TV ad campaign attempts to sway the undecided on same-sex marriage

from SF gate
Jesse Hamlin, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A lovely brunette bride breaks a heel on her way to the altar. A tree branch snags off her veil. Then a grandma type sticks her cane out and trips the distressed bride as the groom watches in dismay.

"What if you couldn't marry the person you love?" reads the tagline to a 60-second TV spot that begins airing in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and other major California markets on Thursday. "Every day, gay and lesbian couples are prevented from marrying. Support the freedom to marry."

That's the message of a new multimillion-dollar educational campaign called Let California Ring, created by the gay rights advocacy organization Equality California Institute in association with dozens of other gay and civil rights groups. Cooked up by the Seattle office of the advertising giant DDB Worldwide, the ad is a key element in the effort to convince undecided Californians that couples of all sexual orientations should have the right to affirm their love and commitment in a legally sanctioned marriage.

The Ring campaign, which includes a string of "house parties" around the state to help "spark a million conversations" about the freedom to wed, is the latest volley in the divisive national fight over gay marriage.

In the next few days, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to veto a measure the state Legislature passed last month that would allow same-sex marriages in California. He vetoed a similar law two years ago, saying he was upholding "the will of the people," referring to the landslide victory of Proposition 22, the 2000 ballot measure that says "only marriage between a man and woman is valid and recognized in California."

Next year, the state Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of banning same-sex marriage in a case stemming from the invalidation of marriage licenses issued by the city of San Francisco in 2004 under the aegis of Mayor Gavin Newsom.

"This campaign is about changing the climate in California around this issue," Seth Kilbourn, Equality California's political and policy director, said as he sat in his upper Market Street office.

He cites polls showing Californians almost evenly split on the issue. A 2000 poll by the Policy Institute of California found that voters opposed same-sex marriage 55 to 38 percent; a poll by the same group last year showed a major shift: 48 to 46 percent.

This campaign is intended to move the state "over the tipping point," Kilbourn said. "We wanted to connect to the people of California on an emotional level, on a level they can identify with."

The Ring drive - which has received $400,000 from Jim Hormel, the San Francisco philanthropist and former U.S ambassador to Luxembourg; a $500,000 commitment from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund; and $500,000 from an anonymous donor - "is gently challenging the people of California to imagine what it would be like if they couldn't get married to the person they loved."

Legal rights and benefits, many of which are covered by domestic partner laws here and in other states, are important, Kilbourn added, but this campaign aims at the heart.

"It's putting the people we're trying to talk to, the undecided people, into our shoes. We gave them something they can identify with, a wedding. The ad firm really felt that if you're going to try to connect with a certain group of people, you need to talk about them, not yourself."

The ad will appear on Equality California's Web site, eqca.org, starting Thursday, but the group declined to say on which TV channels it will air or how often it will run.

"We don't want to reveal our strategy to the people who are not particularly friendly to this issue," Kilbourn said.

Ron Prentice hasn't seen the ad yet, but he has read about it and doesn't approve.

"The homosexual community continues to attempt to attract the emotions of society," said Prentice, executive director of the California Family Council, a group that is "committed to promoting Judeo-Christian principles" and is part of an anti-gay marriage consortium called ProtectMarriage.com. "Our hope is that society will recognize that the meaning and purpose of marriage is more than an emotional argument."

The "homosexual lobby," as he put it, "is dismissing the foundational purpose of marriage and what's best for children and society. Children deserve both a mother and a father."

Prentice doubts that his or other groups will counter the Let California Ring ad with spots of their own. Nor are they actively pushing a talked-about ballot measure amending the state constitution to ban gay nuptials.

"But if the state Supreme Court were to overturn Prop. 22," he said, "we believe people would be angry, and there would likely be a ballot measure to protect marriage in the state Constitution."

Those promoting the freedom to marry don't expect to sway people like Prentice. They're after people on the fence. And they're enlisting supporters to help persuade friends and colleagues with mixed feelings to come over to their side of the debate. That's the purpose of the house parties, like the one held Sunday after services in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Redwood City.

Talking about same-sex marriage to a group as accepting as Unitarians might be preaching to the choir. "But you have to start somewhere," said parishioner Linda LehrAnning, a home health care practitioner whose daughter, Emily, hosted the event.

"I believe that under our Constitution all people deserve the freedom to marry," said Emily Lehr-Anning, a UC Santa Cruz student, Sunday school teacher, American Civil Liberties Union intern who identifies as bisexual and plans to marry her longtime boyfriend.

Frank Montoro stuck around after church to watch - twice - a preview of the TV wedding ad projected onto a screen. "It took me a couple of times to figure it out. I'm an old man," laughed Montoro, an 84-year-old retired school principal of the heterosexual persuasion.

"I think it's very effective," he said, sporting a trim gray mustache and wearing a gray cardigan sweater. "It's about equal rights. People ought to be able to do what they want. If two people of the same gender want to get married, be my guest."

Emily's father, John Anning, a marketing expert who runs a retail-store trade association, gave the ad a thumbs-up.

"It catches you off-guard," said Anning, whose gay brother, Peter, was in the crowd. "If they showed two brides or two grooms, some people would go 'ggghhhh' and tune it out. But this is a pretty bride and her dad. And you say, 'What is this? Holy cow, it's about gay marriage!' People have to be drawn in. It's 58 seconds of seduction and two seconds of bam! - startling conclusion. I think it will be effective for the target audience."

Said his brother: "That's one people will be talking about at the water cooler."

Online resources
To see the Let California Ring advertisement starting Thursday, go to:



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