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Schmidt and other critics say those options didn’t encourage people’s creativity or engage them politically. It also didn’t make for much of a grass-roots campaign, and they don’t want that to happen again. With Equality California still pushing to be a central force in the new gay-marriage campaign, activists are concerned.
“Trust is not taken, it’s earned,” Jacobs says of Equality California. “I want to work with them, we need to work with them. But everybody has to be accountable for their work.”
McGehee says, “I feel very much in the dark with Equality California. I know what the Courage Campaign wants to do. I’ve seen them at work. But when Equality California talks about “collaboration,” it’s unclear what that collaboration means.”
McGehee has already had a dustup with San Francisco–based Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors, who told gay-rights activists that he was helping to pay for buses to bring people to Fresno for Meet in the Middle. When word got back to McGehee, she was astounded — Equality California had given her nothing for those buses, but Courage Campaign had given her nearly $9,000 to cover that cost. McGehee says she went to Kors and asked what was up. Ultimately, Equality California sent her a $1,000 check to pay for porta-potties.
Equality California’s recent hiring of Marc Solomon, a Boston activist unfamiliar with California’s far more complex political impulses, also has people nervous. Solomon was executive director of MassEquality, which led the successful effort to keep gay marriage legal in Massachusetts — a far simpler battle in a much more racially and culturally homogenous state than California. While gay-rights activists respect Solomon, they see the hire as a power move by Geoff Kors to position Solomon as the campaign manager, someone who would then call the shots in 2010.
“Geoff has been trying to emerge as a leader in the next campaign,” says Torie Osborn. “We need everybody, but he won’t be running the campaign.”
As it became more evident that the California Supreme Court would uphold Proposition 8, and that the gay community would aim for the ballot in 2010, Sacramento’s Yes on Equality suddenly crashed onto the scene — in a very big way. When no one was really looking, the little-known gay-rights group, with origins in the grass-roots movement, met with top legislative lawyers in Sacramento, the unofficial headquarters of California’s influential ballot-writing legal experts. Early this year, the smallish group filed language with the California Attorney General for a strong pro–gay marriage measure for 2010.
Operating largely below the radar in the state’s capital, it had beaten all the better-known but slower-moving gay-rights groups to the punch.
According to Chaz Lowe, the language seeks to remove Proposition 8 from the California constitution and legalize same-sex marriage, while also clarifying that gay marriage will not be a part of the mandatory curriculum in public schools, and religious leaders will not be forced to marry same-sex couples — two sticking points that the “Yes on 8” campaign used to their benefit last fall.
While other gay-rights groups can offer their own, competing language to the state Attorney General for a pro–gay marriage ballot measure, the deadline for the 2010 primary has already passed, and Yes on Equality is the only organization holding a spot on that ballot. Now, groups such as Equality California and Courage Campaign have to play ball with Yes on Equality.
“If, say, Equality California went off and filed their own language for subsequent elections,” says Lowe, “it would look like they’re doing their own thing, and that would be a problem for them.” Solomon emphatically assured L.A. Weekly: “Equality California is not going to move forward on its own thing. We’re a team player in this.” Solomon and Kors have made similar public statements in recent weeks.
Lowe says other gay-rights groups face the same public-relations problem if they file their own language, creating a public spat and confusing the potential donors and voters. Courage Campaign and Marriage Equality USA, another player in the gay-rights movement, with chapters in San Francisco and Los Angeles, have been talking with Lowe about creating a fully transparent campaign committee and hiring the best campaign manager. But meanwhile, Kors and Solomon approached Lowe and asked if he and his colleagues wanted to join Equality California — as paid staffers. Lowe, again following his own path, turned them down.
Says Lowe: “I told them our hearts and minds are with building a coalition” — a subtle way of saying San Francisco– and L.A.-based Equality California is not the boss.