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Outsmarting Proposition 8

Overturning the ban on same-sex marriage will require deep pockets and sophisticated voter outreach. That argues against a premature challenge in 2010.

August 17, 2009

People shouldn't have to wait for their rights. They shouldn't have to campaign, raise money, create alliances or strategize to secure the basic recognition that others enjoy without effort. But history tells us that all of this is often necessary to overcome discrimination.

Thus our chagrin over the division in California's gay-rights movement about how best to challenge Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in the state. Federal lawsuit? Initiative to repeal Proposition 8 in 2010? Or 2012?

The most important objective should be a decisive victory, sending a clear message that this state no longer will tolerate separate but not-quite-equal status for families based on sexual orientation. Given the opinion polls, the lack of a coherent campaign strategy and the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, this most likely means an unfortunate wait. A loss at the ballot box or in the nation's high court could set back same-sex marriage for years.

Equality California, the organization that led the campaign against Proposition 8, wisely decided to hold off until 2012 before attempting a ballot initiative to repeal the marriage ban. A successful campaign will require $50 million in funding, an extensive outreach program to black and Latino voters, who largely favored the ban, and, most important, an infusion of young voters, the group most sympathetic toward same-sex marriage. Waiting until 2012 gives Equality California a demographic advantage.

But another gay-rights organization, the Courage Campaign, is eager to use the momentum of recent gay-marriage advances in other states and has announced that it will go forward with a 2010 ballot initiative. Both Equality California and some major donors who tried to defeat Proposition 8 have indicated that a 2010 campaign cannot expect their active support.

Though this page will back same-sex marriage no matter what the year, we hope the Courage Campaign will rethink its timing. Gay-rights activists must recognize that their lackluster campaign did little to sway the public, especially considering the misleading ads by gay-marriage opponents. So far, the Courage Campaign has not articulated a sophisticated strategy for changing this. Without other gay-rights groups by its side, its low chances are further weakened.

It's not as though waiting three years means idly letting injustice prevail. There is plenty to do between now and 2012 -- forging alliances with minority groups, lining up financial support and vetting the best campaign managers. Advocates of same-sex marriage already have a just cause; coupled with campaign smarts and money, they also will have voter support.

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