Alex Blaze

Will California's initiative to ban same-sex marriage succeed?

Filed By Alex Blaze | June 11, 2008 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Arizona, ballot initiatives, California, domestic partnership, lesbian, LGBT, marriage, Patrick Range McDonald

Patrick Range McDonald opines on Equality for All's drive to defeat the ballot initiative in California in LA Weekly (via GP):

Voters will now have the final say on gay marriage in November. Gay rights activists have already been gearing up for the fight, particularly the coalition group Equality For All. So far, the umbrella organization touts big time gay and civil rights credentials, with the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, the LA Gay & Lesbian Center, the California NAACP, and others joining forces to do battle. Labor unions and groups of that ilk are glaringly absent from the Equality For All roster.[...]

Right now, Equality For All seems to be rolling out a decidedly partisan message. On its web site, for example, the coalition repeatedly cites "extremists" and the "right-wing" as the enemy. (The Human Rights Campaign also sends out emails seeking donations with references to "our right-wing opponents.") These are political buzz words that will undoubtedly turn off Republican voters, much in the same way Democrats see red whenever Republicans disparagingly say "liberal," and the gays cannot afford to needlessly offend anyone--no matter what the current polls say. In addition, such heated rhetoric may make it harder for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to hit the campaign trail and reach out to his fellow Republicans, and Independents could be turned off by what appears to be more partisan bickering.

While McDonald's simply wrong that labor is absent from Equality for All's roster (the AFL-CIO is on there via Pride at Work), and while he profoundly misjudges the current political climate by calling it "post-partisan," there is a point to keeping these sorts of messages non-partisan. They're building a coalition to defeat a specific ballot initiative, not building the Democratic brand, electing a Democrat, or convincing people to be generally leftist. There's no need to insert "right-wing" language, especially when Democratic partisans who do support same-sex marriage don't need to be reminded where it falls in the ideological spectrum.

The fight in California is different from that in Arizona in several significant ways:

  • The ballot initiative will just ban same-sex marriage, not domestic partnerships as well, like in Arizona. That difference was crucial for building a broader coalition of support and getting moderates and independents to oppose the amendment.

  • This ballot initiative is occurring during a presidential election when evangelicals are particularly unexcited about the Republican candidate. Consider this from the Mark DeMoss, PR exec for top-notch evangelicals:

    How intensely has the McCain campaign lobbied for your support?

    I've gotten one phone call from a campaign staffer, [director of messaging] Brett O'Donnell. Brett called a month ago and asked if I was opened to getting involved. I told him that I was involved with Mitt Romney not just because I liked the campaign, but because I felt like he was a special candidate at a special time. I told him that I'm a conservative a first and a Republican second. I was inclined to vote for Senator McCain but not to get involved beyond that.[...]

    You represent some of the nation's most powerful evangelicals. What do those leaders say about McCain?

    This is one guy's perspective, but I am surprised by how little I've seen or read in conservative circles about McCain since February. I don't think I've gotten one email or letter or phone call from anybody in America in the last four months saying anything about this election or urging that we unite behind John McCain and put aside whatever differences we have. Back in the fall and winter, you'd get several things a day from conservatives saying, "The future of the Supreme Court is at stake. We have to stop Hillary Clinton. Get behind so and so--or don't' go with this guy." It's just very quiet. It could meant there's a real sense of apathy or it could mean they're' waiting for the general election to begin. But it's a surprise, given the way email networks work now.

    Their GOTV effort isn't going to be the same as it was back four years ago, or two years ago when Senator Kyl was reelected in Arizona. And this year Democrats are tangibly more inspired and Obama's been registering a widening liberal base and engaging young voters, who tend to favor same-sex marriage.


  • Same-sex marriage in California is polling a whole lot better now (51-42) than it was in Arizona several months before their ballot initiative (40-52)*. That's pretty much flipping the numbers right around, and Arizona's gay and lesbian community was able to turn those numbers into a victory.

  • A bunch of same-sex marriages will have occurred in the time between next week and November that won't be overturned even if the initiative does get through. That's a lot of favorable earned press as well as people getting used to same-sex marriage.

    In Massachusetts, one year into legalized same-sex marriage, those marriages translated into a 62% approval rate for same-sex marriage, 84% of voters saying that same-sex marriage had a positive or no impact on quality of life, and 82% saying that it had positive or no impact on heterosexual marriage.


