Editorial: EQCA must 'be bold' on ballot measure

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday May 22, 2024
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Equality California's contingent marched in last year's Los Angeles Pride parade. Photo: John Ferrannini
Equality California's contingent marched in last year's Los Angeles Pride parade. Photo: John Ferrannini

Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization, recently announced that it has selected its theme for Pride 2024: "Be Proud. Be Loud. Be Bold." It's great that the organization is harnessing the need for us to "raise our voices and declare that we're here to create a world that is healthy, just, and fully equal for all people — and we aren't going anywhere," as Executive Director Tony Hoang wrote in an email to supporters. But with less than six months until the November election, EQCA must be especially bold in one area: running a successful campaign to repeal the "zombie" language in Proposition 8 that is still in the California Constitution.

Voters will see Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 on the November 5 ballot. As we have reported, LGBTQ leaders kicked off the campaign in February. The amendment is necessary because state voters narrowly approved Prop 8 in 2008, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional following a 2010 federal trial, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision in 2013, with same-sex marriages resuming in the Golden State that June. But the language of the original ballot measure remains in the state's governing document.

The issue of the Prop 8 language was raised in 2022 due to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion. In a concurring opinion in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested precedent on issues ranging from contraception to sodomy laws to same-sex marriage could be changed.

"In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court's substantive due process precedents, including Griswold [contraception], Lawrence [sexual relations between same-sex couples], and Obergefell [same-sex marriage]," Thomas wrote. "Because any substantive due process decision is 'demonstrably erroneous,' we have a duty to 'correct the error' established in those precedents."

This alarmed LGBTQ rights advocates and last year state legislators passed ACA 5 to place a remedy on this year's ballot. (It does not yet have a proposition number.)

In February, California LGBTQ leaders officially kicked off what they're calling the Freedom to Marry campaign to promote ACA 5. In February it was reported that EQCA, the national Human Rights Campaign, and TransLatin@ Coalition would be leading the campaign. This week, it was announced that a Southern California kick-off for the effort would take place Thursday morning. That's certainly a welcome development. We need to see more campaign kick-offs up and down the state, especially as we move into Pride Month.

While the majority of Californians support marriage equality — even among Republicans, according to polls — the November ballot is going to be crowded. In addition to president and U.S. Senate races, there will be myriad local candidates and measures to vote for. It's critically important that voters not be complacent. And that might be difficult, given that same-sex marriage has been legal here since June 2013. Many people may not realize that the old Prop 8 language is still in the constitution and wonder why it needs to be permanently excised. That's why it's necessary that EQCA and its partner organizations begin outreach efforts now.

At last weekend's state Republican Party convention in Burlingame, the Log Cabin Republicans were able to get state party delegates to vote to remain neutral on the marriage ballot measure, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported. (It's probably the one good thing Log Cabin has done in recent memory.) While there are doubtless Republican voters who oppose same-sex marriage, having the state party remain neutral sends a message to them and they may reconsider their stance.

But EQCA and the other organizations can't rest as election season heats up. LGBTQ and allied candidates running for local offices must speak out in support of marriage equality and the real harm that could occur if the proposition does not pass. Governor Gavin Newsom, who helped kick-start the marriage equality movement when, in 2004 as mayor of San Francisco, he ordered local officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, also needs to step up. Instead of all these online ads for his ridiculous federal constitutional convention to address gun safety — which will never happen — he should be spending some of his political capital and campaign war chest to protect a right that is in real danger of slipping away, given the conservative supermajority that sits on the Supreme Court. EQCA should begin having conversations with Newsom's team to make sure the governor is on board and a forceful voice for equality.

Running a statewide initiative campaign isn't easy, and we believe the majority of voters favor same-sex marriage. But given all the other items appearing on the ballot, it will take work to fight through the noise and complacency to make sure voters know that LGBTQ rights are on the ballot. We need to get that old, outdated Prop 8 language stricken from the California Constitution.

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