Strife hits amid Prop 8 repeal effort
by Seth Hemmelgarn
With an approved initiative in hand, backers of a drive to repeal Proposition 8 in 2010 began gathering petition signatures this week to get the measure on the ballot next November.
But even as signature gatherers hit the Castro Monday evening, the effort comes amidst continued disagreement about whether 2010 is the right time to repeal the measure, which California voters passed last November by 52 percent, altering the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
Asked if he thought pushing for repeal of Prop 8 now could hurt future efforts, John Henning, executive director of Love Honor Cherish, one of the proposal's backers, said he thinks it would help.
"Future efforts would be hurt by not acting in the present, because how does the straight community take us seriously that this is an important matter of civil rights if we're going to delay three years putting it back on the ballot?" said Henning.
The state attorney general's office approved five versions of the measure on Friday, November 13, and backers selected one for circulation. All five of the versions were submitted by Love Honor Cherish.
Backers also launched a new web site – http://www.SignForEquality.com – where users statewide can download petitions and build signature gathering teams.
The proposed initiative voids Prop 8 and spells out that religious entities can't be sued or have their tax-exempt status revoked if they refuse to perform same-sex weddings.
The proponents of the ballot initiative have 150 days to gather approximately 1 million signatures. The initiative officially needs 694,354 valid to qualify for the ballot. The signatures are due on April 12.
Henning said that several thousand people have expressed interest in gathering signatures, and backers have a target of collecting about 5,000 valid signatures each day. The group will verify signatures as they proceed, and that will "exclude a lot of our invalid signatures," said Henning.
He said his group is shooting for an all-volunteer campaign but "we are making contingency plans for paid signature gathering."
Henning wouldn't say how much money Love Honor Cherish has raised.
"We still aren't releasing that kind of information until we're obligated to" by the state, said Henning. He said that probably won't be until late January, but noted some contributions might require earlier disclosure.
Love Honor Cherish is a member of the statewide Restore Equality 2010 coalition, which is also taking part in the signature gathering effort.
Henning said the proposed initiative's backers are encouraging people to send the signatures they've collected to Love Honor Cherish by April 5.
Split on timing
Not everyone in the community supports trying to repeal Prop 8 in 2010.
Luis López is president of the Latino-based Honor PAC, a group that took part in Prepare to Prevail, the coalition that came out in July against the 2010 repeal effort.
"The verdict is in," López said this week. "I think the majority of the evidence and the majority of the community" has been clear that "this is just not the way to proceed."
He said, "With increasingly scarce resources and a lot of other work that needs to happen first, this is just not a wise investment of energy or resources."
López said that what he and others are hearing from Latino communities is that the preferences include having "one-on-one conversations with people of color" and developing "a strategic and longer-term plan to gather the necessary resources." One of the biggest criticisms of last year's No on 8 campaign was that outreach to communities of color and people of faith was inadequate.
In October, López joined the executive committee of Equality California Institute's Let California Ring marriage equality public education campaign. The institute is the educational arm of Equality California, an LGBT group that favors an effort to repeal Prop 8 in 2012.
Another member of the Let California Ring executive committee is Karin Wang, who's also on the steering committee for API Equality-LA and works with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center.
Wang said that API Equality-LA, which also took part in the Prepare to Prevail statement, has been working for more than five years in Los Angeles's Asian American community.
"We know from our work that we can change people's hearts and minds, but it takes a long time ... and it takes effort, and it's hard to do in the heat of a campaign battle," said Wang.
Andrea Shorter, Equality California's deputy director for marriage equality and coalition building, said, "We certainly admire the commitment of those who wish to return to the ballot in 2010. However, in 2012, the prospects for winning marriage back are much stronger."
Shorter said that, among other factors, "more young voters will be old enough to vote, and these younger voters will be more likely to vote during a presidential election, as will all voters."
Data has also shown that younger voters are more likely to support marriage equality than older voters.
Despite the concerns, in a conference call with reporters on Monday, November 16, Henning said that if backers get their measure on the ballot, "We absolutely do feel we'll be able to reunify the community around this issue."
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights who was a member of No on 8's executive committee, said in an interview, "I want see Prop 8 repealed, and if we could repeal it tomorrow or if we could've done it last month, I would have been fully supportive of that."
However, Kendell also said that she's worried that "we have not yet done the work" necessary to win repeal "and time is bearing down on us with very little possibility that that work can happen in the deep and muscular way it needs to between now and next November."
As far as whether NCLR would put resources behind the initiative if it makes it on to the ballot, Kendell said, "There's no doubt that every LGBT person and all of our allies and friends and every organization that can will need to make passing a repeal a priority." She added that another loss would only solidify voters' positions, "and that would be a disaster."
But Kendell also said that given the tough financial situation for the state and "virtually every nonprofit that we would count on to help in a repeal effort," she's "very concerned that we would be hard pressed to marshal the resources necessary to win" in 2010.
Supporters and opponents of Prop 8 raised more than $80 million altogether.
Those who have been on record as wanting to return to the ballot next year did point out that money would be a factor.
"I don't think you should ever rest in trying to defeat or overturn an injustice," said the Reverend Eric Lee, president and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference-Los Angeles, although he acknowledged there are questions over strategy and it's going to take "a tremendous amount" of money to overturn the measure.
Lee also said that, "I haven't seen the type of improvement that is necessary," for the campaign to repeal Prop 8 in 2010 be "as successful a campaign as it needs to be."
"There's still a lot of work that has to be done in building relationships with other communities, and it has to be focused on justice being universal," rather than justice only being focused on marriage equality, said Lee.
For example, he said, "the failure of public education" particularly "as it pertains to black and brown children" also needs to be addressed.
A recent poll from the Los Angeles Times and the University of Southern California showed nearly 60 percent of Californians do not want to revisit the same-sex marriage issue in 2010. That same poll, however, found a slim majority, 51 percent, supports the right of same-sex couples to marry. The survey interviewed 1,500 registered voters from October 27 through November 3. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.6 percent.
Asked about he poll during this week's conference call, Henning said that "a lot of people" who support marriage equality "want to see the issue go away, and frankly, the best way to have the issue go away is to have it be on the ballot as soon as possible and get it done with."
"The fact there's some discomfort ... isn't going to change people's willingness to vote for repeal, he added.
In terms of outreach, especially to people of color and faith communities, Henning told the Bay Area Reporter in a separate interview that Love Honor Cherish "is very focused on getting signatures" now, but that he's been told by several of his group's members that they're routinely the most represented organization in Vote for Equality's canvassing efforts.
Vote for Equality, which is the organizing arm of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, expanded canvassing into East Los Angeles this fall. The area has been known as having a large Latino population.
Henning said that those canvassing efforts aren't geared specifically toward 2010, "but a vote changed today is a vote changed for 2010."