Social Policy & Politics Program | Report

How Marriage Won in Washington State

by Lanae Erickson Hatalsky and Sarah Trumble

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Election night of 2012 brought a sea change for advocates of marriage for gay couples. Thirty-two past ballot initiative losses were relegated to history as voters sided with marriage in all four states with questions on the ballot.

Together with researchers at Grove Insight, Third Way conducted a poll immediately after the election in Washington State, where voters had approved, 53.7% to 46.3%, a law passed by the state legislature allowing gay couples to marry. When compared to the results of our 2009 post-election poll in the same state, these new results illustrate the rapid evolution that has taken place in just the last handful of years.

The data also points to two major shifts in advocates’ messages that were instrumental in making this the first year marriage was victorious at the ballot:

  1. Focusing on commitment, rather than rights;
  2. Effectively responding to marriage opponents’ most potent attacks by using strong values language, including reinforcing that parents are responsible for teaching core values to their children.

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