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Low-key vote-yes ads frame marriage issue as one of voters' rights

Marriage amendment ad
Two new ads supporting the marriage amendment emphasize voter decision-making.

Minnesota for Marriage, the group pushing to insert a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution, on Monday released its first two TV ads. A far cry from the breathless, ominous ads that have aired in other states to date, the 30-second spots depict the central issue as the rights of voters, not those of same-sex couples.

In fact, neither ad so much as mentions the words “gay” or “lesbian.” Instead they are peppered with mentions of “voters,” “voting” and “the people.”

Also missing from the ads are the standard warnings of dire consequences: Children will be indoctrinated into homosexuality in school and parents who object will be jailed, churches will be forced to conduct LGBT weddings, businesses will be sued and liberties ranging from freedom to worship to gun ownership will be threatened.  

Instead, the low-key spots frame what’s at stake as making sure it’s voters who control whether gay marriage is legal, not courts or legislatures.

“They’re trying to make arguments that are not going to be seen as bigotry or anti-gay,” said Kate Knutson, a professor of political science at Gustavus Adolphus College whose research has followed marriage amendment campaigns. “I think it’s very effective.

Use of to state's civic culture

“They may play on Minnesota’s civic culture in a way that resonates more than in other states,” Knutson added.

The first opens to grainy, home-movie-style frames of heterosexual couples enjoying their weddings. “Marriage as the union of a man and a woman has served society well for thousands of years,” explains the voiceover. “Marriage is more than a commitment of two loving people. It was made by God for the creation and care of the next generation.”

Several shots of mothers and newborns are followed by a montage of families of different races and then by a flag-bedecked polling place. “Marriage is an issue that should be decided by the people,” the narration continues. “Voting yes secures traditional marriage in the constitution and ensures that only voters can determine the definition of marriage in the future.”

Kalley Yanta
Former KSTP-TV anchor Kalley Yanta serves as the spokesperson for Minnesotans for Marriage.

The other, in which former KSTP-TV anchor Kalley Yanta sits on a couch, her fingers curled around a coffee mug, frames the issue as making sure that the definition of marriage is decided “by people, not judges or politicians.”

'Voters will have lost their say'

As she taps an iPad, a screen showing two men and a legal document pops up, followed by an image of the state Senate chamber. “Right now, there’s a court case in Hennepin County to redefine marriage. And some powerful legislators want to do the same thing,” she continues. “If they succeed, voters will have lost their say. Everyone has a right to love who they choose but nobody has a right to redefine marriage.”

The tone of Minnesota for Marriage’s initial ads is much softer than some three dozen online videos it has circulated over the last year. Indeed, one of the most recent frames the goal of keeping voters in control a little differently.

“The amendment does not end the conversation about marriage, it ensures that voters are always in charge of the conversation,” it says. “Gay activists would have to get the permission of voters in order to redefine marriage in the future.”

Heather LaMarre is a journalism professor at the University of Minnesota and an expert on political psychology. The ads are very sophisticated, she said, and suggest that the vote-yes campaign is employing psychographic research to reach pockets of swing voters by using messages that speak to their attitudes.

“The first ad is pretty straightforward, using a traditional religious frame,” she said. “It clearly appeals to social conservatives.”

Framed as 'voters versus elites'

The second, which talks only about resting the decision with voters and not about marriage per se, is more narrowly targeted. “The second ad re-frames the debate as a ‘voters’ versus ‘elites’ issue,” LaMarre said. “By focusing on how voters should decide the definition of marriage, as opposed to legislators or judges, the ad appeals to people who don't like government intrusion.

“This seems to be an attempt to gain libertarian conservatives' support,” she added. “The first ad appeals to the social conservatives while the second ad appeals to libertarian conservatives who might not oppose gay marriage, but will oppose judges' and elected officials' involvement.”

Both ads strike the same note as the Minnesota for Marriage radio ads that preceded the Legislature’s 2011 vote to place the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, Knutson noted. The continuity in terms of message is likely effective, if disingenuous, she said.

No initiative process in Minnesota

While 24 states have set up initiative processes by which citizens can initiate legislation via ballot campaigns, in Minnesota, legislation is made by elected lawmakers. “We’ve set up a representative system of government,” Knutson explained.

It is also true, she said, that in most places where same-sex marriage has been legalized it has been by the courts, although there have been legislative actions, too. Positioning marriage equality as rightfully belonging to voters is a smart strategy.

Like the vote-no coalition’s early ads, the spots likely steer around messages that have played poorly with undecided voters — typically just 10-15 percent of the electorate — in the 31 states where same-sex marriage issues have appeared on ballots.

