CA '24 ballot could have pro- and anti-LGBTQ measures

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 29, 2023
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Congressmember Barbara Lee stopped by Assemblymember Evan Low's "Marriage Equality Experience" at the recent state Democratic convention to show her support for repealing Proposition 8's language in the state constitution. Photo: Courtesy Evan Low's office
Congressmember Barbara Lee stopped by Assemblymember Evan Low's "Marriage Equality Experience" at the recent state Democratic convention to show her support for repealing Proposition 8's language in the state constitution. Photo: Courtesy Evan Low's office

Equality California recently raised nearly $100,000 for its campaign asking Golden State voters to repeal Proposition 8's anti-same-sex marriage language from the state's constitution — just as three initiatives that would limit the rights of trans residents have qualified for signature gathering.

LGBTQ rights organizations and leaders are concerned that the November 2024 California ballot could see pro- and anti-LGBTQ measures on it if at least one of the anti-trans initiatives qualifies.

Prop 8 repeal

As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 will be on the statewide ballot next November. Though Prop 8 — the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage — has since been ruled unconstitutional, its "zombie" language technically remains a part of the Golden State's governing document. After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the right to abortion last year, Justice Clarence Thomas, in his concurring opinion, stated that the high court should revisit its precedents on same-sex marriage. That fear helped spark a call to once and for all assure marriage equality is reflected in the state constitution.

ACA 5 was introduced by state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), two gay men who often introduce and sponsor legislation protecting LGBTQ rights. It passed out of the Legislature and will next face voters.

Now the real work begins as a campaign takes shape to help pass ACA 5. EQCA, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, is expected to play a leading role in the campaign. It is less clear how much EQCA will get involved in fighting any anti-trans initiatives that qualify. So far, the organization has not launched a decline to sign campaign, which is sometimes done in an effort to dissuade voters from providing their signatures for a measure to qualify for the ballot.

Regarding ACA 5, Tom Temprano, a gay man who is managing director of external affairs at EQCA, told the B.A.R. on November 13 that the organization has started conversations "with a number of organizations involved in the initial Prop 8, or who do a lot of work in this space now," including the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. Both of those entities were involved with the No on 8 campaign, which supported marriage equality.

"We are beginning fundraising," Temprano said, referencing the fundraiser held during the recent Democratic state convention in Sacramento alongside lesbian Senate president pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), Low, and Planned Parenthood.

"In partnership with organizations I mentioned, we will still be very actively engaged in the campaign and are planning to bring on a firm or firms to lead the ballot initiative effort," Temprano said. "We want to make sure we have folks experienced in this work."

Temprano told the B.A.R. November 28 that the November 17 fundraiser "raised nearly $100,000 and additional contributions are still coming in."

Jodi Hicks, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California's CEO and president, issued a statement to the B.A.R. stating that "marriage equality is a fundamental right, and everyone deserves the right to live their life with who they love as their authentic selves" and tying both the Prop 8 repeal and anti-trans initiatives to the fight for reproductive rights.

"We must continue to fight for LGBTQ+ rights, protect our trans and BIPOC communities, and tirelessly defend against future threats in the judiciary system that undermine foundational liberties," she stated, referring to Black Indigenous people of color. "Protecting marriage equality is a critical step in the bigger fight for LGBTQ+ rights and protections. Which is also why PPAC has taken a strong opposition stance against the three anti-trans initiatives that have been introduced."

Hicks stated that Planned Parenthood "is committed to standing up for trans youth and advocating for their rights to access health care, education, and supportive environments free from discrimination and stigma" and that some of the same people are behind both anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive moves.

"This is a fight Planned Parenthood knows well as the anti-abortion extremists' playbook is the same one being used to take away rights in the LGBTQ+ community," Hicks added. "Transgender and nonbinary folks are having to travel to states like California for care. Just as access to abortion ensures bodily autonomy and dignity, so does gender-affirming care, birth control, and any other care that allows all people to live their authentic lives."

The ACLU of Northern California did not return a request for comment.

Atkins' office declined a request for comment for this report, stating she is having time off with family, but referred the B.A.R. to the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus, which did not return a request for comment.

Also at the state Democratic convention, Low hosted the "Marriage Equality Experience" — a mockup of a wedding set where delegates and others had the opportunity to record their vows to protect marriage equality, take a photo on top of a giant wedding cake, and fill a flavor bag at a candy bar. Among those who visited the booth was Congressmember Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), a straight ally who is running for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by the late Dianne Feinstein (D-California).

Laphonza Butler (D), a Black lesbian whom Governor Gavin Newsom appointed to replace Feinstein after her September 29 death, has announced she will not run in 2024 for a full term.

Lee stated to the B.A.R. that as LGBTQ rights are under attack, same-sex marriage rights need protection.

"As we saw with the Dobbs decision, the GOP is organizing to turn back time and take away the freedom to make our own decisions over our bodies, who we love, and more," Lee stated. "Protecting marriage equality is critically important as we continue to defend from the onslaught of Republican attacks on our rights. From statehouses to Congress, we must protect our freedoms and ACA 5 is a good example of California leading the way."

Low, who may soon make an announcement that he will seek the U.S. House seat being vacated by retiring Congressmember Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), told the B.A.R. that the booth had "great energy" and was informative to delegates.

"Countless people did not remember, nor did they know that Proposition 8 is actually still in our state constitution," he stated.

Low's Assembly website includes a sparse Repeal Prop 8 page. The page currently includes an infographic and a link to a news release announcing he and Wiener had introduced ACA 5. When asked when this page will be updated, Low stated that "not until at least after the [secretary of state] office and [attorney general] confirms all measures that qualify in addition to issuing the title and summary. As I mentioned, ACA 5 won't get a proposition number until much later in 2024."

Temprano told the B.A.R. that internal polling shows ACA 5 has good chances for passage. EMC Research did an online survey of 1,200 likely November 2024 voters back in April showing that 75% agreed with the statement "everyone has a constitutional right to marry who they choose regardless of gender or sexual orientation."

Sixty-four percent strongly agreed with the statement, the polling memo states, and the majority stuck across age, ethnicity, and region of California. Even 47% of registered Republicans agreed.

Compare that to Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriages in the Golden State in November 2008 after it had already been legal by order of the state Supreme Court. In what had been an unexpected result, 52% of Californians voted for the measure the same day the state gave 61% of its votes to Barack Obama during his first run for president.

"A lot has changed nationally and in California since Prop 8 was passed," Temprano said. "I think largely folks in California are supportive of same-sex marriage and the right to marriage equality, and that bears out largely across the political spectrum — folks with strongly-held religious beliefs."

Indeed the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were bastions of support for Prop 8 15 years ago. The B.A.R. asked Temprano if EQCA is ready for other unexpected changes in public perception. As the B.A.R. has reported, nationally the percent of U.S. adults who found homosexuality "morally acceptable" dropped eight points from last year, from 71% to 64%. Only two-in-five Republicans nationally agreed that homosexuality is morally acceptable, which is down 15% from 2022.

And while last year's Proposition 1 passed handily — adding a right to abortion and contraceptives to the state constitution following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade — there were campaigns arguing that it was an expansion of abortion rights, and not simply codification of pre-existing state law.

"The hope is there won't be a significant misinformation campaign," Temprano said. "That said, obviously we will be prepared to combat any sort of negative campaign against this initiative. We're also keenly aware right now the LGBTQ community is under attack in California. We not only want to be prepared to respond to attacks against marriage equality but also the larger attacks the community is facing at this time."

A person waves a rainbow-themed California flag during the 2016 Trans March in San Francisco. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

Anti-trans initiatives
EQCA is less sure about the possibility of as many as three anti-trans initiatives on the same ballot as the Prop 8 repeal measure.

