May 23, 2011
Part I can be found here. The author’s views are his own -Adam
I attended an Equality California town hall Thursday evening 5/19/11 in San Francisco, the first of many to be held around the state. The point of the town hall was to present information about and hear opinions on whether a repeal of Proposition 8 — the constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages in California — should be put on the November, 2012 ballot.
Part I reported on the results of a poll David Binder Research conducted which was commissioned by Equality California and presented by Mr. Binder at the meeting. In Part II I’ll talk about some of what else was discussed at the meeting and my impressions.
Leading the meeting was Andrea Shorter, Marriage and Coalitions Director at Equality California. With her were
- Jim Carroll, Executive Director of Equality California.
- Shannon Minter, a lawyer at the National Center for Lesbian Rights (and occasional essayist at Prop 8 Trial Tracker).
- David Binder, of David Binder Research, a nationally known pollster who polled for the Obama campaign in 2008.
- Tawal Panyacosit, Director of API Equality at Chinese For Affirmative Action
At its peak, there were about 40 non-EQCA, non-panelists in attendance.
Shannon Minter provided us with the status of the Proposition 8 Trial, and the possible paths the appeals process might take in the future. He gave what seemed to be a realistic estimate of 2014 before the US Supreme Court would issue a ruling, assuming the case gets to the SCOTUS following a path that would have them rule on the merits (versus a ruling on standing).
David Binder unveiled the results of the polling his organization had done, which is reported on in detail in Part I. Briefly: 45%-45%-10% legalizing same-sex marriage; 47%-43%-10% legalizing same-sex marriage with a ‘religion exception’ for clergy.
Tawal Panyacosit talked about outreach to ethnic communities; the work that has been done and the work that needs to be done.
The Floor Debates
The floor was then opened for people to ask questions and make statements, which they were more than happy to do.
Here are my impressions of this. This is not a report of who said what, when — more a general take on tenor. As I am an unabashed partisan for putting a repeal amendment on the ballot in 2012, you may filter my impressions appropriately. With that in mind…
1. (Almost) no one trusts Equality California. From the perception that they botched the 2008 campaign, to the perception that they don’t listen, to the perception that they have not learned their lesson or figured out how to fight the good fight in 2012, there was little or no confidence expressed in them.
2. The audience was divided into at least four camps.
- Those who thought the fight was not worth fighting. They seemed traumatized by 2008, unwilling to go through anything like that again, and afraid that even if a repeal was passed the opposition would just put it up for re-repeal in the next election.
- Those who felt that the money such a campaign would need to spend would be better spent elsewhere.
- Those who were unsure, but said that if a decision to go for repeal was made, that they would of course fight. There were some who felt that more time was needed to prepare the general population.
- Those who think that it would be a sad day if no effort was made, and that the stars are as aligned as they will ever be for such an effort to succeed.
3. Very few, if any people spoke of the ethical principles at conflict: being against putting repeal on the ballot, because
“No one should be voting on the rights of others.”
vs. being for putting repeal on the ballot, because
“Every day without marriage equality is another day that couples and families go without the respect, dignity and rights they deserve.”
Pragmatic and emotional issues seemed to dominate.
4. Pretty much everyone seemed to support the sentiment that if there is to be a repeal effort
- An effective campaign against opponents’ “But what about the children?” fear-mongering is an absolute must.
- The strategy of playing nice is no longer tolerable. If and when NOM attacks, they must be attacked in turn.
Andrea Shorter made a few remarks along these lines. First, that some good work has been done in developing memes to counteract opponents’ fear ads. Second, that while counteroffensives may be appropriate in some cases, in some California ethnic cultures this would be exactly the wrong approach. And third, that one meme that really seemed to be effective in general when talking to religious people was to ask them something like “What about the Golden Rule?”
5. I had the distinct impression that most people in the room believed (or, perhaps, wanted to believe) that the Prop 8 Trial, were it to go to completion, would all-but-inevitably be a major victory for marriage equality. Even Shannon Minter, in his summary of the trial, never once actually said the word ‘lose’ with respect to the Supreme Court decision, nor did he discuss the ramifications of such a loss (to be fair, neither did he say ‘win’, as far as I can recall).
My opinion: Reality is a pain. When people debate putting repeal on the ballot, they need to consider the very real possibility that the Supreme Court of the United States will rule that the fundamental right to marriage does not apply to same-sex couples. Possibilities are not sure things, but failing to understand that there is a non-negligible chance of failure, and the serious consequences thereof, is tragically dangerous when such a serious decision has to be made.
6. I was surprised that no one from the Courage Campaign, Freedom to Marry, Love Honor Cherish, MoveOn, Democracy for America or other progressive organizations was there (or at least identified themselves as such). Presumably some or all of these organizations — and others I may have left out — would play a big role in any campaign. At a minimum, I find it difficult to believe that Equality California alone is going to be able to gather 1,000,000 signatures for the ballot initiative! Certainly the opting-in of other organizations would be an important consideration in whether or not to commit to taking a repeal amendment to the ballot, but it wasn’t really discussed.
My opinion: Given point (1), if this is not done as a collaborative effort, or by a new organization jointly set up by all the major players, there is likely to be trouble.
What Happens Next?
Equality California will be holding meetings around the state these next weeks. It’s not clear to me what will happen after that, or when a decision will be made, or even who will make it.
Andrea Shorter said at least twice that (paraphrasing) “it is the community’s decision to make” but how that sentiment translates into a concrete process for making a decision is obscure.
Doris Day may be correct — the future’s not ours to see, but it would be nice to have a clue.