Where are the gay voices in ads for gay marriage?
Four states will vote on gay marriage this November, but gay people speaking for themselves have been noticeably absent from the TV ads promoting gay marriage.
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Gay activists who have worked on the marketing campaigns say that in this battle for public opinion, it's better for gays to stay in the background.Skip to next paragraph
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"The simple truth is that we are trying to win over the people that are not yet with us," said Matt McTighe, campaign manager of Mainers United for Marriage, which is pushing the ballot measure to legalize gay marriage in that state. "I'm a gay man, and the general rule of thumb for me is that an ad that meets my emotional needs is not necessarily the thing that's going to change a typical voter's mind about gay or lesbian people."
A May 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center found growing acceptance of gay people on a number of fronts, but still plenty of doubts. Fifty-eight percent of poll respondents said gays should be accepted in society compared to 33 percent who said they shouldn't. More people thought gays raising children was bad for society rather than good, though the largest number of respondents were neutral on the question. The same poll found 45 percent support for gay marriage rights, up from 35 percent just two years earlier.
The first ad broadcast by Minnesotans United for All Families, which is trying to defeat the state's proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage, is aimed at parents. It features Kim and John Canny — two straight Catholics, Republicans and parents of three daughters from a Minneapolis suburb who discuss coming around to support gay marriage after a lesbian couple with an adopted son moved into their neighborhood.
The lesbian couple is briefly glimpsed in the ad, but not heard from.
Alexander Zachary, a gay man from Minneapolis, complained that the ads he's seen reflect an "antiquated mindset."
"This isn't San Francisco in 1973, where all the gay people live in one neighborhood and all the straight people live everywhere else," he said. "We're not this hidden culture anymore, so why act like it?"
Richard Carlbom, manager of the Minnesota campaign, declined to say if future Minnesota United ads would feature gay people. Upcoming ads will "articulate why gay people want to get married," he said.
Many straight people "are on a journey on this issue, and the most effective way to encourage them is to show them other people who have taken the same journey," and come to accept gay marriage, Carlbom said.
Bil Browning, a Washington, D.C., gay activist and writer, recently called a straights-only ad that ran in Washington state "a heterosexual snoozefest" on his blog. He pointed out that gay activists seem to be using the strategy even though they've yet to win a campaign. In the 32 states where the issue has been on a statewide ballot, gay marriage advocates have lost every time.
"Maybe it's time to reevaluate these strategies and include our families, actual LGBT people," Browning said. "We're never going to win if we can't show our faces. It looks like we have something to hide, and we don't."