The campaign working to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Minnesota has released its first televised ad, as well as an online spot that will appear during the Republican National Convention.
With the anticipated barrage of pro-amendment ads yet to air, it’s impossible to know whether either side will gain an advantage in the messaging department. What is safe to say is that the new ads appear to steer clear of the pratfalls that plagued vote-no campaigns in 31 other states.
The first ad, “Grandparents,” stars Duluth residents Yvonne and Fred Peterson, who were married 49 years ago. They have a gay grandson, but he isn’t mentioned in the 30-second spot, which was paid for by the national group Freedom to Marry. Rather the couple is shown walking hand in hand, presumably in northern Minnesota, talking about their own marriage.
“I fought for the basic freedoms of all people,” says Fred, who wears a Marine Corps cap.
“If someone would have asked me if gay people should get married, I would have said no,” Yvonne says.
“The world is changing,” Fred adds. “Gay and lesbian people want to get married for the same reason that I wanted to marry my wife. Why shouldn’t other people be able to enjoy the happiness and love we’ve enjoyed through our lifetime?”
Wheelock Whitney featured
In the second spot, two-time state-level GOP candidate Wheelock Whitney says he thinks “freedom should be made available to everyone.” He is 86, he continues, and wants “things to change in my lifetime.”
An associate professor of political science at Gustavus Adolphus College, Kate Knutson, reviewed the two ads for MinnPost. The broadcast spot is as notable for what it leaves out as what the Petersons say, she said.
They do not talk about their grandson, or any other personal connection except their marriage. They talk about their views changing, and the world changing.
Moreover, she added, the older, white, rural couple represents a key demographic, as does Whitney: “The basic fact is older people vote and [the vote-no campaign] needs them to win.”
Both mention freedom, happiness
In terms of the message conveyed, Knutson added, the two spots are remarkably similar. Both mention freedom and happiness, and both note that “things” and “the world” are changing.
“They’re well-done,” said Knutson. “They’re thoughtful. They are in the mold of the rest of the campaign, which is dialogue-driven.”
Ever since they were caught by surprise by an 11th-hour avalanche of breathy ads warning of dire consequences if California’s Prop 8 did not pass in 2008, gay-right supporters have struggled to combat the vote-yes camp’s messages.
Vote-no campaigns typically resort to one of two tactics: Fact-checking the other side’s assertions in emotionally flat, logical ads or appealing to voters’ sense of fair play. Some campaign-watchers are convinced that some of the messages — that discrimination was wrong, for instance — made voters who hadn’t considered the issue or who had mixed thoughts feeling accused of bigotry.
Later campaigns depicting gay and lesbian couples began to speak to social-science research that suggests exposure is what creates acceptance. Barack Obama’s statement that his opinion shifted in part because first daughters Sasha and Malia have playmates with stable, healthy same-sex parents is a perfect example.
Earlier efforts lacked emotional resonance
Still, those efforts lacked the emotional resonance of either vote-yes ads in other states or the new Minnesota spots.
In June, the campaign to defeat the proposed amendment began distributing two ads online showcasing gay and straight couples talking about their relationships. The better of the two, a paid for by Minnesotans United for All Families coalition member Project 515, was the first in a carefully constructed campaign that will use technology to put the ad before Minnesotans who are either likely supporters or who are very difficult for political campaigns to reach.
The ads are appearing on news and other advertising supported websites, and can be “narrowcast,” or targeted to reach voters who polling and message-testing have shown are responsive to a particular appeal.
Minnesota for Marriage, the main vote-yes group, appears to be using similar technology to disseminate a series of “marriage minutes” that articulate its case for inserting a ban on same-sex marriage into the Minnesota Constitution. The consultant managing the vote-yes campaign here was also responsible for the yes-on-Prop-8 campaign, among other ballot initiatives to bar same-sex marriage.