In the lead up to the 2013 General Assembly session, a bill that would allow gay and lesbian Rhode Islanders to marry was considered a long shot, with staunch opposition from Senate leadership. Rhode Islanders United for Marriage, working in partnership with Checkmate, realized the same old tactics weren’t going to work. After nearly two decades of trying to win marriage equality, we knew playing inside baseball would get us nowhere. We had to take the fight outside the State House.
We needed to change the traditional dynamic of State House politics and take our argument directly to the people, so our principals ran one of the largest grassroots campaigns in Rhode Island history. The campaign connected Rhode Islanders with their legislators at an unprecedented level–asking folks to tell their personal stories of why marriage matters. In less than six months, the campaign had nearly 30,000 conversations with Rhode Islanders – knocking on more than 32,000 doors, making 15,000 phone calls, and delivering more than 1,500 letters to legislators.
30 second TV ad: “Martha & Patty”
Gay and Lesbian couples want to get married for the same reasons that straight folks do: to make a public declaration of their love and commitment to each other and to provide the best level of protection for their family. In our first commercial, we told the “uniquely Rhode Island story” of Martha and Patty and the kind of home they want their son, Tobin, to grow up in.
30 second TV ad: “Father Harris”
For years, the marriage equality movement had faced significant opposition from religious leaders which dominated the media coverage of the issue. In “Empowered” we introduce viewers to Fr. Harris, an Episcopal Priest from East Providence, who talks about his ability to determine – without government intervention – who is eligible to marry in his church. The ad was produced to rebuff last-minute efforts to add unnecessary and discriminatory amendments to the marriage equality bill that would have exempted certain religious institutions from recognizing the legal rights of same sex couples. The ad also sent a powerful message about the significant support for marriage equality in the broader faith community.
The campaign was recognized for using an unrelenting combination of grassroots and Netroots advocacy as well as targeted TV and online advertising and successfully persuaded enough legislators to change their positions on this important issue–and vote yes on the bill. In the end, nearly two-thirds of the General Assembly voted in favor of marriage equality. On May 2, 2013, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed the bill into law, allowing all couples the freedom to marry. We won.