Original posted 11/18/09:
For a year now, the debate on when to go back to the ballot to restore marriage equality to California and repeal Proposition 8 has raged not only amongst the Golden State's LGBT population and its allies but also nationwide.
After the devastating defeat in Maine, the fundamentalist pundits claimed that it was a sign Americans were not ready for legalized same-sex marriage, despite the many advances in Iowa and New England. Unfortunately, contrary to what the politicians say, legislators in both New York and New Jersey appear to have taken a cue from what happened in Maine and are dragging their heels on voting for proposed marriage equality legislation in their respective states.
Currently, the District of Columbia shines as the one bright spot in the nation with its marriage equality bill predicted to pass before the end of the year, despite the Archdiocese of Washington threatening to end Catholic charities if marriage equality is legalized in the jurisdiction.
Amongst these developments, Love Honor Cherish (LHC), the California based LGBT grassroots group leading the charge for a 2010 Proposition 8 repeal, announced Monday the launch of the signature gathering campaign for its ballot initiative. Alongside the announcement, it kicked off the social site and online campaign hub, Sign For Equality.
"SignForEquality.com today launched a groundbreaking effort to gather signatures to repeal Proposition 8 and restore equal marriage rights for same-sex couples marking the first time that social networking technology has been used to qualify a California initiative for the ballot," said the group's press release Monday.
On the same day, California Secretary of State issued a statement that five ballot initiatives had been submitted and approved for signature gathering that caused some confusion.
CA SoS Statement on Five Marriage Equality Ballot Initiatives
John Henning, co-founder of LHC, confirmed with Unite the Fight (UTF) that five versions of repeal language were submitted to the Secretary.
"The reason we submitted five back in September was because of ongoing discussions about which five were most appealing to voters," Henning said. "There were some that voters responded to better."
At the time the language was submitted, Courage Campaign was in the middle of conducting research that LHC hoped would give guidance on which version was the best.
"The research that was underway at the time did inform the five ways the language was written, but we didn’t have any conclusive results on which of the five versions was the best. So we made that decision based on our own good judgment," Henning said.
Henning explained that all the language is very similar and was vetted by very prominent lawyers in the marriage movement, along with other leaders and Equality California (EQCA), the state's largest LGBT advocacy group.
Marc Solomon, Marriage Director for EQCA, confirmed this back in October with UTF. "It was mainly Geoff," he said, referring to Geoff Kors, EQCA's Executive Director. "He’s a Stanford educated lawyer and has much more legal expertise than I do."
Version 5 or 09-0042 ended up being the final language behind which the signature gathering campaign was launched. Henning said that the statewide organizing group Restore Equality 2010 (RE 2010) was involved in the decision making process.
"The final decision was made about a week before they were approved," Henning informed. "We allowed for plenty of time to think about it and [RE 2010]'s Interim Administrative Group (IAG) to consider the matter and give advice. We waited to choose because we wanted the input from everybody we could possibly have."
Henning said that the executive committee of LHC was strongly in favor of version 5 and that the IAG voted unanimously for it.
The full language reads:
This amendment would amend an existing section of the California Constitution. Existing language proposed to be deleted is printed inIn an email blast sent out Monday, RE 2010 gave a list of actions for supporters of the signature gathering campaign, including donating to reach their goal of $10,000 to cover the cost of the petition drive.
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.
“We set a goal of $10,000 between now and December 1 for a variety reasons," said Jane Wishon, who is part of RE 2010's IAG. "We need money to start the process, update our website and logo, and provide resources for signature gatherers all over the state so that can be out gathering signatures rather than worrying about raising the money needed.”
“At the same time, we need to prove to the larger donors in the community that we’re legitimate, we’re for real and that we can do this,” she added. Monday's email stated they had succeeded in raising 20% of their goal. "I think today we’re at 25% or over $2,500."
LHC will act as the clearinghouse for the signatures that are turned in and will safeguard those submitted either online or mailed to their PO Box that has been set up to receive large amounts of mail.
The Blueprint for Equality, LHC's strategy on a 2010 victory released in July, states that 5,500 volunteers will be needed over the course of 150 days to gather the one million signatures required to qualify for the ballot. 5,000 will each spend one day gathering 100 signatures per volunteer, another 500 "super-volunteers" will spend 10 days gathering the same amount each day.
"What we are looking for is a combination of hardcore volunteers" and others who will give one day said Henning. "The ten days over 150 days is one full day every two weeks for the volunteer. To me it’s a commitment, but it’s not an enormous commitment. We’re looking for 500 people throughout the state to give us that commitment."
"Many of these people we won’t actually ever meet because they’ll be inspired to do it through the website or send them in through the mail," Henning added. "On top of that, they’ll be many people who will be sending just 10 signatures. They’ll have friends and family sign and then send them in."
Gathering 100 signatures in a day is challenge, but Henning doesn't doubt that they'll qualify for the ballot. "I'm extremely confident. I wouldn’t be spending my own time if I didn’t think this will be getting on the ballot."
But LHC and RE 2010 have faced many naysayers, some going as far as urging people to decline to sign the petition. They fear that going to the ballot this soon after Prop 8 will create a backlash against the marriage movement. Others have pointed out that polling has shown no shift in opinion in California on the issue of same-sex marriage, and after the defeat in Maine, believe it is unwise to move forward.
"Sadly, there’s a lot of defeatism in our community," Henning responds. "Some of it comes from the pain of losing Prop 8. You have to have faith that things are going to be better. We can’t just wallow in defeat and fear. People are capable of changing their minds. I know there are people who think we can’t win and they’re always be people who think we can’t win. But there are many people who do."
Henning, whose grandfather is from Maine, has spent every summer of his life in Pine Tree state, claims that Maine wasn't a factor in their decision to move forward. "The defeat in Maine was always possible," he said. "Maine is a relatively rural state. It’s not nearly as diverse of a state as California. Not many people know gay people in Maine. I was amazed that it even got far enough for people to vote."
"What happens in a state that is 3,000 miles away and is 1/30 of the size of California doesn’t really affect what happens in California," he added.
Others resistant to going back in 2010 accuse the groups leading the charge of steamrolling and wonder why LHC should be the ones to heading it up.
"Our group has heart and we represent a part of the pure grassroots in the state," Henning said. "We are not a staffed organization. We are not controlled by big donors. We are doing this because we think it’s the right thing to do. There is no agenda. I think people should look to that, that we have consistently pushed for this with no other agenda."
Henning paused for a moment, then added, "Restore Equality 2010 is another group that has taken a leadership position because these other staffed groups have chosen not to. It was never our intention to be the leader of the 2010 charge, and we’re not going to sit down because a large group that claims to be in charge of the movement has decided not to play ball."
EQCA has stated that if the language qualifies for the 2010 ballot, then they will throw their weight behind the campaign to give the best chances of a victory.
"We’re not going to abandon the effort once the initiative qualifies," Henning remarked. "We’re going to be a part of it. We hope that Equality California will be part of it. They said they will be. I hope we do it all together. We know that a lot of people in the LGBT community want this."
Images by Phillip Minton.