In state after state, gay-rights supporters have struggled fruitlessly to combat the frightening messages in the 11th-hour ad blitzes, produced by the same California political communications strategist credited with reversing public sentiment regarding Prop 8 in 2008.

Attaching consequences

When undecided voters are asked to think of same-sex marriage, they often say they imagine its legalization will have no impact on their own marriages. Frank Schubert, who is managing Minnesota for Marriage’s campaign as well as campaigns in the other three states facing marriage votes, has made sure to attach consequences to same-sex unions.  

Typically, same-sex marriage proponents’ logic-laden refutations of the ads have been emotionally flat or have left some undecideds feeling accused of bigotry. Ads showing gay- and lesbian-headed families have nudged up the feeling quotient but still proven ineffective.

Armed with research showing that exposure to gays and lesbians is the most effective way of changing someone’s opinions about the issue, Minnesotans United for All Families has followed a strategy based on personal conversations. The first ads produced by the group and another vote-no effort have depicted opposite-sex couples who changed their minds.

The heaviest advertising is slated to begin in mid-October. Whether the messages put out by either side will grow more strident in coming weeks remains to be seen. The vote-yes campaign has said it will broadcast ads intended to communicate the consequences of same-sex marriage.

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Comments (27)

That would be a refreshing change...

"same-sex marriage proponents’ logic-laden refutations.."

I've never seen one of these, certainly not on Minnpost, but I'd love to. Can you provide an example, Beth?

Not a change at all Mr. Swift,

Unless you have a very bad short-term memory.

Why just yesterday, I provided you a link in the comments section of the excellent MinnPost article:

Why did the Star Tribune let Matt Birk talk while ignoring Chris Kluwe?
link: http://bit.ly/VjEcNl

To make it easy for you, I include the link again:

Out Of Bounds Blog No. 14 – Problems
link: http://bit.ly/SYvBLn

I hope you actually read the article this time.

As one of the commenters on the piece put it:

"Love the civil tone & hope people see the power an argument has using facts instead of attacks. Both sides cold learn a lot by hopping on the Kluwe Bus. Smart guy."

There are 157 comments on this piece, nearly all of which are overwhelmingly favorable.

Priceless

It's your right to keep other people from enjoying the same rights as everyone else.

Jefferson Davis would be proud.

The argument is nonsensical.

They are attempting to force their definition of marriage on everyone else. Imagine their HORROR if "the public" voted to restrict marriage only to a specific religion (say Islam)--and made that a constitutional amendment. Nobody forces these people to marry. Nor is any religious group forced to perform a marriage it does not support.

This Issue Is Not About Voters!

There are some things that "voters" should have no control over. If the "voters" had their way, schools would never have been desegrated; segregation would have survived much longer in the South; housing and employment discrimination would be acceptable in most states; and on and on. Opponents of same sex marriage seem to believe that - like segregationists of old - that they ought to be able to limit the rights of others simply because they can.

Sophistication and sophistry

Minnesota for Marriage essentially has resorted to "The Big Lie." I agree that’s it’s a sophisticated approach, and it may well have its desired effect, but it’s still a lie.

Marriage, for one thing, predates Christianity by many centuries. Marriage also takes many forms, and has taken many more, over those same centuries. Yes, it's often one man and one woman. It's also often one man and several women (we could ask Mr. Romney about this…). It's also been one woman and several men. It's been between direct relatives. It's been between / among residents of whole communities. It's gotten the blessing of various religions, and it's gotten the blessing of various government entities. It’s gotten the blessing of no one but the families of the people involved.

For another, Minnesota for Marriage is proposing that we violate our own Constitution (both state and federal), by injecting religion into what is arguably a concern of the state: ““Marriage is more than a commitment of two loving people. It was made by God for the creation and care of the next generation.” Those two sentences not only make second-class citizens of every childless couple in the state, they attach to the state constitution a theological belief and assumption that's wholly unjustified.

Just rhetorically, a couple of issue come immediately to mind. How do the people who paid for the ad know that "God" created marriage, or that "God" has told them its purpose? Claiming to know God's will violates most of the theology that underlies Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant.

Since we already have a law on the books that practices overt discrimination against same-sex couples, adding that discrimination to the state constitution merely highlights the bigotry already evident in the existing law. Since the initiative process isn’t used in Minnesota, laws created by the legislature ARE laws decided “by people.” Voters have NOT “lost their say.” Legislative statutes are the only statutes recognized and enforceable in the state, so all we’re getting from Kalley Yanta is a former TV anchor explaining why she supports sexual bigotry, and wants to see it enshrined in the state constitution.

