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Op-ed: Taking a Lesson From Down Under

Op-ed: Taking a Lesson From Down Under

It’s time.

That’s the tagline for the new marriage
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

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.”

Sound familiar?
That’s because those rights have been at the crux of marriage advocates’
equality arguments for decades. But this focus on rights exacerbated the
existing intention disconnect by reinforcing the idea that gay couples want to
marry for some other set of reasons than most couples. This gap is a huge
problem, given that those who think gay couples want to marry to get rights and
benefits are overwhelmingly
to allowing them to do so. On the other hand, those 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
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. And no one could believe the proposal at the
end was motivated by tax advantages or pension benefits. It was about love and
commitment — just like any other couple’s.

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 — to
support your partner when it’s not convenient, romantic, exciting, or fun.  It’s a pledge of fidelity in sickness
and in health, but it’s really about the sickness.

That’s why the ad’s scenes showing the challenges of the
relationship really matter. Watching the couple argue and talk it out, navigate
meeting the in-laws, and support one another at a parent’s deathbed
demonstrates the very essence of marriage for the middle. It 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. A civil union is a
legal contract that bestows rights and benefits. But a marriage is about
something much weightier: standing up in front of family and friends and
pledging to be faithful to another person for life, and asking that those who
witness your vows support you in keeping that promise.

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.


Lanae Erickson is the deputy director of social policy and politics at Third Way, a moderate think tank in Washington, D.C.
For more information on the Commitment Campaign and Third Way’s research, visit

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