Texas Gay Marriage Campaign Gets Personal

Texas Gay Marriage Campaign Gets Personal
Photo by Max Burkhalter

A few years ago the thought of a Texas campaign to garner support for gay marriage would have been both depressingly pointless and just-this-side-of-the-Marx-brothers laughable. But now, with gay marriage legal in 35 states and a Texas case set to be heard by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in January, the idea doesn't seem so ludicrous.

Freedom to Marry launched the campaign Texas for Marriage earlier this month and has announced plans to invest about $200,000 in the campaign before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals hears oral arguments for the case in January. (Unless the U.S. Supreme Court decides to take up the issue before then.)

It's an interesting campaign, because the players involved obviously seem to have a good handle on Texas, Texans and the best way to approach them. In addition to a website, there will be state-wide TV ads, town hall meetings and young pro-gay marriage Republicans out voicing their support. That's right. Even the young Republicans are getting in on this, which is impressive considering the Grand Canyon-like divide that is apparent with so much of U.S politics these days.

However, despite the old school politicking approach, the focus won't be on the politics, campaign director Ward Curtin says. "It's been a political issue for so long that the debate has been devoid of the human story," he says. "This campaign is all personal story telling. It's about loving committed couples who want to marry the person they love. This is focused on communicating to the public that they want to get married for the same reasons everyone else does."

The campaign is a bipartisan effort, Curtin says, complete with fairly bipartisan leadership -- Curtin was three-time deputy campaign manager for Mayor Annise Parker while the Texas chair for Freedom to Marry, Mark McKinnon helped run campaigns for both former President George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain. (Fun fact: McKinnon also used to be a Nashville songwriter alongside Kris Kristofferson. Go figure.) McKinnon got involved because he was tired of this being such a political issue, according to Curtin. "[McKinnon] sees this as a generational issue that could ultimately weaken his party," Curtin says.

The organization changed its approach after California passed proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, Curtin says. Going into the election the polls showed the proposition wouldn't pass. (It turned out the polling was decidedly wrong.)

After the proposition was voted in they conducted studies to figure out what happened, and they found that part of the problem was people weren't connecting gay marriage with actual people and the desire for love and commitment. "Our message has evolved over time, largely because of what happened in California with proposition 8," he says. "That's one of the mistakes we made early on, not communicating the very personal stories."

And the thing is, making things personal has proved effective. "Nobody wants to tell a coworker or a neighbor that they don't enjoy the same rights that everyone else does. It really comes down to the personal nature of things," he says.

It's no accident that Texas for Marriage started just a few months before the Fifth Circuit is slated to hear of Fifth Circuit oral arguments for De Leon vs. Perry, one of the most heavily watched Texas gay marriage cases. (There are actually five cases right now, according to AllTexasFamilies.org.) While the Fifth Circuit is notoriously conservative these days, Curtin says he and other supporters are still hoping the court might rule in favor of same sex marriage.

Still, Curtin says the campaigners aren't expecting the Texas campaign to be all bunnies and flowers and downhill strolling. Curtin says he tells the campaign workers who go into this thing to be hopeful but to also be prepared to be patient. "Texas is a challenge but it's also one of the last stands that the LGBT community needs to make in order to have marriage equality nationally," Curtin says. "Unfortunately, right now we have this patchwork of law from state to state where literally crossing the Red River changes your rights and the respect the government has for you and your family."


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