Kudos to the Virginia lawmakers willing to participate in a press conference denouncing the marriage amendment question that will be on the ballot this November. But the amendment is likely to be approved unless an effective campaign can be waged by opponents. Do they have the strategy?

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, Equality Virginia campaign chair, said that despite the odds, she believes the fight against the amendment can be won. She said that when volunteers are able to engage people in conversation and help them to understand that the amendment is not just about marriage, their views are swayed.

That strategy seemed plausible and opponents received a welcomed boost when the General Assembly voted to put the wording of the entire amendment on the ballot. It seemed too easy a victory at the time, and it has proved so when earlier this month the Assembly approved an explanation that many feel is inaccurate.

“marriage in the Commonwealth creates specific legal rights, benefits, and obligations for a man and a woman. There are other legal rights, benefits, and obligations which will continue to be available to unmarried persons, including the naming of an agent to make end-of-life decisions . . . protections afforded under Domestic Violence laws . . . ownership of real property as joint tenants with or without a right of survivorship . . . or disposition of property by will.”

That explanation will be given to voters at polling places and used in brochures that local registrars will distribute. There’s little question that it’s a political document that contradicts what many believe will be the consequences of the amendment’s passage.

But Marc Fisher of The Washington Post suggests that arguing that the amendment is a legal catastrophe may not be the most potent argument.

[A]lmost never do amendment opponents come right out and say that homosexuality exists, and most Americans know and love someone who is gay, and the country should figure out what it wants to do about that.

… There is, of course, an emotional appeal to be made for gay unions — after all, most Americans know someone in a committed gay relationship — but Democratic candidates generally won’t go there.

Whatever your beliefs about sexuality and the state’s role in marriage, one thing is certain: When one side goes straight to voters’ emotions while the other asks them to examine the legalities, the outcome is all but assured.

Fisher elaborates in his online discussion yesterday.

What I find so curious is the reluctance on the part of the gay advocates who are working on the anti-amendment campaign to make the case for the social good that is represented by any stable, committed relationships. My own personal view is that government should play no role in marriage of any kind, but even with that perspective, I see social merit in long-term, stable families of any stripe.

Amendment proponents argue that marriage is under attack and that gay unions threaten the institution of marriage. Too often, they are allowed to make that argument without being asked “How so?” It seems that if every pol in such discussions would ask that question and repeatedly press for an answer, the absurdity of the argument would be more apparent to voters.

Fisher also nicely debunks the argument that gay marriages will somehow lead to strange unions, bestiality and polygamy.

I’m not sure there’s good grounds for the state getting involved there, either. Most religions have very strong taboos against polygamy, for good reason. Doesn’t that really serve the necessary purpose? Wouldn’t you agree that the main reason most people steer clear of polygamy is because they are raised to believe it is morally wrong? Does the law against polygamy really have an impact on people’s overwhelming decision to stick to one on one marriage? There are many aspects of life that are best governed by ethical and moral codes that have nothing to do with law.

Twenty years from now, there will be a quietly effective campaign to overturn all these marriage amendments. If opponents were wiling to make the emotional argument, instead of the legalistic one, we might find the day will come sooner when our children will wonder “what were they thinking?”