Same-sex marriage backers consider new ballot measure as Prop. 8's fate is decided 

After California voters banned same-sex marriage in 2008, the gay community was abuzz with talk of going back to the ballot in 2010 to reverse it. Ultimately, potential organizers concluded that waiting until 2012 would give them time to gather resources and build support.

Yet with 2012 approaching, there is no consensus whether the time is right to ask voters to grant gay people the right to marry. Some say it would be more prudent to wait for the federal courts to decide the issue; others say a legal remedy is uncertain and that waiting would be folly.

Last week, the advocacy group that led the 2008 No on Prop. 8 campaign held the first of 12 statewide town hall meetings in San Francisco.

“Two years ago, we made a commitment to the community that we would look at 2012,” said Andrea Shorter, director of marriage equality at Equality California.  “We’re hearing a variety of points of view. I don’t think there’s anything conclusive yet.”

Shorter said polls have shown an increase in state and national support for same-sex marriage since Prop. 8 passed with 52.3 percent of the vote. On Friday, a Gallup poll said a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage for the first time since the survey began asking the question in 1996.

Voter support isn’t the only consideration. Money, time and effort must be considered, said Marriage Equality USA spokeswoman Molly McKay. Her group has not yet taken a stance, but she said a new effort should not be undertaken lightly. The Prop. 8 campaign cost both sides of the debate more than $40 million.

“It’s the most expensive state ballot measure that’s ever been waged,” McKay said. “It was incredibly painful and financially devastating for people who participated in it.”

McKay recalled one couple who put a second mortgage on their home to help fund opposition to the measure. Others asked their wedding guests to contribute to the campaign in lieu of gifts.

“With the court case going forward, a lot of people don’t want the community to go through the emotional and financial hardship which comes with putting our lives back on the ballot,” she said.

Last year, a federal judge ruled that Prop. 8 was unconstitutional, but the case has been appealed to the Court of Appeals. Once that body makes a decision, it could be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the advocacy community launches a 2012 campaign to overturn Prop. 8, it would have to start long before the court decision is decided. And that’s the rub, said Reese Aaron Isbell, co-chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGTB Democratic Committee.

Her group ultimately concluded that a 2010 measure would be premature, and endorsed waiting until 2012. But it hasn’t yet decided on a stance on the issue. Ultimately, it would like the courts to uphold this basic right for every American.

“Elections at the ballot for civil rights causes are complicated at best, because you’re asking a majority to vote for the rights of a minority,” he said. “Of course, that’s what our Constitution should do.”

Will they or won’t they?

The pros and cons of attempting to repeal Proposition 8 through the initiative process in 2012:

Arguments for:

  • Attitudes have changed since 2008; polls now show that most Americans support gay marriage.
  • Success in court is not certain, and could take decades.
  • 2012 is a presidential election year, when liberal voters tend to be more engaged.

Arguments against:

  • Voters just passed Prop. 8 in 2008, and another campaign will be costly for gay marriage backers.
  • State and federal courts have issued several rulings in support of gay marriage.
  • Black voter turnout will likely be high due to the Obama campaign, yet black voters backed Prop. 8 by a margin of 70 to 30.


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Katie Worth

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