Dueling Ad Campaigns In Battle Over Gay Marriage

The issue of gay marriage has been heating up on many fronts, but it is President Bush’s proposal for a constitutional amendment banning the practice that has propelled the fight into the realm of advertising.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a group that represents gay and lesbian members of the GOP, has made the issue the cornerstone of its first-ever advertising effort, as it seeks to stop lawmakers from moving forward on the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman.

“We do not want gay and lesbian families to be used as a wedge issue to score political points,” said Chris Barron, political director for the 27-year-old organization. “There is not a more important issue for us. We have devoted all of our resources to fighting this amendment.”

The group, based in Washington, has earmarked $1 million for the advertising and lobbying effort. At its center is a TV spot that has been airing in seven battleground states since March and recently broke in California.

Rather than using the campaign to endorse gay marriage, the group is attempting to make it an issue of states’ rights—an approach that polling suggests would win over moderate Republicans.

The TV commercial uses footage from Dick Cheney’s 2000 vice presidential debate with Sen. Joe Lieberman. Amid images of the civil-rights movement and smiling gay couples, the spot shows Cheney responding to a question about same-sex relationships. “That matter is regulated by the states,” he says. “I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that’s appropriate. I don’t think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.” Cheney’s picture fades as onscreen text reads, “We agree.”

Barron characterizes the advertising as a fight for the soul of the Republican Party, suggesting that the proposed amendment is at odds with the party’s stated agenda. “A line was drawn, and that line was crossed,” he said. “We would not have been judged well historically if we had sat back on this issue.”

Other groups are taking to the media as well. The nonpartisan Human Rights Campaign, a group dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, recently broke a print and radio campaign highlighting conservative opposition to a constitutional amendment. One radio ad cites opposition from well-known conservatives such as former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, columnist George Will and former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr—who, the ad points out, wrote the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which upholds the right of states to make their own marriage laws and craft their own policies concerning same-sex marriages.

A print execution in the same campaign shows a to-do list taped to a refrigerator, with phrases such as “Get job” and “Pay for healthcare (somehow).” “If it’s not on America’s to-do list,” reads the headline, “then Congress shouldn’t be putting an amendment to ban gay marriage rights on theirs.” Body copy cites a December Gallup poll in which gay marriage ranked last on a list of issues Americans believe are important leading up to the election.

Conservative groups are also gearing up to make their case. The Arlington Group, a coalition of conservative groups opposed to gay marriage, recently ran a $2 million newspaper effort thanking President Bush for supporting the proposed amendment. The coalition is readying a follow-up effort that will likely include TV, radio and print ads, said Phil Burress, president of the Citizens for Community Values in Cincinnati. He would not disclose details other than to say that “no less than 30 media people are working on different sorts of campaigns.”

Regardless of how the issue plays out in the coming months, the Federal Marriage Amendment and gay marriage in general have already begun to prove the maxim that politics makes for strange bedfellows, as members of the Log Cabin Republicans find themselves on the same side of an issue as their traditional liberal adversaries.

“I’ve been to meetings with organizations that I’d never been expecting to break bread with,” Barron said.