New vote-no marriage-amendment ads steer clear of missteps in other states

Two-time Republican candidate Wheelock Whitney asks for “things to change in my lifetime” in a new ad opposing the marriage amendment.

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.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/28/2012 - 09:52 am.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    Yesterday my son and I went to the state fair. We unexpectedly found ourselves passing by the “Vote no” booth and greeted with the sight of a group of several young, heavily tattooed women making spectacles of themselves (that is the only way to describe it), apparently opting for in-your-face defiance over the appeals to emotion favored by these ads.

    I might have thought that the older people manning the booth would have realized the effect they were having, but no…judging from the reaction of my fellow passers-by (we saw one lady turn her stroller around and went the opposite way), I don’t think they were doing themselves or their agenda any favors.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/28/2012 - 10:08 am.

      And yet…

      We’re supposed to ignore the signs held up by people attending Tea Party rallies, which indicate that the sign-holders are illiterate, racist, and sexist.

      Oh, and was their crime simply being young, heavily tattooed women?

    • Submitted by Nick Magrino on 08/28/2012 - 10:37 am.


      I haven’t been out to the fair yet but I’ve kind of been worrying that that’s how they’d handle themselves. It wasn’t a big deal when they were pushy at Pride (though I actually live in Loring Park and the MN United overkill started to get a bit annoying) but whoever is in charge of the Vote No effort at the State Fair really needs to avoid that kind of thing when they’re trying to sway undecided voters…

    • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 08/28/2012 - 10:38 am.

      Probably Mr. Whitney is wearing a long sleeved

      shirt to cover his tattoos? My recollection is that you, too, are tattooed, Mr. Swift?

      Funny, but when I was at the vote No booth at the state fair on Sunday evening around 6 pm, I saw only a nicely dressed young man and some oldsters like me. I asked the young man if he had been busy, and he said “all day.” I asked if he would like to take a short break and I would stand in for him. He declined my offer but asked if I would be willing to pop over and get him a soft drink, which I did.

      I also note that I saw exactly ONE person wearing a t-shirt with a message supportive of the voter disenfranchisement amendment.

      By contrast many orange vote No signs were to be seen all over the Fair grounds.

      I look forward to the election. Minnesota voters, when fully informed, will do the right thing.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/28/2012 - 11:13 am.

        I’m happy you had a wonderful time at the fair, Bill

        And I agree with you that the “Vote yes” booth could use the steady hand of a senior citizen, and applaud you for your attempted intervention.

        Also, as I pointed out in an earlier post which evidently didn’t pass Minnpost censor criteria (I haven’t a clue why), I appreciate well done tattoos on women.

        As to your optimistic prognostications regarding the outcome of the elections, well, just remember what a nice time you had at the fair……

        • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 08/28/2012 - 12:31 pm.

          Please correct your last comment, Mr. Swift

          I was at the Vote No booth, not vote yes. Please read a little more carefully?

          As with carpentry, measure twice, cut once.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/28/2012 - 03:05 pm.

    Of Course A Display of Affection By Refugees from a Punk Band

    Might make people uncomfortable, and likely had more to do with the emotional need to be “in your face” on the part of the couple involved than their desire to convince other folks to consider their cause,…

    however, I still can’t help but wonder if Mr. Swift is opposed to visible tattoos or to open displays of affection, or if his “icky” response was only because of who it was that was putting themselves on display.

    After all, whenever any of us has a response to something we find distasteful, it is our responsibility as humans to examine ourselves to be sure that we have a sound basis for that reaction and that, indeed, our reaction is useful and rational,…

    lacking that self examination, we’re left to conclude that our gut reaction to every circumstance is absolutely, unequivocally, unquestionably correct, a perspective which leaves us unable to react the world around us in appropriate ways, and often looking and feeling quite foolish or ignorant after the fact.

  3. Submitted by Nick Magrino on 08/28/2012 - 05:48 pm.

    Yeahhhhh, but this isn’t a sophomore year sociology class at Macalester, it’s a statewide referendum on a social issue. People vote on appearances and experiences. If this comes down to a few hundred votes a la the 2008 Senate Race, it wouldn’t be an unreasonable argument to say having overly brash people in Vote No shirts making impressions on outstate fairgoers for a day impacted the entire election.

    If the ultimate goal here is not having discrimination enshrined in the state constitution, then the adults in charge of that booth really ought to make sure everyone is on their best behavior. Making abstract arguments about what people should and shouldn’t be able to do can wait.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 08/29/2012 - 08:25 am.

    Mr. Dunlop is incorrect…

    …on both counts. Of course biology makes a difference, at least in those households where discussion of human sexuality is permitted. The quoted sentence, however, doesn’t say “biological parents,” it merely says “same-sex parents,” and being a “parent” doesn’t require biology. The people who feed and clothe and raise a child – adoptive parents, for example – are just as much a “parent” as a biological mother or father. So much so, in fact, that the courts regularly recognize the legal and ethical authority of an adoptive “parent” as equivalent to a biological mother or father.

    Indeed, words DO have meanings, and if we can’t just decide they mean whatever we’d like them to mean to buttress our arguments, a sentiment with which I’m inclined to agree, Mr. Dunlop needs to be more careful about what words he chooses.

  5. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 08/29/2012 - 09:51 am.

    It’s a small, small world..and define that as you will…

    Coming from a family of bio and adopted siblings when too often, curious people were simplistically puzzled…”brothers and sisters? But you certainly don’t all look alike”:

    …so early in my ‘formative years’, I coined the phrase…”We have the same parents; just different womb numbers.”

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