By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
With so much at stake, both sides have been collecting millions of dollars in contributions, unprecedented levels, according to a recent University of Southern California report. But things haven’t always gone smoothly for the “No on 8” team. Gay-marriage advocates have consistently — and to some, surprisingly — lagged behind the opponents of same-sex marriage in fund-raising, which has hampered their TV-ad presence. As a mark of how poorly things were going inside the “No on 8” camp, in early October its leadership was shaken up, and former Log Cabin Republicans president Patrick Guerriero was installed as campaign director.
With fresh polls showing a tighter race than expected, after a key September poll appeared to show strong opposition to banning gay marriage, neither side is a clear front-runner. At this historic turning point, California voters, whether they realize it or not, now have a world of judges, lawyers, politicians and activists watching what they do.
In early October, Marty Rouse left his partner and two kids in Washington, D.C., and moved to San Francisco to work full-time on defeating Proposition 8. A veteran of the successful pro-gay-marriage battle in Massachusetts, Rouse had been hired as a national field director by the Human Rights Campaign in 2006. For the gay movement’s standard-bearers at HRC, victory in California, by stopping Prop. 8, is the highest priority.
“A [Prop. 8 win] would slow down the momentum for full marriage equality in the United States,” Rouse explains during a phone interview. “If marriage equality stays [in California], it would hasten full marriage equality across the country.”
According to Rouse, the HRC has donated nearly $3 million to maintain the momentum. Active in unsuccessful efforts to defeat gay-marriage bans in other states, Rouse says the Human Rights Campaign is offering by far the most money and resources that it has ever given to a single ballot measure, and with good reason: According to Rouse, California could be the catalyst for the swift passage of gay-marriage laws in several states in the next two years.
“We currently have [gay] marriage in the country because of the courts,” the activist says, “but we’ll soon have it because of the legislatures, which will be different for us.”
Winning close decisions by split and sometimes highly politicized courts is not what the movement really wants, because it might lead to years of divisiveness and could spawn ugly cultural battles, as did the disastrous court-enforced school busing of the 1970s or the Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade. Winning the hearts of American voters is, instead, the goal. Rouse believes New Jersey and New York, where state legislatures and two Democratic governors are open to the idea of same-sex marriage, are ripe for new laws. In New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont and Minnesota, the state legislatures have signaled their willingness to legalize gay marriage. “Some states will also go back and repeal their laws,” predicts Rouse, citing Oregon — where voters banned same-sex marriage in 2004 — as a strong possibility.
These states, though, are watching California, where for the first time in the post-Ellen, post–Doogie Howser, post–Gavin Newsom era, the voting public — not judges or legislators—will have the final word in this polarizing cultural debate.
“If Prop. 8 doesn’t pass,” says Jon Davidson, legal director at Lambda Legal, a gay-rights legal group deeply involved in the same-sex-marriage wars, “the voters will be saying they’re fine with gay marriage. Our opponents will no longer be able to blame so-called rogue jurists. It will be the people who have spoken.”
This distinction gives the Prop. 8 vote more political heft, according to Gallagher, the president of the Virginia-based institute that promotes traditional marriage. “If you put it to the voters,” Gallagher says, “and they say they support [gay marriage], that’ll be a dramatic change.”
Gallagher believes Prop. 8 will pass, placing the ban on gay marriage in the California Constitution. But if the ballot measure fails, she expects that not only will new same-sex-marriage laws be passed in other states, but that the federal bipartisan 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to ignore legal gay marriages entered into in other states, will also be challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court in the next few years.
For now, Guido Sanchez, executive director of Pride Connections Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, is keeping his eye on what happens in California. “Either outcome will affect New Jersey,” says the activist, also a member of Garden State Equality, a pro-gay-marriage group. Same-sex-marriage advocates in New Jersey will be either angered or overjoyed by the vote, he says, then push hard for full marriage equality immediately after Election Day. “The fight begins on November 5,” he says. New Jersey does have an initiative process, which would allow voters to ban gay marriage, but Sanchez has not heard any “rumblings” about such an effort — so far.