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09 November 2011

Praise: Third Way on Gay Marriage Commitment

Third Way, a centrist think tank, has written a study, Commitment: The Answer to the Middle's Questions on Marriage for Gay Couples.  They look at the facts from polling and have some interesting conclusions.

They note at the start that things are changing.

For the first time, national polls indicate that a majority of Americans now support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

They then proceed with a series of very important lessons.  (Boldface as in the original).

In this report, we unravel the mysteries of the middle and set out a series of lessons gleaned from our qualitative and quantitative research—all aimed at moving the middle from supporters to solid and sustained allies on the path to marriage. And the most important lesson is that advocating for marriage in terms of commitment, not rights, is paramount.

The first lesson is that moving to marriage equality is not a done deal.  Support is growing, but not solid enough to relax.  They break down the data from recent polling to get some interesting numbers.  The full report is only ten pages and worth reading. 

The second lesson is that people need to understand marriage as commitment, not rights.

Most Americans think that marriage is about commitment, obligation, and responsibility. That is why the solemnity of the ceremony and vows are so important—because they represent a one-of-a-kind promise of lifetime commitment and fidelity, made publicly in front of family and friends.

The second lesson concludes

The importance of lifetime commitment and fidelity to the middle’s idea of marriage cannot be overstated. It is the central way they view the tradition of marriage—a tradition which they see as very important in organizing their own lives and society at large.

The third lesson is that we need to explain why we want to wed.

For years, advocates have often focused on rights and benefits, not commitment, when talking about why gay couples want to marry. This mismatch may have exacerbated an existing disconnect in the minds of the middle, perpetuating the notion that gay couples want to marry for different reasons than other couples, or worse, implying that gay couples don’t truly understand what marriage is about.

In a sense, this is a catch-22.  How can one who is denied marriage explain that one understands that which is denied.  Back to the importance of commitment in the explanation.

The theme of commitment continues in the fourth lesson.  Commitment is the message that those in the middle need to hear.

The rights frame appeals to our base supporters, but at this point in the evolution of public opinion, we can already count on them. To move the middle, we must convince them that gay couples want to marry for similar reasons that other couples do—to make a public promise of love and commitment.

The fifth lesson is a little different, people are looking for excuses to do so before changing their minds.

The middle is looking for permission to change their minds about why gay couples marry.

From the beginning, our research showed that Americans are on a journey when it comes to acceptance of gay people, gay couples, and ultimately, marriage.

Using a third party testimonial to model that journey resonates with the middle and helps to further their own journey—especially when that journey speaks directly to why gay couples want to marry. Marriage supporters can use a messenger with whom the middle can identify to deliver the information that we know changes their minds: gay couples want to marry for commitment, not rights.

The sixth, and last, lesson is that religion is not a permanent blockage to marriage equality.

Another crucial reassurance marriage supporters must provide to the middle is the notion that allowing gay couples to marry is about making a commitment—not changing religious institutions.

Very religious voters are a long way from supporting marriage. However, for much of the middle faith is important, but it is not the only internal compass in their lives.

As a writer, I have been focusing on equality, civil rights, and human rights.  Third Way is proposing a different tack.  The full study is worth reading.  I did not quote any of the supporting data that they present, just looking at their approach.  Lots of useful data and more detailed conclusions.

Thanks to Care2 for the heads up.

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