The Third Way: Focusing On Rights Has Hurt The Marriage Equality Movement

For years, advocates have often focused on rights and benefits, not commitment, when talking about why gay couples want to marry. This mismatch may have exacerbated an existing disconnect in the minds of the middle, perpetuating the notion that gay couples want to marry for different reasons than other couples, or worse, implying that gay couples don’t truly understand what marriage is about.

When asked in our poll why “couples like you” might want to get married, 58% said “to publicly acknowledge their love and commitment to each other.” Only 22% chose “for rights and benefits, like tax advantages, hospital visitation, or sharing a spouse’s pension.” But when asked why gay couples might want to get married… respondents were split down the middle between commitment and rights (38% to 38%).

There is a direct line between how people answered this question and whether they were supportive of marriage… people who believe gay couples want to marry for commitment overwhelmingly support allowing them to do so. But people who believe gay couples want to marry to obtain a set of rights largely oppose allowing those couples to marry.

– The Third discussing the a new attempt to sway swing voters by stressing that marriage equality is about the desire for gay couples to express their commitment rather than secure civil rights.

Image via Mike Licht,