LGBTs need to step up in marriage fight
by Cynthia Laird and Heather Cassell
With an estimated six-month window of opportunity until the California Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in the same-sex marriage case, advocates with the statewide Let California Ring campaign are urging community members to step up activity in an effort to move public opinion in their direction.
Legal briefings in the consolidated marriage case have concluded, and the court is expected to hear oral arguments next spring. Typically, the Supreme Court issues its decisions within 90 days of oral arguments, though there is no set schedule. Using that timeline, with the caveat that no one knows for sure what the court will do, advocates said now is the time for community members to get involved. That means talking with friends and family members at holiday gatherings, and donating money so that the campaign can air its television ad, officials said.
"The challenge to us in California is: will we use every day between now and the summer to make the same powerful case for the freedom to marry in the court of public opinion," Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, told the Bay Area Reporter during an interview last week. "The clock is ticking."
Wolfson, who runs his national organization in New York, made a swing through the state last week to talk to donors and others in an effort to help jump start Let California Ring. The campaign, run by the Equality California Institute, has the support of some 45 state and national organizations, ranging from the NAACP and United Farm Workers to the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Let California Ring launched this fall and received some media buzz in October, when it unveiled its television ad on National Coming Out Day. While the ad did not air often on TV, it did get wide exposure through news stories around the state and was featured on national outlets such as CNN.
Currently, Massachusetts is the only state that allows same-sex couples to wed. Wolfson said that should same-sex marriage become legal in California, it would provide a huge jolt to the movement.
"One-eighth of the country's people live in the state," he said. "California has always been a bellwether, a trendsetter."
And, Wolfson added, justices do pay attention to what's going on outside the courtroom. "Courts are affected by the climate around them and everyone â€“ non-lawyers â€“ can shape that."
To meet that challenge, Wolfson suggested that people use the tools on the Let California Ring Web site to "create conversations" with friends, family members, and co-workers. There are a lot of straight people who support same-sex marriage, he said, they just need to be asked for that support.
Additionally, the campaign needs people to sign up on the site so that they can be contacted, be enlisted in the fight for marriage equality, and yes, be asked to contribute money, especially now with year-end giving drives under way.
"The ad is great, but we need money to air it," Wolfson said.
But not everyone is on board with the fight for marriage. Leland Traiman, co-chair of Equality Without Marriage, believes that the push for marriage is a mistake that will hurt the LGBT community. Traiman believes that if the California Supreme Court imposes same-sex marriage on Californians by simply changing the title "domestic partnerships" to "marriage," the right wing will put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would not only block same-sex marriage, but would also take away domestic partner benefits.
He pointed to the rash of laws and constitutional amendments passed in recent years. According to the Human Rights Campaign's Web site, 42 states have laws banning same-sex marriage. Twenty-three of those states have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and 38 of those states don't reco
Traiman claims that is evidence that "wherever there is an election, we've lost practically 2-1" and that's "too high a price to pay." Traiman, who is raising two children with his partner and doesn't want to lose domestic partner benefits, added, "It's an egotistical thing to say that we in Massachusetts or that we in California can have marriages [and] the rights of marriage."
Traiman told the B.A.R. the only way LGBT people would acquire true marriage equality is under the title "domestic partner or civil unions."
"If we are lucky enough to elect any of the Democrats, hopefully [federal civil unions] is what we will get," he said, referring to next year's presidential race.
"Federal civil unions is marriage equality," Traiman said.
"To be fighting for marriage is to disregard what is politically possible," said Traiman, who thought Let California Ring was a nice and "sweet little thing," but wouldn't garner the votes needed to win an election. "It is leading our community off of a political cliff."
Wolfson doesn't buy that argument, calling it a "false either-or."
"That's like saying it is irresponsible to keep pushing for gay equality because people are uncomfortable with it," said Wolfson, who noted that right-wing groups for more than a decade have mounted anti-gay attacks on "every civil rights struggle."
Wolfson said that in the last year there have been more "pro-gay votes than any other year in the chapter of marriage equality" and polling "even amongst hard core opponents" is "slowly declining."
The way to keep the momentum going, in spite of recent "upticks" of right wing activity in California and New Jersey, Wolfson said, is to keep the "echo chamber" going around marriage equality, especially in California with the projected window of opportunity between now and summer 2008.
Let California Ring is maintaining that momentum through house parties and the ad. There have been an estimated 85 house parties throughout the state since the summer and another 140 parties are planned over the next two months. Each house party adds an estimated three to five new party hosts, said Seth Kilbourn, policy director of the EQCA Institute, and raises an estimated $800 to $1,200 for the campaign.
So far, Let California Ring has raised more than $3 million toward its $7 million goal to support the entire marriage equality education campaign, which includes the TV ad, the interactive Web site with an online store, house parties, and education tool kits. The campaign's most recent online endeavor is a MySpace social network (www.myspace.com/letcaliforniaring). Another network is planned for Facebook.
For more information, visit www.letcaliforniaring.org.