Carpe Diem, California


Posted on 29 June 2011

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By JP Massar

New York has passed marriage equality. Let's repeat that. In. A. Big. Bold. Font.

New York has passed marriage equality!  or even better, Why not then California?  

With an incredible victory in the New York State Senate as tailwind, the question of whether to pursue repeal of Proposition 8 now comes to the fore. Is California to be left in the proverbial dust, awaiting a Supreme Court decision that even if favorable will take years and years?  Or will the state put this scourge to rest a little less than seventeen months from now?

The answer is not blowing in the wind. The answer is in the hands of LGBT organizations similar to those that came together in a unified front (or perhaps were pushed!) to win marriage equality in New York. The answer is in the hands of donors similar to those who were willing to go to bat for marriage equality to the tune of millions of dollars in New York. The answer is in the hands of grassroots advocates similar to those who, in New York, worked their butts off. They called, they gathered signatures and postcards, they called some more, and they demonstrated on the streets and in the Capitol in anticipation of the vote. Would their analogues in California work their butts off to pass marriage equality in California if they were given the chance?

There's no doubt in my mind: the answer is 'yes'. 'Yes' to putting it on the ballot. 'Yes' that the money and enthusiasm will be there.  

Do It.

Battles are not won by the timid.  Victories are not earned by complaining about how grueling a campaign it will be. And as history is rife with examples, no one is going to hand anyone their rights on a silver platter.

There are arguments against the attempt to repeal Prop 8 in November, 2012 to be sure.  But ultimately these arguments pale when held up against the example of what has just happened in New York State. There is no excuse for remaining unequal a day later than it is possible for such an iniquity to be rectified.

Let's consider the naysayer's points one by one:

We might lose.

It's true. There is no guarantee of victory. There never is. But what's the worst that happens? Do you think the movement will collapse? It didn't in New York when they experienced a crushing defeat in 2009. I don't think the suffragettes or the anti-slavery movement or the civil rights fighters of the 50's and 60's ever gave up...

Of course the movement will not collapse. Not only that, the Prop 8 case will still be there as backup and if THAT fails, there's 2016. Or, dammit. 2020. This is just not a serious argument when one thinks of the great civil rights movements of the past and how long they took and how much they struggled.

It will cost a lot of money.

Well, duh. But California is a very rich state, with a lot of rich people. Between Hollywood and Silicon Valley there's enough money to pay off the federal debt (okay, I engage in hyperbole, but you get the point).  These are both groups of people with a libertarian/liberal bent, many of whom would probably be overjoyed to be associated with a victorious campaign just as their compatriots in New York, both entertainers and businesspeople, were so associated.

While it will cost a lot of money, California has lots of people. LGBT people. Allies. Millions and millions, in fact.  That's a lot of potential smaller donations.  Maybe it will cost more per capita than to wage a campaign in Maine, but this is just not a realistic concern in my opinion.  Build the campaign, and the dollars will come.

There are other battles to be fought in 2012.

This is just plain wrong in conception. Yes, there is at least one other battle (Minnesota), and there may be others (Maryland, Maine, Oregon).  But that is a good thing, not a problem! It's called synergy. It's called a movement. Each campaign will reinforce the others, building momentum while attracting support and supporters -- not detracting or taking resources away from the others.  Remember: the majority of the American public supports marriage equality. This is a fact.  This is not a movement on the margins any more.  The more excitement there is, the more resources there will be.

No one should be voting on other people's rights.

Philosophically, it's a great argument. Practically, it's as useful as discussing angels on pins, or Republicans for tax increases.  They've already voted on your rights!. Thirty one f***ing times, and they're going to do it again in 2012 -- 2012!! -- in Minnesota and maybe in North Carolina. On battlefields of their choosing, using wording of their choice.  

