In my previous post, "Here Come the Lies," I laid out the opposition's playbook for scaring voters away from supporting marriage for same-sex couples in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. Halloween may be three weeks away, but the fright fest has already begun.
Last week the opposition began airing ads in all four states using nearly identical language. (The URL for one of the Maine ads even carries the words "first-minnesota-for-marriage-tv-ad.") Voters were treated to the phony kinder-gentler tone that mainstream anti-gay campaigns have to adopt at a time when a solid majority of America supports marriage for committed gay and lesbian couples.
"Everyone has a right to love whom they choose, but nobody has a right to redefine marriage," says the voiceover in the Maine and Minnesota ads. "Everyone is entitled to love and respect, but nobody is entitled to redefine marriage," says the Maryland version. In Washington the attempt at finesse is dropped in favor of this contorted reassurance: "You can oppose same-sex marriage and not be anti-gay."
Fortunately, organizers in all four states have spent months showcasing the stories of committed gay and lesbian couples who want to join, not change or redefine, the institution of marriage. Undecided voters have also met people like them who may have been uncomfortable with the idea at first but came to realize that gay people want to marry for similar reasons as anyone else: to make a lifetime promise in front of their loved ones, and to honor and protect their families.
Leaders behind the opposition campaigns know that they need to go further than "love whom you choose, just don't call it marriage" if they want to win these elections. They have to spin tales of scary consequences, depicting the horrible things that will go wrong if there are more loving couples committing themselves to marriage in our society.
One of the opening ads in Maine splashes these dire outcomes across the screen: "Fired. Sued. Fined. Punished." In it, a spokesman for Maine's 2009 campaign to repeal the freedom to marry, a school guidance counselor, claims, "They tried to get me fired." The ad goes on to assert, "When gay marriage has become law elsewhere, people who disagree with it have been fired, sued, fined and punished."
Mainers United for Marriage was quick to point out the baseless and misleading nature of the claims. Their fact-check site contains the full truth, facts applicable to all four states that will be subjected to this lie. The truth is that allowing same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses has not caused an increase in lawsuits, firings or other negative consequences in any state where same-sex marriage has been made legal. Longstanding state anti-discrimination laws set the rules governing claims of discrimination. Those rules, which are not related to marriage, will not change in November's elections.
True to the opposition's formula, they found an isolated example of a case that could be stretched to resemble the fear they're peddling, but it doesn't hold up to closer scrutiny. At the time that colleagues of the guidance counselor filed work-related complaints against him in 2009, Maine actually did not allow same-sex couples to marry. Some of his colleagues made the complaint, based on an interpretation of National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, because they were concerned about the ability of students to seek appropriate support from this particular guidance counselor in their school. Ultimately, the complaints against him were dropped without repercussions for him. There was no lawsuit filed in relation to this complaint or the guidance counselor's activities as a spokesperson and opponent of the freedom to marry. In essence, the system protecting freedom of expression worked. And no one was fired or sued.
The bottom line, says Maine campaign manager Matt McTighe, is that "people have strong opinions on both sides of marriage. Allowing same-sex couples to marry won't change people's freedom to speak out and say what they believe."
Check out the fact-check sites in Washington and Minnesota for a further dose of the reality that these anti-gay campaigns don't want people to see. Campaigns in all four states have smart strategies that will keep voters connected to the core values that we know win hearts and minds for the freedom to marry. Check them out to see what you can do to get the facts and dial back the fear.