Passing Same-Sex Marriage in New York – Overcoming a History of Defeat
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Legislative Campaigns Same-Sex Marriage New York

In 2011, SKDKnickerbocker helped make history by advising New Yorkers United for Marriage, the coalition created to pass same-sex marriage, from formation to victory.

Political Context

After experiencing a devastating and decisive loss in the 2009 fight to pass same-sex marriage legislation in New York, gay rights groups clearly needed a new plan of action if they were to succeed at passing “marriage equality” legislation in 2011.  Even with the backing of a popular new Governor and growing public support for the issue, passage of the bill faced an uphill battle given that Republicans now narrowly controlled the State Senate and three incumbent Democratic State Senators had voted against the bill in 2009.  Perhaps most important of all, gay and lesbian advocates would need to ensure an organized and united front, in contrast to the fragmented campaign in 2009.

Strategy

When first approached by one of the five largest gay rights organizations in the state to work on the campaign, SKDK was concerned that history would likely repeat itself if the various groups were each pursuing their own strategies. The LGBT groups agreed to come together and collectively hire SKDK to coordinate the campaign and direct all paid and earned media for the newly formed coalition, New Yorkers United for Marriage (NYUM).  SKDK developed the core message – making sure that all communications focused on humanizing the issue in order to demonstrate to legislators that marriage equality was an issue affecting the people they know and work with every day in their districts.

To keep the issue at the forefront of media coverage, SKDK worked to create events across the state including press conferences, rallies, announcements of support from prominent organizations and individuals, press ops at field canvassing and phone banks, and roundtables featuring emotional appeals from couples who wished to marry. SKDK also handled all day-to-day press outreach, common talking points, placement of numerous op-eds, media monitoring and rapid response. Additionally, SKDK directed the $2 million paid media plan, including shooting and producing TV ads, designing and mailing a half million pieces of direct mail, developing and placing print ads across the State, and designing and maintaining the coalition’s new website.

Outcome

Days after the legislative session was due to end, marriage equality was the last piece of legislation taken up by the Senate. With its fate still uncertain moments before the vote, the bill passed 33-29, with support from four Republicans and all but one Democrat. Throughout the campaign, marriage equality legislation, with SKDK’s assistance, secured the endorsement of 16 daily newspapers, with over 25 editorial articles; placed numerous op-eds and received support from 250 business leaders and 734 New York State clergy and lay leaders. Stories pitched by SKDK were also featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Albany Times Union, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Crains’ New York and on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News among others. This historic victory was celebrated across the nation and around the globe on the front pages of leading newspapers and in all network newscasts.