Overturning Proposition 8: In 2010 or 2012?
Proposition 8, last year's successful ballot initiative overturning the existing right of gays to marry in California, was largely financed by out-of-state money and represented a resounding defeat for the cause of same-sex marriage here. Precisely, however, when Prop 8 opponents finished licking their wounds and began gearing up to place their own counter-initiative on next year's ballot, fissures are appearing everywhere within the home team.
A June L.A. Times poll of registered voters showed blacks to be decisively opposed to gay marriage, renewing anxiety among same-sex marriage forces about the attitudes of nonwhites toward the issue. Then the American Foundation for Equal Rights accused the Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the ACLU of trying to horn in on its federal lawsuit to overturn Prop 8, and rebuffed the three groups' offer to participate in the suit.
About this same time in early July, Jasmyne Cannick, a prominent Los Angeles African American lesbian blogger, complained about gay whites coming into the black community to round up anti-Prop 8 ballot support through African American proxies.
"Equality California," Cannick wrote, "one of those predominately white gay marriage groups that screwed up royally on Proposition 8, is opening up an office in Inglewood and beginning canvassing and mobilizing efforts in the area, including Baldwin Hills. Although, I seriously doubt they'll be canvassing in the Jungles, they're more interested in the voters at the top of the hill, if you know what I am saying."
If this weren't enough, the national office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference took steps to remove the Rev. Eric P. Lee as president of the group's Los Angeles chapter because of his highly visible opposition to Prop 8. The Rev. Lee is also a member of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, a Los Angeles group often allied with union organizing campaigns, especially in efforts to organize L.A. security guards.
This was followed on July 13 by "Prepare to Prevail," a statement from black, Latino and Asian gay groups in Los Angeles that said they were not willing to prematurely rush into a 2010 same-sex marriage campaign. Wealthy anti-Prop 8 donor David Bohnett was quoted by the New York Times as saying, "The only thing worse than losing in 2008 would be to lose again in 2010."
Similarly describing this new, cautious attitude, an L.A. Times piece quoted Jim Key, from the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, who "worried that a 2010 political campaign might tap the same donors that service organizations rely on to fund HIV care, services for homeless youths and other programs at a time when, because of the economy, those programs are needed the most."
The reasons for this caution are harsh and undeniable. An enormous amount of money must be raised within about 16 months of a November, 2010 election, and polling figures do not suggest a groundswell of new support for gay marriage among Californians. (The 2008 campaign cost both sides $83 million, with slightly more than half being raised by anti-Prop 8 forces.) There are also fears that a hastily devised campaign could, if defeated, really set back the cause of gay marriage, whereas a carefully crafted and organized effort aimed at the 2012 election might have a better chance of success. (Then again, all those African Americans who came out to vote for Barack Obama last year will be back in 2012 to re-elect him, so such a campaign will have to be extremely effective.)
The L.A. Times piece described Ron Buckmire, president of the black gay Jordan/Rustin Coalition, wearily recounting one long day of canvassing in South L.A. that got only 50 residents to claim their support for a new initiative.
"We have to move 300,000 voters," a resigned Buckmire was quoted as saying. "You do the math." The statement was all the more poignant because Buckmire heads the group Jasmyne Cannick accused of carpetbagging -- and which helped draft "Prepare to Prevail."