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Prop. 8 foes, backers still in thick of it

Both sides organize supporters and look to 2010, when gay marriage could be on the ballot again.

November 22, 2008|Jessica Garrison | Garrison is a Times staff writer.

In normal political campaigns, election day -- win or lose -- signals the end.

Not so with Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman that was approved by 52% of California voters Nov. 4.

Instead of settling the question of gay marriage in California, the election merely ushered in a new, and in many cases more heated, phase of the campaign, with both sides looking ahead to 2010, when the matter could be back on the ballot.

This could happen no matter how the state Supreme Court rules. The court announced this week that it would review the legality of Proposition 8 in response to several lawsuits filed by cities and gay couples.

If justices uphold the proposition, gay marriage backers plan to put their own measure before voters perhaps as soon as 2010 to re-amend the state Constitution to allow the marriages.

If the justices toss out Proposition 8, some gay-marriage opponents have talked of putting something on the ballot themselves, either to again ban gay marriage or to oust Supreme Court justices or both.

"Election day has come and gone, but the campaign is clearly far from over," said Eric Jaye, a political consultant who has worked on gay rights campaigns around the country and has also advised San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. "The question is not if this will be back on the ballot. The question is when this will be back on the ballot."

To that end, the pro-Proposition 8 side is still paying its political consultants, Frank Schubert and Jeff Flint, who say they are fielding more media requests than they did before the election and are beginning to lay plans for the next campaign.

The No on 8 side, meanwhile, has taken to the streets with dozens of protests and vigils across the state and nation. A left-leaning political group, the Courage Campaign, has begun collecting virtual signatures to get the matter back on the ballot. And one lesbian couple from Pasadena have even set out on a well-publicized pilgrimage from Los Angeles to the Supreme Court in San Francisco.

Many on the No on 8 side are also trying to figure out what went wrong with their campaign. Their side was leading in polls in the weeks before the election and has since been accused of not doing enough outreach to blacks and Latinos and not responding quickly or effectively enough to the other side's claims about what effect the proposition would have on public school curriculums.

Both sides also continue to work on organizing their supporters and are waging a fierce public relations battle in which they try to paint their opponents as liars and outside the bounds of civil society.

Leaders of the Yes on 8 campaign say their supporters have become the victims of threats, blacklisting, violence and vandalism, with churches desecrated, supporters told they are bigots and businesses and individuals picketed and harassed because they contributed money to the Yes on 8 campaign.

"A great number" of supporters of Proposition 8 "are being persecuted . . . mercilessly," said Andrew Pugno, lawyer for the Protect Marriage committee. He called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to "help protect people to exercise their rights."

Yes on 8 leaders also pointed to rallies and vandalism outside Mormon churches and temples in California, and an instance last week in which white powder was sent to the Mormon Temple in Los Angeles and another to the temple in Salt Lake City. And several people in the Mormon Church, whose members contributed millions to help pass Proposition 8, say they have been targeted.

"This is very frightening, to have them come back here to the back of my house . . . with scissors to boot," said Eileen Olson, 80, who said vandals took her Yes on 8 signs from her frontyard and destroyed them -- four times.

Each time, Olson, a member of the Mormon church in Upland, would replace them, only to have them taken again. Sometimes the signs were cut with scissors and left on her property; other times they were dumped in the street. She said her daughter-in-law attends a Mormon church in Fallbrook that has recently hired more security guards.

On the other side, members of the No on 8 campaign contend that they are victims of a smear campaign by the Yes side to make them seem violent and angry as they stage peaceful protests.

"The histrionics have been ridiculous . . . some of the same kind of lies they were telling during the campaign," said Nick Velasquez, 28, who works in politics in California and has become increasingly active in the gay rights movement since the passage of Proposition 8.

The Rev. Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest at All Saints Church in Pasadena and a lesbian, said that supporters on both sides have engaged in some "unfortunate acts" but that the Yes on 8 side is trying to exploit those in a campaign of "disinformation." The No on 8 campaign released its own list of incidents of harassment and violence against its supporters.

Behind the scenes, both sides are also trying to figure out how to mobilize their supporters for the battles ahead.

Rick Jacobs, who heads the Courage Campaign, said he hired two community organizers this week.

Many young gay leaders have also been holding meetings and building online networks on such sites as Facebook and MySpace.

Schubert, campaign strategist for the Yes on 8 side, is taking similar actions.

"We are going to be in a discussion very soon about things to get ready for a new battle," he said.

Schubert took pains to distance the official Yes on 8 campaign from talk of ousting Supreme Court justices. "Any discussion of a recall right now is unnecessary and premature," he said.

But Pugno, the lawyer for the campaign, said earlier this week that if the court overturned Prop. 8 "no one would be able to stop" one.

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jessica.garrison@latimes.com

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