This is the hard-learned lesson LGBT activists discovered after 29 straight defeats in fighting conservatives who wanted to write discrimination into state constitutions and laws across the nation banning same-sex marriage.
In nearly every campaign, they outspent the conservatives by a large margin, had motivated volunteers and used impeccable logic about why their side was right.
And every time, they were blown out of the water when conservatives scared the hell out of people by running ads saying if gay marriage was legal, your third grade kids would be taught how "a princess could marry a princess."
Every time, people voted to protect their kids. Conservatives won — but not because they had reduced their message to a few words. They won because they scared people into thinking emotionally instead of logically. And it worked every time… until 2012, when Minnesota became the first state to reject a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage — and then in a dramatic turn, approved marriage equality just a few months later.
This, even though poll after poll showed the "one man, one woman" constitutional amendment was going to be a "slam dunk" win for Republicans and drive voter turnout so they could increase their majorities in the Minnesota legislature and win the U.S. Senate race.
The amendment did drive voter turnout… but in the wrong direction. Republicans lost control of both houses of the Minnesota legislature, its U.S. Senate candidate lost in a landslide and a Republican-authored constitutional amendment to require photo ID to vote also lost.
What changed the game in Minnesota? Yes, the national mood on marriage equality was changing — President Obama said in 2012 his view on same-sex marriage had "evolved." Yes, it was a presidential election year that generally favored Democrats. But something else had to be happening to make such a dramatic turn — something that made Minnesota the tipping point in this epic civil rights battle. Something that prevented people from getting scared and instead led them to make a logical decision.
That "something" is documented in a movie about the marriage equality battle in Minnesota that shows how progressives can win elections that used to be "unwinnable". I will talk about the movie and show a few key clips from it at Netroots Nation this Friday at 11am as part of "Reel Action to Real Action: A Showcase of Activism and Film" in room 142C.
When campaign volunteer Steven Davis was told how the Minnesota campaign was going to be run, he was not happy with the approach. "I think if you approach people and rationally talk about rights that the average person will react rationally," said Davis. "I was not crazy about that plan. But I was very wrong."
Even if you've been doing it wrong for years, you can win when you get it right. It's one of the inspiring things about this movie that has a real Hollywood type story to tell — the good guys win against impossible odds, and love conquers all.