One side story that developed over the course of the Proposition 8 trial was how Courage Campaign — the grassroots, Los Angeles-based political organization — seemed to out-hustle gay rights behemoth Equality California.
This thought popped into our heads on Wednesday, when Courage Campaign founder Rick Jacobs announced that the group's live-blogging site dedicated to covering the Prop. 8 trial in San Francisco attracted 1.4 million views.
That's a darn big number, especially for a weeks-old Web site.
Jacobs and his colleagues blogged daily from inside the courtroom, which was a response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that blocked a delayed video feed from coming out of San Francisco.
Prop. 8 Trial Tracker, as a result, received an enormous amount of attention from assorted journalists and bloggers, engaged the public and generated tons of comments from them, spread the word around the world about what the lawyers and witnesses were saying about gay marriage, gay parenting, homophobia, and a host of other issues, and helped to inspire L.A. filmmaker John Ireland to produce video reenactments of the trial.
Equality California, on the other hand, couldn't claim such accomplishments, even though it's considered by the mainstream media as the powerhouse gay rights organization in California and a major player in the national gay rights movement.
Looking back on it, the differences between the two organizations first became apparent when U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker and then the U.S. Supreme Court were considering whether or not to allow a delayed video feed of the Prop. 8 trial proceedings.
The legal struggle developed somewhat suddenly, and things were moving fast. But Courage Campaign quickly circulated an online petition to push for allowing the feed, with nearly 140,000 people signing on.
A majority of the U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled against the video feed, but Justice Stephen Breyer cited Courage Campaign's petition in his dissent opinion as evidence that people should be allowed to see what's happening inside the courtroom. That's no small contribution made by the scrappy, grassroots group.
Equality California, in the meantime, was caught flat-footed — they were largely uninvolved in the fast-paced battle.
EQCA, led by executive director Geoff Kors, seemed to know it missed an important fight, and subsequently came up with its own petition to pressure the Obama administration to file a brief in support of the Prop. 8 plaintiffs, who want to overturn California's gay marriage ban.
It was an awkward effort that seemed wishful and not very serious — Obama, who's dealing with his own political problems, has absolutely no intention of coming out in favor of same sex marriage. Civil unions, yes. Marriage, no.
As for engaging and educating the public — things that Equality California always says must be done if the gay community wants to win full equality — the Equality California Web site is not impressive.
Which is strange.
The Prop. 8 trial was probably the best education opportunity for the gay community to reach out to the rest of the world in decades, and EQCA came up with very uninspired content.
There's daily legal commentary, which first appeared as an “exclusive” on the gay blog Pam's House Blend, and a number of links to press reports from such newspapers as The New York Times and Los Angeles Times, but virtually all of that coverage pre-dates the actual trial. Overall, compared to Courage Campaign's effort, Equality California's offerings are slim.
Both Courage Campaign and Equality California are now spearheading the movement for a pro-gay marriage ballot measure in 2012.
We can't help but think that their approaches to the “historic” Prop. 8 trial may also be a revealing look into how each organization would handle another gay marriage campaign.
Courage Campaign got involved in three court battles — the video feed, the Prop. 8 trial itself, and a legal tussle with the anti-gay marriage group ProtectMarriage.com for parodying its logo (Courage Campaign won) — reached out to the gay community, informed the larger public, and
basically hit the streets every day by always showing up in the courtroom.
Equality California was, to put it politely, less engaged.
An important cautionary tale for pro-gay marriage supporters who may have to go back to the ballot box in 2012? We think so.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.