Karen Ocamb

My Brief Journalistic Dilemma Over Prop 8

Filed By Karen Ocamb | October 19, 2008 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, Courage Campaign, DNC, Ellen DeGeneres, gay marriage, Joe Biden, Mormon, No On 8, Prop 8, Republicans Against 8, Ron Burkle, Rosie O'Donnell, Sir Ian McKellen, The Advocate, Yes on 8

I've been having some very revealing discussions about Proposition 8 lately. Prop 8 - that ballot measure that would change the California constitution to take away the fundamental right to marry for same sex couples - the one the Religious Right has spent tens of millions of dollars to pass or face Armageddon - that one.

A producer for a local NPR radio station called to cancel my appearance on the network version of the show - because the guest host wanted someone non-partisan, someone who could talk fairly about both sides of the issue. And obviously, as the gay news editor for two LGBT publications (lIN Los Angeles magazine and Frontiers magazine) - that wasn't me.

Oh, I could fairly and accurately report on the positions of both sides, I told her - but am I an advocate for one side - the side that wants full equality for official second-class LGBT American citizens like me? Damn straight!

After a 35-year (OMG! Has it been that long?) professional career striving to be a fair and balanced journalist, trying to keep myself out of the story and be as "objective" as possible, I found myself telling a professional collegue that sometimes the two sides in a political debate are NOT equivalent.

Prop 8 amounts to the Jim Crow laws of our time where the majority is using "traditional values" and religion as the rationale to take away an existing civil right of a minority. If you are going to truly be fair and balanced in presenting this case, I told her, you would need the equivalent of an avowed religious/racist - someone from the KKK, for instance - to debate an African American citizen who just wants the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Maybe they would do a Prop 8 story later on, closer to the election, she said.

I understand the critical importance of discussing the economic crisis - which has trumped the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, healthcare, poverty - everything but William Ayers, ACORN and now drug use - in these last weeks of the presidential campaigns.

But other than the economy and the two wars, the only other story I'm interested in during this extraordinary election season is the unabashed attempt by the Religious Right to deprive a minority (that includes me) - of an existing civil right by pleblecite - Prop 8.

The fight to preserve marriage rights for same sex couples is actually non-partisan - Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, for instance, supports marriage equality. And the LA-based Republicans Against 8 group actually went to the state and national GOP conventions to advocate a "No" vote in a party that has not been very hospitable to gay people over the past eight years.

In fact, I've been roundly criticized by LGBT Democrats for constantly pointing out that Barack Obama wasn't born in a manger (as he joked about recently), and that as an expert in the US Constitution, he should understand that civil unions are not the same as civil marriage equality but separate and unequal treatment for a specific class of people. Gays should not be penalized because HE thinks "God is in the mix" when it comes to marriage, as if God views gay people differently than His other children. I would think Obama would know that his personal religious beliefs should not infringe on my civil rights.

"Just shut up! Let us win the White House first," I've been told. "Do you want John McCain and four more years of George Bush?"

I explained that silence and invisibility haven't work for us so far - and I find it difficult to believe that my criticizing a presidential candidate would be sufficient to bring him down. Many of us criticize the ones we love, after all - and then go to Al Anon. But thank heavens I have the backing of my publishers.

I have also been yelled at for noting that Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden screwed up by agreeing on same sex marriage with Sarah Palin. But at least he didn't evoke his Catholicism.

I was also intensely disappointed that Biden didn't come out publicly in opposing Prop 8 when he was in the gay heartland of West Hollywood Thursday - appearing about 40 minutes after openly gay West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran whipped up the crowd in the Pacific Design Center Plaza with shouts of "No on 8."

I was already stirred up about the fundraiser because neither the Democratic National Committee nor the California Democratic Party has given a penny to No on Prop 8 - and here the Obama/Biden campaign and the DNC were holding a $500-per-ticket plaza event featuring Maroon 5 and a $5,000-per plate dinner - taking money out of California when it is so desperately needed here. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Obama is outspending GOP rival John McCain four-to-one in advertising.