To make this argument against voting on rights is to deny the reality of the recent past. And look, we're not talking about some life-or-death moral principle here. It's not like we're discussing whether or not it's okay to use landmines in a war zone where children will long afterwards endanger themselves, or whether we should stand idle versus intervening while a dictator massacres tens of thousands of people. Voting on people's rights is not going to kill people or make children suffer. We're talking about using a political tool that our opponents have used over and over against us to our benefit instead. Sure, it's asking to people to vote on whether you are equal, which just sucks, but if that's the way forward to equality then I say "use their own damned tool against them!"

The votes aren't there.

I can't prove to you that the votes are there. And you can't prove to me that they aren't there.  Only an actual vote will decide that argument.

But what I can tell you is that there is every reason to believe that with a solid campaign the votes can be made to be there.

Please read Math, Science and Emotion: Defeating Proposition 8 in 2012 if you do not believe me.  It may not be a perfect analysis, but it can't be far off the mark.

The simple explanation is that

 a) Demographic change through November of 2012, along with
 b) Social change, combined with
 c) Enthusiasm and momentum from the NY victory (not included in the analysis)

taken together add up to a really good shot at victory.  One has to be a confirmed pessimist to believe that there isn't a least a good shot at victory given the state of national polling, statewide polling, and the incredible change in social attitudes (think 'Glee') that has occurred in the last three years (leaving a year to go!).

And it's not like we're starting from a 2008 base of 40%. We all know that Proposition 8 opponents (aka us) got almost 48% of the vote three years ago. That just cannot be an insurmountable obstacle.



Why deal with it? Why not wait for the Prop 8 Trial to resolve?

 -- Because it might not succeed!  

There is a real possibility of losing at the Supreme Court which some people seem to ignore.  And if the Supreme Court issues an adverse ruling that would be a huge blow, potentially setting back the fight for equality for decades. Of course, the case might succeed. Spectacularly.  But neither you, nor I, nor anyone except perhaps Justice Anthony Kennedy, knows or can even estimate reasonably what the chances of success or failure or something in between are.

Really, ask yourself -- are all the eggs to be placed in the same basket that decided corporations are people in Citizen's United? That's quite the gamble.

 -- Because it will take years and years to get to a decision.

People are being denied equality now. What justification can there be to deny people a good shot at being first-class citizens?

 -- Because winning in California will be huge.

It will further catalyze the nationwide movement towards marriage equality.  
It will speed up the pace of change of public opinion in our favor.
It will make politicians stand up and take notice in terms of repealing DOMA.
It will make it more and more likely that when a marriage or DOMA case does come before the Supreme Court, the issue will be decided favorably.
It will reverberate around the world, just as the NY vote is doing right now.

It's just too much effort.

Ugh. Think back to November, 2008. All the protests. All the energy. All the speeches vowing to overturn Proposition 8. Camp Courage. Now, finally, there is a real chance to really do something, and the powers-that-be seem to think that such enthusiasm cannot be harnessed? I have more faith than that. People are waiting for someone to lead, but I believe they are more than willing to follow.

We don't know how to counteract NOM.

Of all the criticisms I've heard this has the most weight.  If we don't have a strong counterattack to the inevitable spate of hate ads claiming we must protect "the children" from "the gay" there is a good chance that we could still lose, even with public opinion seemingly strongly on our side.

Still, the fact that NY was able to do it is an indication that it can be done. I'm no marketer or Mad Man, but I find it hard to believe that with all the talent out there, and all the politicians, celebrities and LGBT couples willing and available to speak out for marriage equality, that it's not possible to come up with an effective campaign. (And in fact at the town meeting I attended Equality California leaders said they have conducted research and have what they think is an effective counter message.)

It's time for California's LGBT organizations and leaders to come together and resolve that if the Courts have not resolved the issue favorably by the time it is necessary to move, that move on this we shall.

It's time to take the lessons of NY -- a united front, a single message, a relentless, orchestrated campaign -- and win back equality in the Golden State. And then the country.

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JP Massar is a software engineer and has written numerous diaries on Daily Kos (jpmassar). He lives in Berkeley, CA. This article originally appeared on Calitics.