around them.

And you know what, republicans? I told you so.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Only 20 years for civil rights for gays, 150 years for Civil Rights for African Americans — and African Americans are still so far from being integrated into US society.

Posted by HippieCocoMomma | Report as abusive

So basically its because of well managed propaganda, like most dictators use.

Posted by NXJ11 | Report as abusive

Christians accusing gay rights advocates of propaganda when they themselves indoctrinate children before they can even speak, promote dangerous practices in third world countries and financially support an organization protecting child molesters. What a time to be alive.

Posted by Hulls | Report as abusive

He says, “After cracking the code on the right kind of message, we focused on the delivery. We told true stories about how crucial marriage is to the lives of same-sex couples. We built a powerful drumbeat with reinforcing messengers — not only same-sex couples, but their parents, grandparents, children and friends.”

Yes, this was working with most of us, until the Supreme Court pulled the rug from under that few hold-outs. Now, we have to protect the rights of the hold-outs. You just couldn’t wait a few more years, when you’ve waited millennia, could you? Thanks, for your brotherly love, NOT!

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive