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Protests a key test for Prop. 8 foes

Rallies will show whether Web activism can be turned into a movement to overturn gay-marriage ban.

November 15, 2008|Tony Barboza, Cara Mia DiMassa and Jessica Garrison | Barboza, DiMassa and Garrison are Times staff writers.
  • Opposing groups face each other in Santa Ana after Prop. 8 supporters decided to step up a response to recent actions by gay rights groups.
Opposing groups face each other in Santa Ana after Prop. 8 supporters decided… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

A series of protests against the passage of Proposition 8 scheduled to take place today in Los Angeles and across the country will be a key test for a loosely formed Internet-based movement that has emerged since California voters banned gay marriage last week.

Over the last 11 days, advocates have used the Web to organize scattered protests at places like the Mormon Temple in Westwood and Sunset Junction in Silver Lake and mount boycotts against businesses that supported Proposition 8. Those efforts snowballed, and marches against the proposition are expected in more than 300 cities across the country.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, November 21, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Mormon Church: An article in Saturday's California section about protests against Proposition 8 incorrectly referred to the Mormon Church as the Church of Latter-day Saints. Its formal name is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But turning all those blogs, Facebook groups and MySpace pages into an organized movement is going to be tough.

Opponents of gay marriage on Friday strongly criticized the boycotts and marches. And it remains uncertain whether the aggressive tactics ultimately advance the activists' goal: either having the California Supreme Court throw out Proposition 8 or persuading voters in a new election that gay marriage should be legal in the state.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told a Times editorial board meeting Friday that proponents of gay marriage should take the issue again to the California Supreme Court and review the strategies that failed to persuade voters to defeat Proposition 8.

"I can't imagine for them to say anything else but what they've already said, that it's unconstitutional," Schwarzenegger said of the state high court's ruling on earlier barriers to gay marriage. The governor opposed a ban on gay marriage.

Rather than carrying on with protests, supporters of same-sex marriage would be better served by reviewing their campaign strategy and doing a better job of crafting the message to voters the next time, the governor said.

The boycotts and protests also came under attack Friday from backers of Proposition 8 who said at a Santa Ana news conference that they amounted to intimidation and blacklisting.

"These cowardly acts are intended to terrorize people," said Yes on 8 campaign Director Frank Schubert, referring to envelopes containing white powder received Thursday at Mormon headquarters in Salt Lake City and the Mormon Temple in Westwood. (Authorities are investigating, but the incident has not been linked to gay-marriage backers.)

The Los Angeles Police Department said officers will be out in force for Saturday's demonstration at City Hall. Authorities estimate that as many as 40,000 people could attend, more than previous Proposition 8 marches but nowhere near the size of immigration rights protests held in 2006.

Organizers have marches planned across the country, from Boston to Anchorage.

Nick Velasquez, a spokesman for the group Freedom Action Inclusion Rights, which was formed last week to organize a march in downtown Los Angeles -- from City Hall to Los Angeles State Historic Park, better known as the Cornfield -- said that his organization wants to push marchers to think about the future.

"From the streets to strategy, being constructive, not doing things that are counterproductive. . . . There needs to be some thought put into what the next steps are," he said. "Overturning Proposition 8 is the goal."

The burst of activism has some wondering whether this is a temporary phenomenon or the start of a real movement.

"I think a great deal of complacency has set in," said Martin Duberman, a historian and gay-rights activist. "The way I hear all of this expressed often is, well, it's over. . . . It's just a matter of cleaning up the details, and we are almost on an automatic track to having all the rights of everybody else."

The passage of Proposition 8, Duberman said, "should be a wake-up call to lots of people who feel that way."

That sentiment in many ways describes the feelings of Amy Balliett, a 26-year-old Seattle resident who works in the tech industry.

Balliett built a website, Join the Impact, put up a post suggesting a march Saturday and e-mailed a link to everyone she knew -- all because she got angry on the Friday after the election. By early this week, marches had been organized in cities all over the country, and national groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and Equality California, which had led the fight against Proposition 8, joined the cause.

But backers of Proposition 8 said the online activism is, in the words of Schubert, "a wildfire of hate going out of control." Proposition 8 opponents have the right to protest and file lawsuits, "but what they don't have the right to do is harass and intimidate people. They don't have a right to blacklist and boycott our supporters," he added.

Palmdale resident James Jackson, a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints who gave $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign, said he felt that the good works of his church had been forgotten in the midst of attention on the protests about the vote.

"I'm not a bigot," said Jackson, 48. "I want to be a good person. But there are certain things I just don't believe are right."

Proposition 8 backers also criticized elected officials, including Schwarzenegger, for not condemning what they said were acts of vandalism and boycotts against supporters.

"Where is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger?" Schubert asked. "Where is Sen. Dianne Feinstein? Where are the people who represent us, no matter their position on Proposition 8, to stand up for the rights of the millions of Californians who have done the one thing we ask and teach our children, which is to participate in the democratic process?"

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

cara.dimassa@latimes.com

jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Carol J. Williams contributed to this report.

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