I managed to get into the Biden event so I hung on the rope line eager to ask him about Prop. 8. He's a very friendly guy, six terms as a senator from Delaware so he's had lots of practice schmoozing folks, though I actually think he's authentic. He posed for pictures with the kids whose parents brought them to hear Maroon 5 and only knew that he was famous and he hugged Latino women who earlier chanted "Si Se Puede!" with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He appeared to enjoy the limelight.

Biden.JPGBut when he got to me, Biden stopped cold in his tracks. Maybe it was the look on my face. I wasn't beaming. I introduced myself and he surprised me by taking my hand, and leaning in very closely so he could hear me. "Are you going to oppose Prop 8...." - I didn't have to finish or explain. He immediately stood up upright and said, "Yes. I was just on the Ellen show and I came out against it." And then he moved on.

I was heartened - at least he understood Prop 8 was a problem. Too bad he didn't equate it with the overall need for change. West Hollywood was the perfect place to take a stand by linking Prop 8 to the right wing fundamentalists who have profoundly influenced the Bush Administration. Biden is being used in the Yes on 8 ads, after all, so he would be the perfect messanger. But the campaign apparently thought he should bundle it up with other issues and toss it out in the comfortable national environment of
Ellen's talk show
on Monday.

If the Obama/Biden team - and the DNC - have announced that they are opposed to "divisive" measures - why don't they actually take a stand and publicly loudly decry these measures in California, Arizona and Florida and give money to match the millions from the Religious Right? If Prop 8 was explicitly a new Jim Crow law stripping any other minority of an existing civil right - would they be as low-key and stingy?

And speaking of Ellen - applause, applause for her finally stepping up after my initial story caused such an uproar and took on a life of its own. Three groups formed on Facebookto encourage her to donate to No on Prop 8.

But when I learned Sir Ian McKellen had come out against Prop 8 in response to a request from the Beverly Hills High School Gay/Straight Alliance - I looked at their website(which needs updating -TR Knight has contributed $100,000, for instance), I was struck by the huge number of famous LGBT people and allies who have not gotten involved in the No on Prop 8 effort. And that's not to mention the studio executives, agents, publicists - the gay machinery that makes Hollywood work.

I don't understand why everybody just screeching to a halt at the prospect of this extraordinary, extreme and preventable civil rights violation.

A friend in the entertainment industry said he asked the same thing of a famous actress. Apparently she said that her contract did not allow her to get involved in politics?

What? I've heard about the "morals clause" where an actor can be fired for some illegal or scandalous behavior. But a clause restricting freedom of speech? Really?

Surely that's not something Rosie O'Donnell would agree to - and yet - where is she on Prop 8? Silence. Invisible. Nada since her famous walk down the long marble stairs of San Francisco's City Hall after getting married in February 2004 to her wife Kelly.

What's everybody afraid of? Doesn't anybody worry that Prop 8 might be the harbinger of something more sinister: the advance of theocracy in a democratic society - where the Religious Right is determined to buy an election.

As of Friday, the Mormons have contributed over $9 million dollars and launched a websitewith seven Yes on 8 videos, also posted on YouTube.

And a quick check of the California Secretary of State's website indicates that Christian fundamentalist Howard F. Ahmanson Jr. contributed another $95,000 . through the Fieldstead and Co. yesterday to the Yes on 8 campaign. That's in addition to his previous $900,000 contribution. (The Advocate's Kerry Eleveld recently reportedon Ahmanson's past contributions to radical right wing political causes.)

I wonder - if their "preservation" of "traditional" marriage between a man and a woman is so sacred - why haven't they poured that money into pre-martial counseling to curb the high heterosexual divorce rate? And if they wanted to eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry, why didn't the Religious Right mobilize in Massachusetts during the many opportunities there from May 17, 2004 to June 2007, when a marriage amendment failed to get five votes in the state legislature to qualify a ballot initiative?

And how will the media report on the massive Christian Right rally at Qualcomm Stadium Nov. 1 - the culmination of 40 days of prayer and fasting described on TheCall's website? Will anyone make the distinction between their right to freedom of religion and speech - and our civil right to marry and exit? Look at their video and you decide how to report this story.

