Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Big bucks seen in amendment battle


Geoff Kors. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
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Groups on both sides of an initiative that would amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage are trying to raise millions of dollars in coming months.

"We will continue working to raise as much as we can and intend to mount a very strong campaign," Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, the statewide LGBT group leading the effort to defeat the amendment, wrote in a statement to the Bay Area Reporter . "The other side raised close to $2 million just to buy their way onto the ballot and they are saying they will raise in excess of $10 million for the campaign. We will need to match them dollar for dollar."

EQCA is spearheading Equality for All, a statewide coalition of LGBT and allied groups that has formed to fight the measure., the group backing the anti-gay marriage amendment, used paid signature gatherers around the state to collect names on petitions in support of the initiative. Neither nor the California chapter of the National Organization for Marriage, another key backer of the amendment, responded to requests for comment.

As previously reported in the B.A.R. , the group announced last week that it had gathered more than 1.2 million signatures. The deadline for turning in signatures was Monday, April 28. The initiative needs 694,354 valid signatures, or 8 percent of the votes cast in the last governor's race, to make it onto the ballot. Verifying the signatures is expected to take weeks.

Kors said help from initiative opponents is crucial in the coming months, but he's optimistic.

"It's going to take the community putting in more hours and giving more money than we ever had before, but we can win in November," he said in an April 24 phone interview.

So far this year Equality for All has raised about $659,000. This includes money from the Equality California Issues PAC.

The coalition, which is finalizing a fundraising plan, will use the money for activities such as reaching out to voters through TV, radio, the Internet, print media, direct mail, and phone banks. The money will also be used for polling, fundraising, and paying for campaign staff.

Reasons for optimism

One pollster said opponents of the amendment can win, but they'll need all the money they can get.

"It's going be a tough campaign, but based on the polling we've done the folks who are against this constitutional ban have a very good chance of defeating it in November," said Ben Tulchin of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in San Francisco. However, he added, opponents "will need a well-funded campaign ... to tell voters why this thing is so bad."

Tulchin's firm has done polling and other research for Equality for All, which paid the company $50,000 last October, records indicate.

He said the campaign to reach California's voters will cost at least $10 million to $15 million, but there are reasons for optimism.

Voters know gay marriage is already illegal, thanks to 2000's Proposition 22, he said. "There is a real resistance to permanently changing the state's constitution to treat one group of people unfairly," Tulchin said of people polled.

One of the people behind is reportedly Gail Knight, the widow of state Senator Pete Knight. Pete Knight authored Proposition 22, which was passed by voters in 2000 and holds that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." That measure is part of the state's family code, not the state constitution.

Even voters who oppose same-sex marriage have a feeling of "Why this? Why now?" Most people are more concerned with issues such as the economy and the war in Iraq, Tulchin said.

A record turnout is also expected in November as people go to the polls to select the next president. While younger voters were energized for the state's February presidential primary, it remains to be seen if they will turn out in record numbers in the fall. Polling in recent years has shown that younger voters support same-sex marriage, a trend that is seen today.

"In our polling, voters under 30 strongly support gay marriage," Tulchin said. "The fact that this [could be] on the ballot this November bodes very well for a 'no' vote."

The fact that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, recently referred to the initiative as "a waste of time" should also help, Tulchin said.

Schwarzenegger made the comments and came out against the proposed amendment during a meeting of the Log Cabin Republicans in San Diego earlier this month.

Campaigning related to the initiative is happening even as the state waits for the California Supreme Court to issue a ruling on the consolidated marriage case that stems from Mayor Gavin Newsom's action four years ago during which same-sex couples were allowed to wed. Those marriages were voided by the court later in 2004. A San Francisco judge then ruled that the state's marriage laws are unconstitutional, but that decision was overturned by a state appellate court, sending the case to the high court. A ruling is expected by June.

After opponents of the initiative learned of backers' signature gathering efforts earlier this year, Equality for All launched an aggressive "Decline to Sign" campaign, where volunteers discouraged people from signing the petitions.

Other efforts will include fundraising house parties throughout the state. These will be separate from the house parties held by Let California Ring, a coalition of groups associated with Equality California designed to educate people about same-sex marriage. More than 10,000 people have signed up to volunteer for the anti-amednment campaign, a spokeswoman said.

Help from across the country

Funds raised by both sides so far have come from around the country, as well as from California.

The Human Rights Campaign, which provided six staff members to help in Orange County, has contributed $100,000 to EQCA's political action committee, according to Trevor Thomas, HRC's deputy communications director. Thomas said the group is waiting to see what will happen next.

"While we still hope our efforts will ultimately be victorious in keeping our opponents off the ballot, we continue to be in strategic discussions with our partners at Equality for All about how we can work together to defeat the amendment if it is on the ballot in November," he said.

Jon Stryker, the openly gay president of the Michigan-based Arcus Foundation, contributed $55,000 to the political action committee. In an e-mail to the B.A.R., Lisa Turner, Stryker's political director, wrote, " Progressive values are under attack by the right wing by their trying to put this measure on the ballot. This is a waste of taxpayer funds."

Equality for All's next report to the state was due Wednesday, April 30.

On the side, much of the in-state contributions came from individuals and churches in Southern California, where Equality for All based a lot of its effort. National groups donated large sums to the cause.

The National Organization for Marriage-California has contributed at least about $800,000, according to state data. The group did not provide comment by press time.

Colorado-based Focus on the Family contributed at least approximately $86,000 in monetary and non-monetary funds. Amy Drown, Focus on the Family's media coordinator, said the group doesn't comment on state-level initiatives and wouldn't confirm the amount.

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