The agony and humiliation of losing marriage rights with the passage of Prop. 8 in 2008 still hangs like a pall over the LGBT community in California. Many thought the attempt to repeal the anti-gay constitutional amendment should have been fought in 2010, but more—including Equality California, the state’s largest LGBT rights group—advised waiting until 2012 when more theoretically pro-equality Democrats would turn out to re-elect President Obama.
But recently Equality California decided not to lead an initiative campaign to overturn Prop. 8 in 2012, disappointing a wide swath of LGBTs who believed EQCA Executive Director Roland Palencia, a longtime grassroots political activist, would push for repeal. Then Palencia unexpectedly resigned, leading some to incorrectly assume that the EQCA board’s reportedly difficult and close decision not to go back to the ballot was linked to Palencia’s resignation. Palencia says it was not:
“The decision about going or not going back to the ballot to overturn Proposition 8 was a gut-wrenching one. Ultimately, I believed that initiating a signature drive could ignite something powerful in our movement here in California. This needs to be balanced with the responsibility of raising close to $2 million by December 2011 for the signature gathering alone; and maybe over $40 million to win this campaign by November 2012. Not a small task. Given the pending federal lawsuit, the economy, critical support among the base and a number of other factors, not winning this campaign could be a very disempowering experience.”
Those were many of the same issues raised at the Love Honor Cherish meeting Tuesday night. However, after two hours of often passionate discussion about the viability of an initiative campaign and the apparent apathy of the LGBT community, LHC members decided to submit ballot language and start the process of organizing and raising money for a paid signature-gathering campaign.
There was a certainty among many of the 25 people attending the meeting that if an initiative qualified for the ballot, other organizations would have no choice but to jump on board. They pointed to the 2010 RepealProp8 coalition as indicative of groups they hoped would be supportive, including the Latino Equality Alliance, of which LHC spokesperson Lester Aponte is an active member. They are also hopeful that the Equality California board will reverse their position and support a repeal effort.
Aponte and LHC (straight ally) Aaron Bloom said the ballot language they will Fedex to the California attorney general on Oct. 13 for a ballot title and summary is the same “vetted” language they used in 2010.
The proposed measure reads:
This amendment would amend an existing section of the California Constitution. Existing language proposed to be deleted is printed in strikeout type. Language proposed to be added is printed in underlined type.
Section 1. To protect religious freedom, no court shall interpret this measure to require any priest, minister, pastor, rabbi, or other person authorized to perform marriages by any religious denomination, church, or other non-profit religious institution to perform any marriage in violation of his or her religious beliefs. The refusal to perform a marriage under this provision shall not be the basis for lawsuit or liability, and shall not affect the tax-exempt status of any religious denomination, church or other religious institution.
Section 2. To provide for fairness in the government’s issuance of marriage licenses, Section 7.5 of Article I of the California Constitution is hereby amended to read as follows: Sec. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Marriage is between only two persons and shall not be restricted on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.
After they receive the title and summary, LHC has 150 days to collect more than 800,000 valid signatures from registered voters. There was much discussion about how that should be done, and the conclusion was that LHC needed roughly $2 million for paid signature gatherers, because their November 2010 experience showed them that an all-volunteer effort would not succeed. Some specifically noted that it was easier to get signatures from straight people in the Valley than gays in West Hollywood.
Among those who attended the LHC meeting were California Faith for Equality members Rev. Scott Imler (Methodist who authored and helped pass California’s Medical Marijuana law Prop 215) and Father Geoffrey Farrow, who was removed from his parish as a Catholic priest for opposing Prop. 8, Bienestar Executive Director Oscar de la O, Mike Bonin, Camp Courage co-founder and chief deputy to openly gay L.A. City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, the Courage Campaign’s Arisha Michelle Hatch (a straight ally who drove in from San Bernardino) and GetEQUAL’s Dan Fotou.
Bienestar’s de la O left before the meeting ended, still unsure about whether he would get involved in the repeal effort.
GetEQUAL’s Dan Fotou seemed to sum up the feeling of many:
The successful passage of Prop. 8 was tyranny. We’ve seen firsthand what happens when the majority is empowered to vote on the rights of the minority—hate finds a home in our Constitution. As our State Constitution allows this and our court system has yet to rule, it appears we are forced to fight this battle, yet again. Fight for our dignity. Preventing and removing hate from the California State Constitution should be a priority for any organization that believes in fair and equal treatment.
Since 2008, we’ve seen a shift in attitudes toward supporting marriage equality. If we, as a community, are serious about our equal rights, it is going to take all hands on deck from all our organizations, coalition building with other progressive groups and a lot of fundraising to repeal Proposition 8.
My question is: is our community willing to invest what’s necessary to get this done?
Given the ongoing political apathy in the LGBT community to which many referred as a “serious concern,” that’s the $2 million question.