Marriage Parity Group Hopes to Bring Marriage Back to Calif. Voters

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday October 13, 2011

Los Angeles-based marriage equality group Love, Honor, Cherish hopes to gather enough signatures to place the issue of marriage before California voters once again in 2012, blogger Rex Wockner reported on Oct. 11.

Marriage equality was legal for gays and lesbians in that state in 2008, until a voter referendum that drew tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of volunteers from around the nation resulted in a slender majority casting a vote against the rights of same-sex couples.

Since then, the ballot initiative, Proposition 8, has been challenged in federal court as a violation of the Constitutional rights of gay and lesbian Americans. That challenge brought about a verdict finding against the measure, but marriage has not been allowed to resume in California while the case is on appeal. Eventually, observers expect, the Supreme Court will have the final say on the matter.

Wockner reported that Love, Honor, Cherish would like to place a ballot measure to repeal Proposition 8 and restore the state's constitution by removing the anti-gay amendment that Proposition 8 provided.

"The group would need to collect valid signatures from 807,615 registered California voters," Wockner reported.

Any attempt to place marriage before voters at this point might be premature, according to Equality California, a group that has helped transform the legal landscape of the state for sexual minorities. The group's outgoing Executive Director, Roland Palencia, told Wockner that the sums of money involved would be enormous, and added that the current state of the economy would work against marriage equality advocates trying to fund the measure against anti-gay groups with deep pockets such as the Mormon-affiliated National Organization for Marriage and the Roman Catholic Church. Both entities were major players in getting the campaign to pass Proposition 8 funded at unprecedented levels.

But Love, Honor, Cherish faulted Equality California for not making the effort, and called the group's decision to hold off "a tremendous lack of leadership," Wockner reported.

"Last week, Equality California announced its much delayed decision to, once again, abandon and postpone any effort to repeal Proposition 8 at the ballot box.," an Oct. 11 LHC media release said.

"EQCA's decision comes despite its members' favoring going to the ballot to repeal Prop 8, despite the town halls that EQCA held favoring being prepared to repeal Prop 8 if the Court case does not go well, and despite EQCA's making numerous statements favoring 2012," the release added.

"In light of EQCA's abdication of their responsibility to fight for equality for the LGBT community in California and to honor their prior commitments, Love Honor Cherish stands ready, willing and able to fill the void."

The release went on to note the sudden resignation of Palencia, announced earlier this week and slated to become effective on Oct. 14.

"Roland Palencia is a true gentleman is every sense of the word and has been a tireless advocate for our community and for all the least fortunate in society," LHC Outreach Director Lester Aponte said. "Although we disagreed on important issues, our disagreements have always been respectful.

"Our concern is that his resignation reflects a far larger crisis in the largest LGBT rights organization in California and our movement in general," Aponte continued. "The failure by EQCA's Board and Mr. Palencia to push strongly for marriage equality is both a symptom and a consequence of this crisis."

EQCA's decision not to press for a ballot initiative to reverse Proposition 8 in 2012 was made shortly before anti-gay activists attempting to place another ballot initiative conceded that they did not have the voter support they would require. The failed attempt at another ballot measure concerned the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act, a law that mandates public schools to teach about the contributions of LGBT individuals to history.

"The FAIR Education Act will simply ensure that California's students learn an honest, accurate, and inclusive account of history, but opponents of equality have grossly distorted the intent and the effect of the FAIR Education act in their quest to secure signatures for this referendum," Palencia said in an Oct. 11 EQCA media release.

"Today's victory shows that their lies cannot stand up to our truth," Palencia added. "But we know that opponents of equality won't stop here. We remain vigilant, not only to make sure that people know the facts about the FAIR Education Act, but also to continue preparing for new attacks on the FAIR Education Act at the ballot box, in the legislature and in courts of law."

Proposition 8 was passed after an intensive campaign that told voters, among other things, that unless gays were denied the right to marry young children would be forced to learn about gay families in school, perhaps as early as kindergarten.

In the case of the FAIR Education Act, anti-gay activists took a different tack.

"Those against the law signed by Governor Brown earlier this year say it is too costly at a time when schools are seeing their budgets slashed due to the state's fiscal woes, and that it will take away from other curriculum," reported radio station KMJ-AM, a talk radio station in Fresno, Calif.

If LHC hopes to get a referendum against Proposition 8 on the 2012 ballot, it will need to gather "valid signatures from 807,615 registered California voters," Wockner noted.

Palencia told Wockner that in itself would likely cost around $2 million. A campaign to support the measure would cost at least another $40 million--an amount comparable to what each side spent on Proposition 8 in 2008.

But on top of the economic expenditure would be the sheer social cost of mounting what would almost certainly be a repeat of a bitterly divisive campaign that polarized the state and demonized gay and lesbian families. Anti-gay groups such as NOM still capitalize on reports of vandalism targeting pro-Proposition 8 lawn signs as proof that gays are lawless thugs willing to terrorize and menace upstanding citizens.

That narrative ignores the fact that similar vandalism targeted anti-Prop. 8 lawn signs, as well as the fact that gay Americans across the country are targeted for hate crimes ranging from verbal harassment to physical assault, as well as vandalism and even arson targeting property.

But the idea of gay thugs has been used successfully to prevent the broadcasting of the federal challenge to Prop. 8. Anti-gay groups have also resorted to such arguments in seeking to keep donor lists secret in violation of election laws, and NOM has created a new group dedicated to promoting the idea of gays as being prone to act in terroristic and dangerous ways.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.