Back to Briggs: Latest No on 8 Ad With Sen. Diane Feinstein Brings Back Memories of Another Referendum

by Roger Brigham

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday October 28, 2008

As Yogi Berra so memorably said, it's deja vu all over again. In this case, it's specifically 1978 all over again in California.

Yes, right wing extremists are describing their efforts to abolish marriage rights for queers in terms of Armageddon. But longtime Californians need only reach into recent history to get a sense of perspective on the importance of next Tuesday's vote on state Proposition 8.

Political leaders view this referendum on gay marriage as a kind of Briggs Initiative revisited. As the most recent high-profile politician to weigh in on the matter, Sen. Diane Feinstein stars in the latest TV ad urging folks to vote "No." Feinstein, by the way, was a rising local politician in San Francisco City Hall when the Briggs Initiative was defeated and shot into national prominence when she assumed the mayoralty on the assassination of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone.

The parallels between this year's Prop 8 and 1978's Briggs Initiative "resonate because we are yet again at a watershed moment," commented Kate Kendall, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and a member of the No On 8 campaign. "When 'Briggs' was defeated, it changed the landscape in the entire country for LGBT people. If we defeat Prop 8, clearly we're in a different place than we were 30 years ago."

The Briggs Initiative, more properly known as California Proposition 6, was pushed onto the 1978 ballot by a prominent Orange County conservative gadfly, John Briggs, who depended on it as part of his futile effort to rise from the State Senate to the governor's mansion.

His amendment would have allowed the firing of teachers for ever mentioning anything positive about homosexuals. It ended up galvanizing the LGBT community; after polls showed it leading by huge margins, it ended up losing in a landslide--after it was denounced by former Gov. Ronald Reagan, no less.

"Defeating the Briggs Initiative created opportunities that have nothing to do with teachers in school, and Proposition 8 would would affect things that have nothing to do with marriage," Kendall said. "There was not an issue that the defeat of Briggs did not enhance when it came for greater inclusion."

Kendall believes that 8 is the most important fight the LGBT community has faced in a generation. "The consequences of losing would mean a setback on a number of fronts," she warned. "The opportunities presented if we win will be innumerable on virtually every issue that matters to our community."

For Kendall, it's not just a legal precedent on marriage: "It's a legal precedent of the place of queer people in the broader culture."

"To keep marriage rights means same-sex couples are afforded full equality, and in terms of public perception and dignity are no longer outside the law or outside the recognition of the legal protections," she added. "That shift in formal recognition is always a precursor to broader public acceptance."

Certainly, both sides are funding this fight as though their very lives depended on its outcome. Patrick Guerriero of No On 8 said that in the past two weeks, the No campaign had finally caught up to proponents' funding. The Yes on 8 had collected a whopping $32 million from groups such as Knights of Columbus and the Mormon Church as well as individual donors.

'The opportunities presented if we win will be innumerable on virtually every issue that matters to our community.'

No on 8 needs to keep trying to raise on the order of $1 million a day to keep pace in terms of media blitzing and voter turnout, Guerriero said. Despite some high-profile big-money donors such as Brad Pitt and Steven Spielberg, Guerriero said the campaign was being fueled largely by small contributors, with 53,000 donors contributing $100 or less.

"That's just remarkable," Guerriero said. "We know we're not done yet. We're going to have to keep raising that amount of money. The extremists who are supporting Prop 8 put out a $1 million match campaign. That means we have to ramp it up one more time to keep up with them."

Of Feinstein's TV commercial, which was to air beginning today, Guerriero said, "She speaks from the heart. She tells voters to reject this initiative. We look forward to having her joining the chorus of voices opposing the proposition."

In the ad, Feinstein speaks to the camera.

"In my lifetime, I've seen discrimination," she says. "And I see it again in Proposition 8. Proposition 8 would be a terrible mistake for California. It changes our Constitution. Eliminates fundamental rights. And treats people differently under the law.

"Proposition 8 is not about schools or our kids. It's about discrimination and we must always say NO to that.

"No matter how you feel about marriage, vote against discrimination.

"And vote NO on 8."

At a press conference on Tuesday, Oct. 28, in which the ad was announced, Kendall spoke of a shift in momentum, with virtually every political leader and even every major conservative newspaper across the state expressing opposition to Prop 8.

Campiagn leaders condemned Prop 8 supporters' blatant threats to businesses opposing the proposition. Guerriero urged same-sex marriage supporters to visit the No on 8 web site to donate, volunteer time, or get tips on what to say as they reach out to talk with other voters.

"Even though we're optimistic," said Guerriero, "we are about to see something unleashed by the other side." As to what the No On Prop 8 plans in response, organizers were close-mouthed. "It's going to be exciting and aggressive."

Roger Brigham, a freelance writer and communications consultant, is the San Francisco Editor of EDGE. He lives in Oakland with his husband, Eduardo.