Monday, December 05, 2011

Taking a Lesson From Down Under

One thing that often drives me crazy about America - especially in conservative circles - is the unwillingness to learn from others in other parts of the world. Instead, Americans seem to always want to re-invent the wheel or have a bias against anything that was developed overseas. Too often, we all end up as losers because of the stubbornness and close mindedness. This criticism can apply to progressives and the LGBT community as well. I've noted the amazing ad entitled "It's Time" that was released by Australian group Get Up! The ad doesn't focus so much on technical legal rights arguments but instead goes for the heart and makes the point that same sex relationships are every bit as committed and love based as are heterosexual ones. I'd even go so far as to say that based on some of the heterosexual marriages I knew in the straight phase of my life (and, yes, I am talking about the Great Neck area of Virginia Beach), same sex relationships are more genuine than many a straight marriage where couples seemed more concerned about what they could get out of the marriage than they did about a true loving relationship with their other half. A piece in The Advocate looks at the effectiveness of the ad "It's Time." Here are highlights:t

It’s time. That’s the tagline for the new marriage ad circulating like wildfire across multiple continents. Created by the progressive Australian group Get Up! as that country debates allowing gay couples to marry, the two-minute video tells the story of a relationship through the eyes of one of the participants. It depicts the initial meeting and romance, the arguments and everyday annoyances, the joyful times and the depths of grief, all culminating in a man getting down on one knee and proposing in front of the couple’s friends and family. The person behind the camera is finally revealed, and the viewer sees that it is another man, just as the two are being enveloped in congratulatory hugs on their engagement.

So why has this ad captured the hearts and Facebook statuses of so many marriage advocates and allies in the U.S., and could it be part of a strategy to move marriage forward in our own country? Third Way’s extensive research on how Middle Americans view the issue of marriage for gay couples — and how to move them to solidly support it — points to three reasons that a similar ad may be effective with the middle stateside.

First, the video could help correct a misperception about the intention of gay couples who wish to marry. In our research, people in the middle overwhelmingly thought that couples like themselves married in order to make a public promise of love and commitment. But when it came to gay couples, the middle believed they were motivated by “rights and benefits, like tax advantages, hospital visitation, or sharing a spouse’s pension.”

[T]hose who believe gay couples want to make a lifetime commitment are far more likely to be in our corner. That’s why Third Way has launched a Commitment Campaign to urge advocates to make a major shift and start talking about marriage in terms of lifetime commitment in order to move the middle. So in contrast to many of the ads run around Proposition 8 and other recent marriage ballot initiatives in the U.S., the Australian ad doesn’t say a word about rights.

Secondly, the ad poignantly depicted the more important side of the vows for the middle: the “for worse.” When asked what marriage means to them, Americans in the middle focus on lifetime commitment through thick and thin — mostly the thin part. The difference between marriage and other relationships in their minds is that you have to stick around through the difficulties, the sorrows, the obligations, and the responsibilities. Marriage is a promise to care for another person even when you don’t feel like it. It [the ad] shows that gay couples are capable of putting convenience and self-interest aside and that they intend to do so. In a way, it shows not only that this couple really gets what marriage is about — they’ve earned it.

Finally, by showing the couple surrounded by their family and friends, and having that group witness and support their engagement, the video imparts another crucial piece of marriage for the middle: community. Americans in the middle don’t believe marriage is simply a contract between two people —rather, it’s about making a promise in front of the people closest to you and asking those people to hold you accountable to those vows. In essence, that’s the difference between a civil union and a marriage.

The Australian ad works because it portrays these three attributes that the middle thinks are crucial to marriage: intention, adversity, and community. It works because it shows — not tells — that gay couples are much more similar to straight couples than they are different. And ultimately, that’s the key to winning the hearts and minds of the middle.

I hope activists in America will learn from this amazingly well done ad. LGBT lives and loves are just as legitimate as those in the straight world - notwithstanding what the hate merchants of the far right may claim to the contrary. We have earned and deserve the same civil law recognition and support that heterosexual couples have enjoyed for centuries.

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