Gay Leaders Debate Taking Marriage Fight to 2010 Ballot if Calif. High Court Upholds Ban
LOS ANGELES - Gay rights activists are weighing the wisdom of rushing in front of voters a repeal of the state ballot measure that banned gay marriage.
While two initiatives seeking to undo Proposition 8 - the voter-approved measure - already have been submitted to the Secretary of State, pro-gay marriage leaders say 2010 may be too soon to bring the issue back before voters.
"There is one thing worse than losing Prop. 8, and that would be losing again," said Chad Griffin, a Los Angeles political consultant who organized Hollywood's opposition to the ban. He was speaking to about 400 activists who gathered for a statewide planning summit here Saturday.
Although several legal challenges are pending before the California Supreme Court, the option of another ballot fight has been discussed as a backup strategy since Proposition 8 passed with 52 percent of the vote on Nov. 4. The court could render a decision as early as June.
If the Supreme Court upholds the measure, that would leave same-sex marriage supporters with a viable, but very tight window in which to prepare and pull off a November 2010 rematch, said John Henning, executive director of the gay marriage group Love Honor Cherish.
"The deadline for us to be gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative would actually be this fall," Henning said. "We have to raise money, we have to train people how to gather these signatures and we have to get 10,000 people out doing something they may not be comfortable doing."
One of the initiatives submitted to the state for approval this month, launched by a gay rights group in Davis, would repeal Proposition 8 outright. The second, initiated by two Los Angeles residents, would eliminate marriage as a state-sanctioned institution and replace it with domestic partnerships for couples gay and straight.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said she understands the urgency gay marriage supporters feel. But ultimately, a decision on timing would have to be based on "what makes the most strategic and political sense" and "a full appreciation of the enormity of such an undertaking," she said.
Apart from the practical mechanics, another factor to consider is whether it would be possible to raise enough money for a serious campaign in a poor economy, Kendell said. Spending for and against Proposition 8 exceeded $75 million, making it the most expensive ballot fight on a social issue in the nation's history.
David Binder, a San Francisco pollster who conducted a postelection analysis of why voters supported Proposition 8, said aiming for November 2010 has several advantages for same-sex marriage supporters.
For one, the disappointing outcome of the Proposition 8 fight has energized a lot of gay marriage supporters and the momentum could be lost by waiting two more years, Binder said. Also, California voters will be going to the polls next year to elect a new governor to replace Arnold Schwarzenegger, so turnout is likely to be high.
On the downside, passage of the measure, which marked the first time that voters were asked to take away marriage from gay couples who could legally wed, indicates that large numbers of voters remain firmly opposed to same-sex marriage. There may not be time to move enough of them to change their minds in 21 months, Binder said.
"There is significant groundwork that needs to be done, and I don't know if it can be done that quickly," he said. "You want to strike while the iron is hot, but moving too quickly and then losing would have an extremely damaging effect."
Despite the message of caution, several groups already have started raising money and organizing supporters with an eye toward next year. The Courage Campaign, an online political advocacy group, held a training camp for gay marriage activists on Sunday modeled after the grass roots organizing method President Barack Obama used early in his campaign for the White House.
"I don't think anybody knows when is the best time to go back," Courage Campaign chairman Rick Jacobs said. "My philosophy is having it go every time, and eventually we will win."