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Angrier response to Prop. 8 arises

After a professional campaign failed to defeat the measure, a Web-based opposition is making itself heard.

November 13, 2008|Jessica Garrison | Garrison is a Times staff writer.

Leaders of the campaign against Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California, raised nearly $40 million and ran a careful, disciplined campaign with messages tested by focus groups and with only a few people authorized to speak to the media.

They lost.

In the week since, California has seen an outpouring of demonstrations ranging from quiet vigils to noisy street protests against Proposition 8, including rallies outside churches and the Mormon temple in Westwood as well as boycotts of some businesses that contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign.

Many of those activities have been organized not by political professionals and established leaders in the gay community, but by young activists working independently on Facebook and MySpace.

The grass-roots activism is a tribute to political organizing in the digital age, in which it is possible to mobilize thousands of people with a few clicks of a mouse. It has generated national attention -- and set up a series of Saturday demonstrations that organizers hope will attract tens of thousands of people to city halls throughout California.

But the demonstrations also have raised questions about whether the in-your-face approach will alienate voters, who may be asked one day to approve gay marriage. Twice in the last eight years, voters have rejected it.

"I think the No on 8 forces have devolved into mob justice," said Jeff Flint, a campaign strategist for the Yes side.

Some gay-rights advocates are pinning their hopes on court action. The day after the election, several lawsuits were filed that asked the California Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8. That effort has drawn backing from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, legislators and a number of government bodies, most recently the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

While they wait to see what the court does, gay rights activists say they are thinking of putting another gay marriage initiative before California voters -- perhaps as soon as 2010.

If that happens, they say, they want to ensure that the mistakes of the last campaign won't be repeated.

Some have criticized that campaign for failing to reach out enough to black and Latino voters, a majority of whom backed the proposition, according to exit polls.

Others have said that the campaign failed to engage people enough -- including some gay activists now organizing protests.

"Too many of us . . . gay and not gay, didn't get engaged enough in the conversations . . . about the real harm that discrimination inflicts," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the nonprofit group Freedom to Marry.

Michael Weinstein, president of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, called for a thorough analysis of the failures of the No on 8 campaign.

"The protests are an important vehicle for expressing a community's feelings, and I applaud that," he said. Still, he added, "ultimately we will have to decide what our strategy is going forward. . . . We need to show we can win in the court of public opinion."

Whether the current protests will help or hinder that effort remains unclear, said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at UC Berkeley.

"It can backfire," he said. But, he added, a well-done protest is "an important signal."

The key, he said, is that the protesters not irritate or alienate the people they are trying to persuade by appearing too out of the mainstream or by tying up traffic for hours.

Many of those organizing the protests this week say they are voicing a sense of outrage and disappointment that California voters approved a measure that took away the right, granted by the California Supreme Court last spring, of same-sex couples to marry. More than 18,000 couples got married between June and Nov. 4, when the proposition disallowed the weddings.

Living in urban areas such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, in environments that are relatively tolerant of gay people, some of those activists say they experience little discrimination in their daily lives because of their sexual orientation.

The passage of Proposition 8 woke them up.

"There is an incredible outpouring of energy, of people wanting to do something," said Trent Thornley, a San Francisco lawyer who created his Facebook site, Californians Ready to Repeal Prop. 8, the day after the election. Thornley said his roommate told him to expect a few hundred people to join. Instead, a week later, the group has more than 200,000 members.

Another Facebook group, Repeal the California Ban on Marriage Equality 2010, also has attracted more than 200,000 members.

But many say the protests also mark the rise of a new generation of gay activists.

"There are people who are used to going to the Abbey [bar in West Hollywood] four nights a week and drinking appletinis and complaining about their boyfriends. They don't understand that two decades ago they could not be doing what they are doing," said Andrew Oldershaw, 30, who has become active in organizing protests.

"It took a catastrophe like this to really wake people up . . . . This is not something that is going to happen. . . . It's going to take people rising up and pumping their fists in the air."

Supporters of Proposition 8, however, have expressed outrage at the demonstrations and boycotts -- particularly the ones targeting Mormon temples and Catholic churches.

"This activity shows great disrespect for the will of the voters," said Andrew Pugno, the lawyer for the Yes on 8 campaign.

"It also shows religious intolerance," he said, adding that his Catholic church was vandalized.

The boycotts are having some effect.

Scott Eckern, a Sacramento theater director, announced Wednesday that he was resigning from his position at the California Musical Theatre, in response to controversy over his $1,000 donation to the Yes on 8 campaign.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

Times staff writer Alicia Lozano contributed to this report.

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