  • We can have a little faith in L and G LGBT activists in California considering they got same-sex marriage passed by the state legislature two times in the past several years. They're not "political amateurs or the politically tone deaf."

Here's where the campaigns stood on money on May 25:

According to its latest finance report filed with the Secretary of State's Office, the anti-gay marriage group, NOM-California, raised about $776,000 during the first quarter of 2008, although Brown said that number has now eclipsed $1 million.[...]

Equality for All, meanwhile, raised about $577,000 during the first quarter of 2008, fundraising that got a major boost with the $500,000 HRC pledge in the wake of the Supreme Court decision. The median donation was $100, and about 70 percent came from California donors. The campaign also received sizable donations from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Service Center.

Considering that this will probably be the center of LGBT activism over the next few months (for better or for worse), fundraising probably won't be as hard as it usually is for LGBT organizations. Equality for All is asking for donations.

All that to say that I'm not as concerned about the use of the phrase "right-wing" five or six times on the Equality for All website. McDonald seems to be coming from the "unity across both sides of the aisle is required for everything" perspective (it's fashionable right now in LA-area papers), but the fundamentals are against the ballot initiative.

California could well become the first state to reject an initiative solely to ban same-sex marriage.

* - That poll isn't a direct parallel, since the one in California asked if people approved of same-sex marriage in the abstract, while the second one specifically asked about the ballot initiative in Arizona. If anything, though, since the initiative in Arizona wasn't just about marriage, that would only increase the difference between the CA and AZ numbers.


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We can have a little faith in L and G activists in California

In an otherwise excellent post on promoting unity, why intentionally erase part of the community? The Californian "L" and "G"s are not the only people fighting this battle, nor are they the only ones affected by the outcome. The B and T also have a stake in who the government will allow them to marry and many are working hard (and writing checks) to make sure the anti-marriage initiative fails.

Thank you, Alex. You have reclaimed your spot as my favorite contributer. ;-)

Yeah, I was thinking, same-sex marriage = gay and lesbian. I forgot about the trans activists who worked against the amendment in Indiana (passionately) and the bi and trans (and allies too!) organizations listed in the coalition, as well as the stake B and T have in expanding marriage and its associated rights.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 11, 2008 11:28 PM

What concerns me are the stealth haters hiding behind their church schisms who would not give a straight answer until they are in the election booth.

You know the "Gay Gentleman or the Lesbian Lady (or Bi Trans) who is a queer once they left the room.

Ouch. What an article.

I think the author should spend some more time getting to know the various leaders of these organizations and learning what's going on before passing judgement.

We can have a little faith in L and G LGBT activists in California considering they got same-sex marriage passed by the state legislature two times in the past several years. They're not "political amateurs or the politically tone deaf."

Alex, I hope you meant this as an understatement.

The LG[BT] politicos in California have been on one side or the other of relevant state initiatives literally for decades, starting with the Briggs Initiative that was floated while Reagan was governor. Then came Propositions 96 and 102 (96 passed, it was virtually impossible to defeat) ... the California LGBT people have run this drill more times before than anyone else in the nation.

This is not to say that they cannot make mistakes. Anyone can. Just as there is the "fog of war" there is also the "fog of politics" ... and this is definitely one of those fights where we should gladly welcome in the Log Cabin folks as part of the team.)

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | June 12, 2008 2:45 PM

much in the same way Democrats see red whenever Republicans disparagingly say "liberal,"

Like so many pundits, I think McDonald is out of touch and spouting "conventional wisdom." Honestly, do you know any voter on our side who "sees red" if they're called "liberal"??

As for the "partisan" charge or the cal for "bi-partisianship," that's become code for "roll over and give Republicans what they want." I'm not the only registered Democrat who is totally fed up with it.

That's not to say I believe that marriage-equality is a given in California: we need to get up off our couches, volunteer, and make sure this ballot measure is defeated.

McDonald has a point - Pride at Work is an affinity group within the AFL-CIO - it's much stronger to have the AFL-CIO directly support this. There is lots of anti-gay animus in Labor.

I think McDonald hit it spot on. In Wisconsin, African Americans came out to vote for the amendment - and then voted in favor of Jim Doyle a Democrat, for governor. This should not be a partisan fight - and I'd like to see a Steve May be involved in organizing the fight against the amendment.

If this amendment is to be defeated, organizations like the Chamber of Commerce AND Labor Unions should be signed on in opposition. The governor will be crucial.