I’ve not seen any attempt by those in favor of same-sex marriage to “redefine” the institution. They seem merely to want to be able to take part in it. That doesn’t “redefine” marriage any more than two Catholics being married by a Justice of the Peace rather than a parish priest “redefines” it.

Beyond all that, what underlies the entire controversy is something approaching terror on the part of a sizable segment of the population around a type of sexuality that doesn’t fit their acquired-from-who-knows-where notion of what constitutes “normal.” Terror may win out in this case – prejudices are hard to overcome – but that won’t make the proposed amendment any less discriminatory or bigoted.

One common thread permeates the history marriage

"Yes, it's often one man and one woman. It's also often one man and several women (we could ask Mr. Romney about this…). It's also been one woman and several men. It's been between direct relatives. It's been between / among residents of whole communities."

And yet, for all those permutations, it still comes down to marriage being a male\female relationship.

Indeed, I'd have a tough time making a rational, logic based argument against polygamy, whereas the very idea of SS "marriage" defeats itself without any help.

Men are different from women

The same science classes that teach evolution and global warming teach us that men are different from women. It seems reasonable to think that a legal union between two men would be different from a legal union between two women, and both different from a legal union between a man and a woman. Marriage is the word we use to describe a heterosexual union. Feel free to find different words to describe the two homosexual unions rather than "redefine" the word marriage. Such accuracy would help this situation since the new definitions (for the legal unions) are not illegal in Minnesota and could be written into law this next legislative session.

And would you support . . . .

granting ALL the same legal rights and responsibilities (at both the state and federal level) to those who enter into these alternative forms of legal unions?

Absolutely

That's why I mentioned enacting the legislation this upcoming session. I believe that over 60% of Minnesotans support giving all of the same rights and responsibilities to homosexual unions as long as long as the relationships aren't called marriage which is the term used to describe heterosexual unions. The legislation could pass easily and I would be more than happy to support it (but secretly since I'm a bigot and filled with hate).

And how about . . . . .

getting government out of the "marriage" business altogether?

"Marriages" would be what are performed in churches according to the tenets of whatever faith is doing the "marryin'". Each church could decide whether the gender of the parties involved was an issue or not.

Whereas "civil unions" (again - the assumption here being that these unions would have all the same rights and responsibilities at both the state and federal level) would be granted/bestowed/recognized by the government, and the gender of the parties involved would not be an issue.

Some people don't like the term "civil unions" (and it has probably picked up more than its fair share of emotional baggage from years of being associated with this controversy - that whole "separate but equal" thing) or simply DO like the term "marriage".

So another possibility would be that we would have two forms of marriage: "Religious marriage" which would be described by what I wrote in my second paragraph above, and "Civil marriage" which would be described by what I wrote in my third paragraph above.

I think there are a number of ways to address this that maintain the division between church and state without trampling on anyone's rights. I just don't know how to get a productive discussion of the possibilities going with this amendment question staring us in the face.

Or

Government gets totally out and nobody gets any special rights for being in a union. Everyone is treated as single, taxes are filed as single, insurance covered as single, no automatic passing on of wealth without a will, etc. This is probably the simplest way and everyone is treated equally.

History?

I'm not familiar enough with the history of that idea to know if such a system was ever in place in this country. Do you know if it has been? Or if it is in place in other countries?

(It's a variation that hasn't occurred to me, so I'm not sure what the more subtle pros and cons beyond the obvious might be.)

Although one thought that occurs to me right off the bat has to do with access rights during hospitalization for serious conditions. Currently, when a patient is allowed visits by "family only", same sex partners without the protection of marriage or civil union can be denied access which can be truly tragic. That's one (of many) reasons they wish to have their partnerships have legally-protected status.

And then there are the parental rights issues. Again - under a system where a same-sex union lacks legal protections, if the biological parent of a child the couple was raising dies, the child can be removed from the only other parent he or she has ever known.

Both of these tragic scenarios have happened to same sex couples, and these are just a couple of the "cons" I can see to doing away with any legal recognition of unions.

Voter's rights

The anti-gay marriage amendment IS a voters' rights issue, but not the way that's being presented.

Gay marriage is already against the law, but laws can be changed as the culture changes. With young people more tolerant of gay marriage than older people, the time is coming when that law will change.

The goal of the anti-gay marriage movement is to make that change much harder by embedding their bigotry into the constitution. Constitutions are much harder to change than laws.

So it's not about the rights of the current voters. It's about tying the hands of future generations.

Exactly

It's about making it harder for voters to decide in the future. Not that it should ever be put to the ballot.

