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Calif. ‘gay marriage’ groups deeply divided

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–The same type of division that split social conservatives in California four years ago is now threatening to divide the state’s homosexual groups, who can’t decide whether to try and put the issue of “gay marriage” on the ballot in 2010 or 2012.

At issue is the desire by some of California’s newest liberal and homosexual activist groups, such as Courage Campaign and Yes on Equality, to try and collect enough signatures to overturn Proposition 8 — the constitutional amendment that banned “gay marriage” — in 2010. By contrast, some of the more veteran organizations — such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality California — are far more hesitant, with Equality California flatly saying Aug. 12 in a 32-page analysis that it is aiming for 2012, arguing that the public is not ready and the campaign money isn’t available for a 2010 ballot fight.

Equality California’s announcement has resulted in frustration and disbelief in much of the state’s homosexual population, which believes the anger that followed the passage of Prop 8 last November should be channeled toward a ballot vote as soon as possible. Equality California’s announcement was significant, because it bills itself as the state’s largest homosexual group and because it was the leading organization working to defeat Prop 8 last year. Despite the announcement, Courage Campaign and Yes on Equality say they will go ahead with their 2010 goal. They are facing looming deadlines to decide on language and to begin gathering signatures.

“The conversation is about changing hearts and minds…. and we can’t even talk to each other,” San Jose lesbian activist Gloria Nieto told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The infighting, though, could prevent a pro-“gay marriage” amendment from qualifying for 2010. The signature-gathering effort for constitutional amendments is notoriously difficult and time-consuming, requiring not only thousands of volunteers but significant funding to boost the effort by using paid canvassers (that is, people who are paid to gather signatures). Approximately 700,000 signatures are required but ballot supporters likely would aim for 1.1 million signatures, knowing that thousands will be tossed out as invalid.

Pro-family groups in California are watching from the sidelines with much interest, but they can relate. They have been down this road before, not only in 2008 when they were successful in placing a marriage amendment on the ballot, but in 2005 and 2006, when divisions within the pro-family community prevented a marriage amendment from getting on the ballot much sooner. Back then, groups split into camps: a coalition known as ProtectMarriage.com, which had the backing of Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America; and one known as VoteYesMarriage.com, which was backed by the American Family Association and the Traditional Values Coalition. The two camps supported competing marriage amendments, but in the end, neither one qualified for the ballot. The divide came over whether the amendment should prohibit not only “gay marriage” but also domestic partnerships, which grant all the legal benefits of marriage, minus the name.

“There wasn’t any money behind it,” Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, told Baptist Press. He was part of the ProtectMarriage.com group. “We got to about 340,000 signatures, which was less than half of just the minimum requirement. It fell way short. [T]here really wasn’t a whole lot of energy among pastors, among churches at that point — mainly because it really wasn’t that urgent.”

It wasn’t until the California Supreme Court legalized “gay marriage” that the two camps united behind the ProtectMarriage.com effort.

Clark isn’t giving the homosexual groups any advice, but he has witnessed a divided and a united signature drive.

“There’s no indication that they’re working together. As long as they have the two competing groups vying for control with this [they’ll struggle],” he said.

Geoff Kors of Equality California told the Chronicle that if an amendment qualified for the 2010 ballot, his group would support it. But that’s a big “if.” Equality California’s 32-page analysis said three main factors support putting a pro-“gay marriage” amendment on the ballot in 2012 instead of 2010:

— Polling. Support for “gay marriage” has been stagnant in the past four years and hasn’t moved any in polls since Prop 8 passed, Equality California said.

“So many of us had hoped beyond hope that our rallies, demonstrations and expressions of sadness and anger would have caused voters who voted yes to change their position. That is not the case,” the analysis said. “This does not mean that the situation is hopeless at all, but it does mean that we have much real persuasion work to do in order to get a majority of Californians on our side.”

— A lack of funding for a 2010 ballot fight. Many of the 2008 donors to the anti-Prop 8 effort have lost between a third and a half of their net worth since last fall, Equality California said.

“We found that the vast majority of the top 100 donors will either not participate in a 2010 campaign, or if something actually makes it to the ballot, will participate at a much reduced level of funding.”

— Demographics. Young people tend not to vote on as large a scale in gubernatorial elections (2010) as they do in presidential elections (2012), the analysis said. Exit polling from 2008 showed young people were more likely to oppose Prop 8 than were older voters. Additionally, the analysis said, there will be more younger voters in 2012 and fewer older voters — simply because of mortality.

“In fact, by November of 2012, there will be 776,000 new voters under 21 years old added to the voter roles, and more than 122,000 older voters will no longer be on the voter roles,” the analysis said. “In adjusting for this factor, we pick up approximately another two percentage points in 2012.”

The ACLU also issued a cautious statement against a 2010 effort, saying in a July 14 letter, “We think that we haven’t established the predicates we need for winning yet. If we were to enter a campaign in either 2010 or 2012 with the people of California where they are now on marriage for same-sex couples, we’d have a tougher time winning than we did in 2008.”

Chaz Lowe, founder of Yes on Equality, wasn’t convinced.

“There are too many variables and too many unknowns to wait three long years to win back equal rights for our community,” he said in an Aug. 5 news release. “We know what the political landscape looks like next year and we need to take advantage of the tremendous momentum and desire within our community and among our supporters to move now.”

Even San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has had a say, telling reporters that he thinks 2010 is a bad idea if groups remain divided. Newsom supports “gay marriage.”

Clark, though, says that whatever date “gay marriage” supporters pick, they are likely to lose.

“Their best chance to legalize same-sex marriage was ’08,” he said. “That was absolutely, without question, the perfect storm. They had everything breaking their way. They had the advantage of a ‘no’ vote. They had the advantage of every branch of government in their favor. They got an unprecedented ruling by a Supreme Court that ignored the pleas for a stay [of the ruling] by several different [state] attorneys general. Then, to still come up four points short in the best of conditions, that has to be very discouraging. They won’t have very many of those factors in their favor this time.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For updates about efforts to defend Prop 8, visit ProtectMarriage.com. To read how “gay marriage” impacts parental rights and religious freedom click here.

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  • Michael Foust