But here's the other thing about covering the battle over Prop. 8 - there are so many people - gay and straight - who DO understand how profoundly important this fight is. Friday afternoon bloggers from the California-based progressive Courage Campaign and Calitics, among others, organized a new group BloggersAgainst8 that rallied so quickly and so extensively, they "won" a weekly fundraising contest for Equality for All/ the No on Prop 8 campaign on Daily Kos that enables them to raise political contributions through that huge progressive site.

The ad wars are now on and I'm probably wind up reporting who's up and who's down in the polls - even though the polls are mostly snapshots of that moment. An entertainment industry fundraiser this Tuesday at Ron Burkle's estate will help bring in money to keep that ad war competitive.

As for me and my seeming 24/7 reporting on Prop 8, I think that when this battle is over, I won't lose any sleep over my temporary loss of objectivity. In fact, I think I will sleep soundly knowing I have done the best reporting I can - for and about my people and what we represent for democracy.

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Since when is being objective mean treating everything as morally equivalent? There is such a thing as objective wrong. Fair and balanced means safe for the advertisers/sponsors. Thanks for upholding real journalism.

Thank you (again again again) for not letting up on reporting the weakness of the Democratic Party and the fawning of far too many LGBT people.

Many writers at this very blog think that their unwavering support is enough to ensure victory/support from a political party that repeatedly showed their lack of concern for us. No amount of evidence or common sense gets through to these desperate wanna-bes.

It's sad, really....almost pathetic...that in West Hollywood anyone queer would give $500 to see a politician that won't fight for equal protections.

And that politician is the 2nd in command to the one that has the most understanding of equal protections and constitutional principles.

They have raised more in one month than their opponent has spent and yet these allies of ours are too afraid to defend our citizenship and far too many of us are lined up to help them get away with it.

I can't wait to hear the apologies and explanations that start up after Obama is in office and nothing changes with our situation...hopefully there will not be erosion.

This is why I will vote with great pride on November 4 for Nader/Gonzalez and Cindy Sheehan instead of cutting myself and voting for someone that is too weak, cowardly, and corrupt to fight for me.

They have more money than they can possibly spend in the next two weeks on anything that will produce more growth in Obama's lead in the polls.

Why are they being so cheap and hateful with their money?

Why are we being so weak and shallow to let them get away with it?

Also - please post this column (or give me the permission) at Pam's House Blend.


So many people need to hear this point of view.

I included a link to your post in the comments at a post in The Gist about Ellen/Biden.


The Steve Bing matching donation is still in play on No on 8 until midnight tonight. It is worth $1 million to the campaign.

I have serious problems with the ads that No on 8 is producing but it is too late to do anything about that (in other words the ads are gonna suck "whether I like it or not").


"What's everybody afraid of? Doesn't anybody worry that Prop 8 might be the harbinger of something more sinister: the advance of theocracy in a democratic society - where the Religious Right is determined to buy an election."

Good point and thanks for the article. We are doing our part in Palm Springs, not as big as Hollywood, but outraising funds over the opponents.


It seems to me that there's a higher morality at stake than a "contract." If these famous people are so worried about losing their jobs, they need to trust that they will be supported by us in return.

Also, Karen, which NPR affiliate wouldn't have you on the show? It would be nice to know. A mass call-in would be interesting way of showing non-violent displeasure.

As a gay genderqueer Jew, I am deeply chilled by these events. A sense of history does lend perspective. On my Facebook, I've have been reaching out to everyone--all faiths, all regions, all languages. We need a new paradigm, and we will only get to it by reach across distances. That said, I was impressed today. A Christian woman made a very eloquent appeal in the No on Prop 8 forum; it follows.


Likewise, at my local NPR station, I got an interesting and unexpected email (names removed for confidentiality):

Thanks for coming in and appearing on the show. It was a good segment and I'm glad they've got that straightened out sort of.

By the way, not all churches are homophobic. My church has many gay members and our priest insisted that we be inclusive before he would sign his contract.

If your repeal movement gets to the point of a petition drive or something like that, let us know. That's stuff we love to cover.


The seem to get Friedrich Nietzsche:
What else is love but understanding and rejoicing in the fact that another person lives, acts, and experiences otherwise than we do…?