Voters already decide these things

when they vote for their legislators and judges. This campaign suggests that legislators (most of whom are republican at the moment in MN, last I checked) spring fully formed out of the ether, with no connection to their constituents.

I don't like my state house rep Tim Sanders one bit, but I know how he got into office. He got votes. From people. Who live in my district. What on earth they were thinking when they filled out the ballot for him, I don't know, but there he is.

Very few legislators ran on

Very few legislators ran on this issue. In fact, even now, the very legislators that voted to put the issue on next month's ballot still won't run on the issue. A lot of voters might have considered a politician presenting himself as focused on economic issues to have been at least persuadable to not enshrine bigotry into the constitution.

Voter's Rights

By law, your right, when frustrated and angry, to pump your fist forward to emphasize the point you're trying to make, ends at my face, the connection with which renders you guilty of assault.

I would encourage my "Minnesota for Marriage" friends to remember that their right to express themselves in similar ways with their votes, ends precisely when that expression of their rights,

becomes an assault on the rights of others.

NO ONE is limiting our "Minnesota for Marriage" friends from freely living their lives in accordance with their own beliefs regarding marriage, no matter what the source of those beliefs (nor how selective they might be in interpreting what those sources actually say),...

But the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the State of Minnesota would, if passed, represent a direct assault on the rights of others to live by their own beliefs (many of which arise from the same sources).

When the choice to express your own beliefs becomes an assault on the right of others to do the same, especially in the face of plentiful evidence that the free expression of the beliefs of those others does not cause anyone harm (except to their tender sensitivities), nor require those who oppose it to do any particular thing,...

i.e. does NOT in effect provide you with a fist in your own face or gut, then the assault you want your fellow citizens to perpetrate on the rights of their fellow citizens (with whom you disagree) must be prevented, if possible.

To prevent that assault on those who are truly at risk of harm, I intend to vote NO, because the effect of my vote represents absolutely ZERO risk to the rights of those seeking to perpetrate this assault.

Thanks for mentioning all the mean and nasty things

Even though they weren't in the ad it was good to see that we still paint with the same brush and editorialize in our attempts at journalism.

That's the point of the story

Unlike other states in past years, the pro-discrimination forces have chosen not to run "mean and nasty" ads. It says a lot that times have changed enough that they have to be more subtle about their bigotry.

They weren't in the ad

No, the "mean and nasty things" weren't in the ad. They are, however, the justification for the sentiments in the ad.

Can you say "subtext?" When George Wallace invoked "states's rights" or "law and order," he didn't have to say "segregation," but anyone with any sense knew that was what he meant. A person would have to be mighty clueless not to see the homophobic attitudes behind this proposed amendment.

Or maybe

Some people just recognize that men are different from women and homosexuals are different from heterosexuals. Marriage is the term used for the heterosexual union of a man and a woman. Homosexual unions are different so it seems logical that they would be called something different rather than something that, well, they aren't.

Or maybe

Deciding rights on the basis of these "differences" is a good working definition of bigotry.

Deciding rights based on existing statutory definitions is just absurd.

But, but, but

As I pointed out above a few replies, I insist on equal rights for everyone no matter how much they are different. I'm not sure how "equal for everyone" is bigotry.

So we should base rights on possible future or past definitions? That makes more sense?

A constitutional amendment

A constitutional amendment is supposed to represent fundamental law that is to be changed seldom, if ever. That's why it is supposed to be difficult to amend the constitution.

What the anti-gay marriage crowds wants to do is enshrine a current, limited definition based on the present day statutory definition. The public understanding of what marriage is can and does differ from that definition. Using tradition as a justification for denying rights is contrary to what a constitution should be.

As for your "equal for everyone" idea, my only possible response would not make it past MinnPost's civility filter. You may use your own apparently hyperkinetic imagination to draw your conclusions.

Does anyone else understand this?

Tradition! I don't think that I mentioned this but I've always enjoyed "Fiddler on the Roof".

"Equal for everyone" is what most Americans seem to want, as do I. Use swear words as you wish.

Mr. Anderson,I'm a few days

Mr. Anderson,

I'm a few days late to this article, but I'd like to add a few comments/questions for you.

It appears your goal is a separate but equal status for same-sex couples under the law. However, the proposed amendment doesn't do that; at best, it is attempting to affirm the "separate" part but without addressing the "equal" part at all.

Conversely, potential judicial or legislative action could achieve the "equal" part, but probably at the expense of "separate" as expanding the current legal definition of marriage is most expedient.

In light of that, which of these two individual goals do you find preferable?

A) Separate
B) Equal