Santa Clara, Calif. The setting was intimate, the hors d'oeuvres simple and the hostess barefoot, but the house party Gabby Seagrave and LaDonna Silva put on for a dozen friends and co-workers was hardly a spontaneous affair.
Over wine and cheese last week, guests signed a form signaling their support for same-sex marriage.
In the couple's family room, they took a quiz on marriage laws and watched a television commercial that could have been for diamond rings, but asked, "What if you couldn't marry the person you loved?"
Such house parties and ad campaigns are just two ways in which gay rights activists are courting sympathetic heterosexuals. They hope these "straight allies" can help persuade a majority of Americans to back their causes.
Bridget Goin, one of the non-gay party invitees to Silva and Seagrave's party, was moved enough by night's end to pledge $20 a month to the gay rights group that helped the domestic partners plan the gathering.
Goin also offered to host a similar reception at her house.
"If I have the privilege, maybe I'm the one who has the power to do something about it," said Goin, who is in her second marriage.
Though the campaign's messages are often aimed at heterosexuals who have a personal connection with someone who is gay, the initiatives have a purely practical side.
"There are a lot more straight people than LGBT people," said Jody Huckaby, executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Huckaby said a straight person has a better chance of convincing someone who may be on the fence on an issue like same-sex marriage than a gay advocate to whom the target of the appeal cannot as easily relate.
"It's important that those of us who work for equality realize the decision makers are the neighbors next door who will be voting in the next election, who will be talking in their faith communities about their stances on homosexuality," he said.
Among other efforts to recruit straight allies:
¢ PFLAG recently launched a new Web site, endorsed by the advice columnist who writes "Dear Abby," to enlist straight supporters in speaking out against anti-gay jokes and slurs.
¢ Two Texas groups arranged for straight allies to lead overnight vigils in 30 U.S. cities to draw attention to the discrimination faced by gay men, lesbians and transgender people.
¢ Next week, hundreds of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs at high schools across the country have scheduled "Ally Weeks" to encourage teachers and students to help make their campuses more welcoming for gay classmates and colleagues.
¢ A gay rights media watchdog group recently rolled out a series of "Be an Ally & a Friend" public service announcements airing on "Access Hollywood" and featuring straight television actors such as Eric Mabius from "Ugly Betty."
Gay rights is not the first social movement to seek supporters among allies who were once considered adversaries, said David Meyers, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine.
White liberals found a place, though sometimes uneasily, championing civil rights for black Americans during the 1960s. Feminists lobbying for an Equal Rights Amendment eventually welcomed men to their ranks during the 1970s.
There is a risk to the strategy - activists may be asked to put some goals on the back burner while working with outsiders, Meyers said.
An example of that is playing out right now in Congress, where Democratic lawmakers are trying to enact a law that would protect gays and lesbians from job discrimination, but exclude transgender people.
"It's the way you win some stuff," Meyers said. "In every successful movement in the past, there was always important stuff they didn't win."
Sparking conversations is the goal of house parties like the one hosted by Silva, a graduate student, and Seagrave, a police sergeant, as part of the "Let California Ring" campaign.
Equality California, the state's largest gay rights lobbying group, has come up with a list of talking points for supporters who are unsure how to broach the topic of gay marriage.
"It doesn't matter if it's through the courts, the ballot or the Legislature, it's the public understanding of the issue that is the key to being successful in any attempt to have equality," Executive Director Geoffrey Kors said.