Embrace honesty. It is not only the idealistic option; in our situation, it is also the realistic option.

When most people think of politics, they don’t immediately think of honesty. There are certainly plenty of examples in American politics where short-term success and election victories come to those who lie, cheat, and steal.

Over the long haul, however, honesty and directness have great power, particularly to help unfairly stigmatized communities lift themselves up. The example of the Civil Rights Movement is instructive, and far more analogous to our situation than ordinary elections. If we win an election but anti-gay prejudice remains undiminished, the victory is at high risk of being reversed in the next election. Our long-term success depends upon the reduction of stigma and greater acceptance of LGBT people as good, decent people.

This is particularly true in the situation confronting us today with same-sex marriage. Our opposition depicts us in a highly unflattering way in every election. We give them the power to define us when only they talk about us. We therefore have to talk about ourselves or we functionally forfeit the election. Honestly acknowledging that the ballot measure is about us may or may not lead us to victory; but failing to honestly acknowledge this basic truth puts us at a terrible disadvantage and has consistently led to defeat.

Honesty is therefore not only the idealistic option; it is also our only realistic option. The alternative is hoping that voters will figure out the truth about us when we give them no information to help them, knowing they will be exposed to anti-gay propaganda and likely grew up exposed to anti-gay prejudice. The latter perspective is the epitome of unrealistic wishful thinking.

Honesty has power.

The No on 8 campaign demonstrated the power of honesty in at least three different ways.

First, the decision by the No on 8 executive committee and second campaign manager to be honest with our supporters was motivational. Donations to the campaign surged when No on 8 honestly shared the bad news that we were in danger of losing. The money was a necessary if insufficient condition for our campaign to compete and prevail.

Second, the tactic of avoidance discussed at length in Findings 4 and 5 cost us crucial support particularly from October 8 to 20, when “Princes” was unchallenged by the No on 8 TV ads. During this time, we hemorrhaged hundreds of thousands of votes. Parents fell for the anti-gay “Princes” argument until we directly replied with the truth in the same medium in which we were being attacked.

Third, our polling suffered from testing messages in a way that did not realistically simulate the campaign environment. Our campaign’s wishful thinking led us to test messages that have near-universal popularity in the abstract but that were never going to seem credible in a competitive campaign. The No on 8 leadership correctly predicted that our opposition would wage a strong, well-funded campaign; but they did not think through the uncomfortable implications of how our campaign message would be affected by the opposition’s predictable choices. Our consultants, smart and capable in so many ways, were not fully honest with themselves in this critical piece of the campaign. They did not fully face the difficulty of our situation. As a result, the message testing in the polling yielded misleading answers that provided us false comfort that expired once our opposition went on the air.

Honesty and directness do not guarantee success; they merely give us our best chance. Fortunately, honesty affects both those who are already with us and those who start out against us. The rightness of our cause inspires our supporters to stand up and fight; and our humanity persuades some fair-minded non-supporters to reconsider their prejudice against us.

We will surely feel uncomfortable at times relying on honesty. All of us have had experiences in life when honesty let us down, perhaps when we came out to someone who then rejected us. But if we can’t live with discomfort and take calculated risks, we will be at the mercy of our opposition and they are not merciful. For the same reason that we often find greater acceptance when we come out of the closet than we expected before we take the leap, we will over the long haul do better when our campaigns are out of the closet as well. Let’s try the idealistic and realistic road not often taken. It is better than the well-trod path where we have sought an anomalous, easily reversed, temporary victory that has proven elusive 34 of 35 times in the same-sex marriage ballot measures to date.