2010 Prop 8 Repeal Effort Up in the Air

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday July 29, 2009

Time is running out to get a repeal of Proposition 8 on the California ballot for 2010--and GLBT leaders are not yet certain whether that's something they want to do, or whether they would rather wait for 2012.

As Joe Garofoli explained in his political blog at the San Francisco Chronicle, which was carried July 25 at SFGate.com, a majority of GLBT equality advocates convened at a San Bernardino meeting that same day voted for a non-binding resolution to move forward for a 2010 ballot initiative.

But that is not the last word on the question. Now the heads of the various organizations represented at the meeting will need to present the question to their groups; organizational structure will need to be developed and implemented; funding strategies will need to be developed, and plans laid for training volunteers to help move the process along.

All of that has to happen starting now, even if the initiative doesn't get onto the ballot until 2012; the ballot initiative that rescinded marriage rights for gay and lesbian families in California last year involved a bruising campaign battle and about $80 million dollars, half of which was raised by anti-gay activists.

The organizational challenges of mounting a push to repeal the resulting constitutional amendment, which targets gay and lesbian families for exclusion from legal family parity, will be enormous, and the re-match likely to be just as heated, not more, than the campaign to pass Proposition 8.

Garofoli reported that Steve Hildebrand, who has worked with President Obama, had been in consultation with one GLBT equality group, the Courage Campaign.

Garofoli wrote that, "Hildebrand--one of the most prominent LGBT folks in the Obama inner circle--was on a conference call with top organizers of the Courage Campaign, offering strategy tips and such.

Garofoli more or less dismissed that possibility, citing Hildebrand's other commitments.

But while many aspects of the coming attempt to restore marriage equality in California are currently nebulous, some aspects of the struggle to come did come into focus, Garolfoli reported.

The blog quoted the Courage Campaign's founder, Rick Jacobs, who said of the meeting, "The good news is that while a lot of people passionately disagreed on some stuff, we all agree that we're on the same team.

One thing most GLBT leaders are likely to want to avoid is the sense that a handful of people are investing the money and the energy of many, with little input helping to guide their choices. As Garofoli put it, "A LOT of folks felt left out of the decision-making last year during the Prop 8 fight.

"And what will this grassroots, micro-targeted campaign look like?" added the blog.

Garolfoli cited a release from the Courage Campaign in which the group outlined some basics, including the need to begin the process right away regardless of whether the target date for a repeal vote might be 2010 or 2012.

The Courage Campaign called for an "independent, accountable" leadership "not dominated by any one organization."

Noted the release, "To gain the trust and full commitment of supporters, the campaign needs a representative and functional governance structure."

And finally, "Victory on election day requires a strong, experienced campaign manager who knows California well and has won battles like this before.

"Our opposition is well-organized, and we need exceptional leadership on our side to prevail."

But while organizers sort out the time table, big donors--who help foot the bill--are already making their preferences known, and they seem to feel that 2010 is too early for a campaign to repeal the anti-family amendment.

A July 26 story in The New York Times noted that big donors are paying close attention to poll numbers that indicate that a 2010 campaign would be too soon.

The article quoted philanthropist David Bohnett--who contributed over $1 million to the pro-family parity side in last year's battle, trying to prevent Prop. 8 from passing and protect marriage equality--as saying via email, "In conversations with a number of my fellow major No on 8 donors, I find that they share my sentiment: namely, that we will step up to the plate--with resources and talent--when the time is right."

But that time may not be next year.

Noted Bohnett, "The only thing worse than losing in 2008 would be to lose again in 2010."

And that, to Bohnett, seems a distinct possibility, given that less than half of California voters support marriage parity.

Bohnett believes that a decisive majority would be needed not just to win, but to secure, marriage equality once again in California.

"Short of winning with 60 percent or more of the vote, we will be subject to another initiative to overturn marriage equality, and our resources are better deployed elsewhere," the article quoted Bohnett.

Indeed, Proposition 8 only squeaked through at the ballot box; that fact is a driving factor in the push to rescind the anti-family parity amendment.

But despite serving as a wake-up call to gay and lesbian families nation-wide, the outcome of last November's vote will not be quick or easy to undo. Those not affected by the vote seem not to notice the pain that the amendment has visited upon California's gay and lesbian families.

The article quoted Marc Solomon, Equality California's marriage director, who said, "I expected having watched the protests and the real pain that the LGBT community had experienced that there would be some real measurable remorse in the electorate.

"But if you look at the poll numbers [regarding marriage equality for gay and lesbian families] since November, they really haven't moved at all."

That inertia might prove difficult to overcome--and time, even more than money, will be needed--not that money is not important. Indeed, cash for the cause is certain to be crucial.

But the issue of money is a circular one: without money, it's hard to get organized and get a message out. But without solid organizational structure and the means to be heard, marriage equality proponents will have a harder time convincing donors--and voters.

Noted Solomon, "And we know without significant investments early on, its going to be extremely difficult to move people."

The article noted that the matter of whether to move sooner rather than later was causing friction in the GLBT community.

The Times cited a freshly minted coalition, Prepare to Prevail, that views a 2010 ballot attempt as "rushed and risky," the article said.

In a statement, Prepare to Prevail set out its rationale for preferring to wait: "We should proceed with a costly, demanding and high-stakes electoral campaign of this sort only when we are confident we can win."

But the article noted that that sense is not necessarily shared by organizations that have been around longer, such as the Los Angeles-based Stonewall Democratic Club: the article quoted that group's president, John M. Cleary, as saying, "I find the language of some of the organizations really self-defeating.

"And I think we have a moral obligation to overturn this," added Cleary.

As reported in an article carried at EDGE in June, grassroots support among GLBTs for a 2010 initiative is strong.

But a separate article carried at EDGE less than three weeks later reported on the divergence between those who want swift action and those who prefer to prepare more carefully over a longer time instead of rushing in.

It's not just newer groups like Prepare to Prevail that don't share a sense of needing to jump into the very next electoral cycle: the article quoted National Gay and Lesbian Task Force board member Hans Johnson, who warned against plunging in unprepared.

"A slapdash effort based on wishful thinking, rosy scenarios, and passion, is not enough to win on," said Johnson.

Agreed Matt Foreman, who serves the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund as program director, "What we've learned is that yes, you can change hearts and minds, but it takes time, focused energy, and money."

However, Foreman added, "...once a measure is on the ballot and the campaign begins, its almost impossible to change anyone's mind, because people are being bombarded with lies."

The opposing camp gave voice to the opinion that whether gay and lesbian families equality advocates make their move in 2010 or 2012, the result will be the same.

The article quoted Frank Schubert of the anti-gay Prop. 8 backer ProtectMarriage.com, who noted that family equality advocated had "said they will not move forward with an initiative until they are sure they can win."

Opined Schubert, "That day is not going to come."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.