August 18, 2009

How to Overturn Prop 8? Confusion Reigns

Confused about how the fight to overturn California's Proposition 8 is being handled? If not, you should be. Confusion and disagreement rule the day.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Equality California wants to wait until the 2012 election for a referdum initiative:

Leaders at Equality California announced Wednesday that next year's ballot may be too soon to gather the huge political organization needed to "change hearts and minds" of state voters on the issue of same-sex marriage.

"It takes time, commitment and lots and lots of volunteers to undo the untruths that our opponents have been telling," said Mark Solomon of Equality California. "If we do the work at the level we need, we can have the support we need by 2012."

But the decision was met with scathing criticism from other progressive organizations and gay rights groups.

Yes Equality will defy Equality California's decision and move forward with other groups to get the matter on the ballot sooner, said Chaz Lowe, who heads the group. "Any way we slice it, we find the (gay) community wants to move forward in 2010," he said in a telephone interview.

The 700,000-member Courage Campaign, meanwhile, said it is "pushing ahead to file a ballot measure" in 2010, when state voters will decide their next governor, and its officials said today they have raised $135,998 to invest in research, polling and focus groups in an effort toward repealing the ban next year.

In an editorial, the Chronicle supported the Equality California approach:

It's regrettable that the restoration of marriage rights to gays and lesbians has to be subject to strategic political calculation. But it's also hard to argue with the conclusion reached by Equality California, the state's largest gay-rights group, that the repeal of Proposition 8 would have a better chance in 2012 than in 2010.

Other gay-rights groups plan to push forward with a ballot measure in 2010.

Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said he agrees with the decision to wait. "There is much work to be done in winning the hearts and minds of California voters," he said, citing polls that showed public opinion has not shifted notably since November.

However, polls show an unmistakable correlation between voters' ages and their support for marriage equality, and each election cycle brings another wave of young voters. The issue also is advanced as Californians who may be instinctively uncomfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage consider the effect of this discrimination among neighbors and colleagues who are denied the rights, responsibilities - and societal reverence - of marriage.

The delay is wise in giving advocates of marriage equality the time - and resources - to educate and motivate voters to remove this vestige of discrimination from the state constitution.

Meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News reports that the lawsuit against Proposition 8 continues, and there is still disagreement over who should be allowed to participate:

As a federal judge this week tries to herd the legal challenge over Proposition 8 toward a trial, one of his tasks will be to sort through the simmering tensions over legal strategy within the pro-gay marriage movement.

The conflict, which until this summer percolated behind the scenes, went very public in recent weeks when the powerhouse group backing the latest lawsuit against Proposition 8 moved to block the direct involvement of gay rights groups that previously led the charge against gay marriage bans in California and other states.

In court papers filed Aug. 7, lawyers for the two same-sex couples suing to block Proposition 8 asked Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to bar the American Civil Liberties Union, Lamba Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights from being parties to the lawsuit. San Francisco city officials also are trying to intervene, but the plaintiffs appear neutral on whether they should be allowed into the case.

Walker is expected to decide the issue on Wednesday.

The gay rights groups had openly questioned bringing the legal battle over gay marriage into the federal courts at this point, primarily out of concern that it could eventually land before a U.S. Supreme Court that may yet be too conservative to back the legal right of same-sex couples to marry.

That did not sit well with the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group pushing the lawsuit with the legal team of former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson and famed lawyer David Boies. They believe the time is ripe to push the issue to the Supreme Court and still resent the criticism they drew from gay rights groups when they filed the federal suit in May, the same month the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8.

What's the old cliche, "united we stand, divided we fall." This doesn't resemble a united front, and without that I'm afraid victory for equality becomes much less likely.

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