Advocates on both sides of marriage debate wage media campaigns

04/02/09 5:46PM By John Dillon
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AP Photo/Toby Talbot
Opponents of same-sex marriage rally on the Statehouse steps.
(Host) Even before the debate in the House, advocates on both sides of the issue were waging media campaigns to influence legislators - and to sway public opinion.

VPR's John Dillon has more on that story:

(Dillon) On Wednesday night during the dinner hour, about 200,000 phones in Vermont rang almost simultaneously.

The caller was a computer, and it played a version of this message:

(Call) ``Hello, please call your representative Janet Ancel ... today and ask her to join Governor Jim Douglas in opposing the same sex marriage bill. Thank you for your time and support, the National Organization for Marriage.''

(Dillon) The calls were targeted by legislative district and named individual lawmakers. Montpelier Representative Warren Kitzmiller says his phone rang off the hook shortly after the machine dialed his constituents.

In Kitzmiller's view, the calls backfired.

(Kitzmiller) ``Clearly, it got a bunch of people very mad, and just made them even firmer in their conviction for marriage equality.''

(Dillon) But Steve Cable, president of Vermont Renewal - a lead opponent of same sex marriage - says the technique - known as robo-calling -- is an effective way to reach voters.

(Cable) ``It works, and not just here. It works wherever it's tried.''

(Dillon) Cable says the idea is to target voters to get them to contact their lawmakers.

(Cable) ``Automated phone calls are going out from both Take it to the People, our organization and some of that is in conjunction with some national organizations, National Organization for Marriage.''

(Dillon) Brian Brown is executive director of the National Organization for Marriage. The group was heavily involved in a California referendum that repealed that state's same sex marriage law.

Brown says the Vermont media campaign is a relatively low budget operation.

(Brown) ``We send emails, too and that's not a high cost. $10 - $15,000, maybe a little more now. But it's not been a capital intensive campaign. It's been a grassroots campaign.''

(Dillon) Activists in support of same sex marriage have not used computer calls. Instead, they've aired TV ads showing couples in long-term relationships.

(TV ad) ``This is the person I found when I was not even 20 years old. Maybe it's my age, but I was brought up to believe that you fall in love, and you get married.''

AP Photo/Toby Talbot
Beth Robinson of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force checks her phone in the House chamber.
(Dillon) Beth Robinson is with the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force.

(Robinson) ``We know from experience when Vermonters hear from their neighbors, when we put a face on the issue, we win.''

(Dillon) Both campaigns are expensive. But the cost won't be known until spending reports are filed later this spring with the Secretary of State's office.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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