Focus on the Issues: How Marriage Equality Rallied Voters in the 2013 Election

Focus on the Issues: How Marriage Equality Rallied Voters in the 2013 Election

It’s the day before the polls open in Virginia and gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe, decides to highlight his pro-equality stance and provide a clear contrast to his opponent who once called gay Virginians “self-destructive.” It marked the end of what was a victorious campaign, which focused to “keep gay rights on the political front burner.

Yes, this is an example of a victorious Democratic candidate in a southern state who campaigned in support of gay rights. Only a few years ago, this would have been unthinkable.

From switching to red equality logos to re-tweeting LGBT groups and pushing LGBT policy initiatives, many candidates and Democratic committees did not shy away from their pro-equality stances. In an age where social media rewards authenticity, brevity, humanistic and tangible messages, it’s no surprise messages about marriage equality and love trumped more abstract policy positions.

This validated the data we saw from our campaigns and committees: messages about marriage equality were some of the highest performing in regard to engagement.


Obama’s re-election and the four marriage victories in 2012 began to prove that touting LGBT equality would not be a detractor for campaign success, but instead, a critical motivator.

What was once a wedge issue and a tool for the right has now become a rallying cry for Democrats. This is not by any means to say all LGBT issues have made it to the mainstream, but it is proof that things are, in fact, getting better.

How Promoting Equality Led to Success in 2013 Races

  1. Supporters want something to cheer about: State and SCOTUS marriage victories in 2012 and 2013 provided hope to many activists disenchanted by congressional gridlock. Equality has become a base issue that can help bolster enthusiasm, support and donations for a candidate or committee.
  1. LGBT storytelling has helped shift the conversation: Just one or two cycles ago it would have been unimaginable to run an LGBT-affirming ad in an election. Due to shifting demographics, more LGBT individuals speaking out and sharing their stories and better message framing by advocates, it’s become easier for pro-equality candidates to speak louder & gain broad support.
  1. The message is about love, not acronyms: Pro equality candidates and groups are winning the messaging battle. It’s not “gay marriage,” it’s “marriage.” It’s being able to marry the person you love. It’s about living free of discrimination. Love is something we can all relate to, while labels, not so much.
  1. Clear contrasts win online: Ken Cuccinelli’s extreme positions provided a stark contrast compared with Terry McAuliffe. Since the start of the campaign, McAuliffe was upfront, straightforward, open and positive about his support of equality, while candidates like Cuccinelli expressed extreme ideas against the LGBT community, which backfired against him. The contrast made it easier to energize supporters online.