Welcome to the tipping point. Since DOMA passed in 1996, all 32 state referenda on gay marriage have gone against us. Last night, we won all four: For the first time ever, voters approved gay marriage in Maryland (52% - 48%), Maine (53% - 47%), and Washington (52% - 48%). All the more astounding because Mainers rejected gay marriage just three years ago in 2009. Beyond bringing marriage equality to a total of ten states, the triple victories shatter the argument that judges who rule in favor of gay marriage are imposing something voters are unanimously against. The huge momentum makes it increasingly difficult for Justices Kennedy and Roberts to side with the Court's outdated homophobes when they rule on gay marriage and/or DOMA cases later this session. (On November 20 they select which cases to hear.) Also last night, for the first second time voters rejected a constitutional ban against gay marriage, in Minnesota.
- Iowans retained the senate majority so marriage can't be undone there, and the effort to recall a pro-gay marriage judge failed.
- Wisconsin elected the nation's first out US senator, Tammy Baldwin.
- California and New York elected their first openly gay Congressmen, Mark Takano and Sean Maloney.
- Coloradans flipped the house to democratic control and will have a gay man, Mark Ferrandino, as Speaker of the House, and possibly the senate leader will be Pat Steadman, also gay.
So, how did we go from zero to 100% victories for gay marriage? Nathaniel Frank offers this inside look, which confirms what I've long heard from pollsters: "fairness" is not a motivating concern to the majority of voters.
"...the key to dismantling the anti-gay myths of the last 40 years. For decades, gay advocates had framed their arguments in terms of equal rights and government benefits, often using rhetoric that was confrontational (“We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”) and demanding (“We deserve equal rights now!”). Third Way, a centrist think tank working in the coalition with Freedom To Marry, began to unpack exactly how straight people reacted to such tactics. The group found that when straight people were asked what marriage meant to them, they spoke of love, commitment and responsibility. But when asked why they thought gay people wanted to marry, they cited rights and benefits. Tapping into anti-gay stereotypes, they suggested gay people wanted marriage for selfish reasons while they themselves wanted to express love and commitment.
"The gay rights coalition’s response was the “Why Marriage Matters” campaign. Its message was “love, commitment, family,” with no mention of rights or benefits. On the surface, it looks like any garden-variety public education campaign, a little vague, a little sappy. But this message was the result of several years and millions of dollars of research. It signaled a sea change in the way gay advocates pled their case. This was a way to invite straight people to empathize with gay people, to reassure the majority that gay people wanted the same things that they did, and to shift focus from minority rights to points of commonality. The year Why Marriage Matters rolled out, 2011, was also the year that a slew of polls first showed majority national support for same-sex marriage."
Another factor was money. Gay money, straight money, even straight Republican money, went a long way toward helping get out the gay message and countering the other side's scare tactics. Washington's group raised over $12 million from more than 27,000 donors and the most common donation was $25. At the other end of the spectrum Tim Gill, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Mike Bloomberg, Paul Singer, Cliff Asness, and Brad Pitt were among the many who gave significant six- or seven-figure contributions. A crucial, uncelebrated player is Jennifer Cast, a lesbian whose direct ask to Bezos yielded $2.5 million to Washington United for Marriage, which inspired many other donations.
Let's also take a moment to reflect on the naysayers, including many gay people, who claimed Obama's support of gay marriage was political suicide. In fact, it helped him seem relevant to disenchanted young voters, who actually comprised a greater share of the electorate yesterday than in 2008. And it must be said the president's support, however delayed and reluctant, prompted the NAACP's and many others' support, hastening the nation's evolving acceptance of gay marriage.