As the B.A.R. previously reported, the trio would require schools to report to parents any change in a student's expressed gender identity, without an exception for the student's safety; require trans students to participate in school activities and use bathrooms consistent with their assigned sex at birth; and ban gender-affirming care for minors.

The three initiatives were qualified by Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D., and each require 546,651 signatures from registered voters by April 29. The group Protect Kids California submitted the initiatives to Attorney General Rob Bonta in August for titles and summaries.

Protect Kids California did not return multiple requests for comment.

Some school boards in California have passed forced outing policies, such as in Chino Valley, where a state judge ruled the district could not enforce most of the new rule outing transgender and nonbinary students to their parents without their consent after it was sued by Bonta's office, as the B.A.R. reported.

Temprano said that "the Prop 8 repeal aside, it's just terrible that in 2024 there are folks in California who continue to — whether it's school boards or the state legislature or the ballot — who are demonizing LGBTQ+ youth.

"It's dangerous," he continued. "They have no place in California."

But it's still unclear if California voters feel the same way due to sparse statewide polling on these questions. A Gallup poll earlier this year showed 69% of Americans at-large would limit sports to a student athlete's sex assigned at birth, for example.

Asri Wulandari, a nonbinary trans woman who is manager of communications for the San Francisco Office of Transgender Initiatives, told the B.A.R. that "these initiatives are doing a lot more harm than good to our youth."

"Everyone deserves access to safety and body autonomy, especially transgender young people," Wulandari stated. "These far-right extremist policies are fearmongering and scapegoating tools to further vilify the transgender community, starting with our youth who are especially vulnerable. We, as Californians, cannot accept this."

When asked how the confluence of the measures might affect ACA 5, Wulandari stated that "regardless of the push from extremist groups to get these anti-trans initiatives to the ballot, they cannot undo years of activism and progress from the LGBTQI+ community."

"It is clear that the majority of voters in California have moved beyond this outdated law," Wulandari stated of Prop 8.

But not everyone is so sanguine — at the annual vigil commemorating the assassinations of supervisor Harvey Milk and mayor George Moscone, several longtime activists argued that LGBTQ civil rights are very much up for grabs next year. As the B.A.R. reported, Nicole Murray Ramirez, a gay Latino San Diego community leader known as the Queen Mother I of the Americas and Nicole the Great, argued a rebirth of LGBTQ activism is necessary to prevent a return to the closet, and gay AIDS Memorial Quilt co-founder Cleve Jones said, "everything that has happened to move us forward over 45 years could be swept away in the blink of an eye. If you take it for granted, they will take it away."

Wiener spoke at the vigil, mentioning the initiatives and the school boards' actions.

"With the explosion of anti-LGBTQ hate around the country, it's essential that California remain a beacon of hope and a place of refuge for our community," Wiener told the B.A.R. before the vigil. "We must never allow bigotry to prevail in our state."

Last year, Newsom signed Wiener's Senate Bill 107, designating the state as a refuge for trans kids and their families. The law makes it California policy to reject any out-of-state court judgments removing trans kids from their parents' custody because they allowed them to receive gender-affirming health care.

Temprano told the B.A.R. November 13 that EQCA has not decided whether it should start a decline to sign campaign for the initiatives, which would ask people not to sign the initiative petitions.

"We have not made a decision about whether to do a decline to sign," he said.

"It's offensive and it's dangerous that there are folks in California who are trying to score political points and bring attacks on trans youth to the ballot in this state in 2024," he added, referring to the proposed initiatives. "It feels almost unthinkable, but here we are."

Temprano reiterated this November 28.

"Equality California and our partner LGBTQ+ civil rights organizations are continuing to monitor the activity of this extremist group," Temprano stated, referring to Protect Kids California. "We aren't taking any options off the table, including a decline to sign campaign, and will be prepared to launch an opposition effort if and when necessary."

Wiener stated he trusts EQCA will make the smartest decisions.

"I'm confident our LGBTQ leadership organizations will strategically do whatever it takes to ensure this hateful abomination of a ballot measure never becomes law," Wiener said.

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