Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report on the passage of Initiated Act 1 in Arkansas in 2008. This was the law that banned adoption and foster parenting by anyone living with an unmarried partner. In addition to describing the chronology and the players in the Arkansas intiative process, the report offers "lessons learned" to guide future struggles.
The report cites lack of outreach to faith communities and disputes over messaging as two of the major shortcomings of opponents of Act 1. The main coalition opposing Act 1 was Arkansas Families First, and its steering committee split over whether the campaign should emphasize children or focus on human rights for LGBT people; the former position prevailed and the group prodcued a DVD featuring child advocates and other professionals. Another group opposing Act 1, the Center for Artistic Revolution, disagreed with that decision and launched its own "All Families Matter" campaign, featuring the couples who would be affected if the ban passed.
The post-election analysis in the CAP report includes the following recommendation: "Leaders must recognize that campaigns need unity on such basic aspects as core messaging." The report further states that "it is essential that campaigns be mindful of the power of a united front."
I have a hard time figuring out how this could happen. Those involved in the Arkansas campaign do not agree even now on whether the dominant focus on children rather than discrimination against LGBT families was the right choice. Arkansas Family First used polling and focus groups and still the initiative passed with 57% of the vote. If pro-gay campaigns had a track record of winning as a result of successful messaging, maybe unity would be called for and easier to obtain. Perhaps the Yale Cultural Cognition project will produce such a result. But until then I cannot blame organizers for disagreeing over framing a campaign and sticking to their positions rather than coming together.
In the end, the difference in messaging may have mattered less than the lack of grassroots outreach, especially to faith communities, even in rural areas. Many of the report's recommendations call for a larger role for religious leaders. The report also draws attention to a Third Way poll of voters in Arkansas, and those results are worth perusing. CAP thinks it notable that 44% of born-again Christians said they would have or did in fact vote against the ban after being informed in more detail about what it entailed. Thus, CAP concludes, opponets of the ban needed to include even evangelicals in their outreach to faith communities.
Perhaps it was just happenstance that I read this report shortly after reading the Yale Cultural Cognition project report, but there is striking similarity between the two. The Yale report suggests that accurate information alone may not sway those whose positions are based on values. The CAP report includes the following: "When confronted with facts that run counter to their values and beliefs, people often dismiss facts as unreliable or irrelevant. As a result, it is crucial to go beyond rational arguments to include appeals that also touch people's hearts and souls."
I like to think that rational argument in the way to win. I give that up begrudgingly. These reports tell me I might need to grow up and face the facts that the years I have devoted to getting better and better at rational argument may never get me the world I want to live in. It's a hard lesson to learn.