Next step for me, trying to figure out how Nevada's system works so I can get out that petition. It's too late this year, and if I'm still here next time around...

When financial papers reported on the Baring Bank scandal, no one in journalism felt compelled to present the embezzler's side of the story for balance.

I do not recall anyone in Europe demanding equal time for genocide perpetrator Radovan Karadczik recently.

Is NPR also presenting the Wall Stret executive's side of the outrageous bonuses given to execs of bankrupt investment groups?
I do not seem to recall them doing so.

Sometimes, there is a right side and a wrong side.
Taking away a constitutional right is the wrong side.
If we were talking about an amendment to end interracial marriage, there would be only a right side and a wrong side.

But it is about LGBT's, so prejudice against us remains a valid viewpoint....

I do not recall anyone in Europe demanding equal time for genocide perpetrator Radovan Karadczik recently.
Ah, but in the current climate if you present only the gay side you do get accused of not being balanced (that's when you're not accused of being in the clutches of the Homosexual Agenda).

A Detroit paper ran a feature article about a homophobe and I wrote a note to both the author and the paper decrying the missing balance as a way of saying the I wanted to refute the homophobe's arguments. The author replied, saying I didn't understand what it means to write a balanced article.

I love this story, it shows we are not alone:

Gabriela sent you a message.

Re: The Official NO ON PROP 8 group

I am heterosexual, happily married, mother of a two year old boy and I hope that some day society will stop judging others and let everybody live free with the same rights and benefits regardless of their believes.

I’ve been a Wedding Minister for many years and throughout the years I’ve performed many ceremonies for people from different backgrounds. Civil Weddings for heterosexual couples, commitment Ceremonies for both heterosexual and same-sex couples and as of July 17th of this year Civil Weddings for same-sex couples too. I know that everybody has different believes and opinions and respect them, and although I don’t try to change peoples minds, I always answer the same thing when they ask me about my point of view regarding gay marriages “I truly believe that love has no gender, or age, or race or faith; it just is…and it exists to bring joy and happiness to those whom share a mutual filling regardless of what society has to say”.

One day while I was waiting for the Marriage Licenses I ordered at county clerk’s office there was a heterosexual couple waiting for their marriage license and I overheard their conversation. They were talking about same-sex marriages because there were a few gay couples waiting for their marriage license too. They were going on and on about how they thought that it was wrong and discussing, after a while I couldn’t help to intervene and I said:

“Excuse me I couldn’t help overhearing what you were talking about, and I just want it to understand your logic behind your believes”

and he said… “Well it is just wrong”

Me - “Why do you think is wrong?”

Him- “Because God created a man and a woman for a reason”

Me - “Well…may I ask you something?

Him - “Yes! Sure…”

Me – “Do you prefer masturbation over oral sex?”

They both looked at me as if I was a crazy pervert and after a few seconds he said…

Him – “I don’t see why my sexual life should be of your concern”

Me – “Exactly!!! Why should the sexual life of other people should be anybody’s concern? Don’t you think that what you do in the bedroom should only concern you and your partner? And don’t you think that everybody should have the same rights regardless of their sexual preferences?

Him – “Well that is different”

Me- “Why is it different?

They looked at each other got up and left… I don’t think I was able to change their mind but I know that they realized that they didn’t have a valid reason for their way of thinking.

I hope that this story at least helps people that opposes same-sex marriages realize that they don’t have to share the believes of those who are pro the cause, but at least they shouldn’t contest it.

All the best!!!


After a 35-year (OMG! Has it been that long?) professional career striving to be a fair and balanced journalist, trying to keep myself out of the story and be as "objective" as possible, I found myself telling a professional collegue that sometimes the two sides in a political debate are NOT equivalent.

This is a pernicious attitude, pretending that it's enough to present "each side" of an argument (as if there are always only two!) and then let people decide, fact-checking, analysis, and truth be damned.

I think there was an interesting case related to all this a while back when a history columnist wanted to march in a Pride parade. The paper didn't want him to, but they didn't have a problem with another columnist, who was Irish, marching in a St. Patrick's Day parade. It's interesting what we consider "political."