They learnt from previous referenda in Ireland and from previous losses for marriage equality propositions in the United State. They orientated Yes Equality to focus on the “million in the middle”. They also mobilised the gay and lesbian community and their families and friends to intense activity.A vindication of Harvey Milk, then. Come out, come out! And also they needed campaign discipline:
Early decisions about tone were key to Yes Equality’s success. In late March we settled on the theme of “I’m Voting Yes, Ask Me Why” an open conversational approach designed to persuade and reassure voters.
The key task for the Yes campaign was to avoid being provoked into public displays of anger. Instead Yes Equality sought to create a space where the public could see and hear the anguish caused by discrimination and the repression of sexual orientation.They were hugely coordinated and talked daily to keep everyone on message-- and keep disciplined. And of course, in Catholic Ireland, the bishops were major players.
In the atmosphere created by this tone, extraordinary things began to happen. The campaign became one of storytelling. Gay men and lesbian women told of their lives and parents spoke out publicly in support of their gay and lesbian children.
Maintaining this calm and respectful tone required rigid campaign discipline in the face of increasingly nasty messaging from the No side.
The only real surprise was the timing and extent of the Catholic church’s intervention. The bishops came in earlier and more stridently than we had originally anticipated. ....And let us not forget the power of the #hometovote movement and the mobilisation of young Irish.
We toyed with the idea of a head-on confrontation with the hierarchy for its failure to distinguish between civil and religious marriage. That would certainly have mobilised our base. We opted instead however to express disappointment at the tenor of the bishop’s interventions while spotlighting statements from dozens of high profile priests about why they were voting Yes.
Yes Equality’s focus for the last week was on a massive Get Out the Vote Operation implemented on a scale never previously seen in an Irish referendum. It all paid off.There are many lessons here. Just as the No on Prop 8 campaign became a lesson in what DOESN"T work, this one is a lesson in what does. Progressives on both sides of the Atlantic should take note.