How to repeal Prop. 8

Pub date June 2, 2009
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL When the late Sup. Harvey Milk was fighting to defeat the Briggs Initiative, a statewide ballot measure that would have barred gay people from teaching in public schools, he repeatedly made the point that the more Californians met and interacted with openly gay and lesbian people, the less likely the voters would be to sanction discrimination. Mayor Gavin Newsom made the same basic point in his statement following the horrifying Supreme Court decision that legalized discrimination in this state.

"I know many of my fellow Californians may initially agree with this ruling," he said, "but I ask them to reserve final judgment until they have discussed this decision with someone who will be affected by it.

"Please talk to a lesbian or gay family member, neighbor, or coworker and ask them why equality in the eyes of the law is important to every Californian."

That ought to be the theme of the November 2010 ballot measure that seeks to overturn Proposition 8.

It’s going to be a tough, uphill battle — after all, the voters just passed Prop. 8 last fall. But the campaign against it was, almost everyone now agrees, fatally flawed — the TV ads spoke in platitudes, there was almost no use of the words "gay" or "lesbian," and, perhaps most important, no coherent, grassroots effort to convince swing voters by making connections between them and the queer community. And there was far too little outreach to black and Latino voters.

And the tide of national sentiment is turning, far faster than anyone expected. Maine and Iowa recently legalized same-sex marriage. The New York Assembly has passed a marriage equality bill and, if it clears the state Senate, the governor has promised to sign it. By the time the 2010 election rolls around, gay marriage will be sweeping the country, and California will be way behind. And, of course, every year a new group of 18-year-olds gets the right to vote — and that demographic is heavily in favor of marriage equality.

So there’s no question that Prop. 8 can be overturned — and placing the issue on the same ballot as the governor’s race will sharpen the issue, force the candidates to take a stand, and generate additional voter turnout.

This time, though, the campaign has to be much more inclusive. The soft-pedal-homosexuality-and-pretend-queers-don’t-exist approach didn’t work. The write-off-the-black-community-and-religious-voters gambit backfired. Harvey Milk was right: Gay people and their allies need to be everywhere in this next fight, and need to take the message directly to those moderate voters who are going to think differently about someone they have met and talked to than about some image the right-wing nuts have conjured up.

Straight supporters of same-sex marriage need to be deployed properly. Newsom spent much of his time during the No on 8 campaign appearing before adoring crowds in places like the Castro District, which was a waste of time; he needs to be in Walnut Creek. African American ministers like the Rev. Amos Brown ought to be visiting churches in conservative areas and trying to make inroads. Art Torres, the former chair of the state Democratic Party, came out this spring and is popular among Latino voters.

We agree with Newsom. It’s time to start this campaign, now. But this time, let’s get it right. *