Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bay area gay groups prepare to fight anti-marriage initiatives

Gay group quietly preparing for initiative fight
by Heather Cassell

Equality for All members say they have been preparing for an eventual fight against anti-gay marriage initiatives, but the LGBT community wouldn't necessarily know it because of an outdated Web site and seemingly very little activity.

Equality for All is a collaboration of seven LGBT and allied civil rights groups that organized in 2005 and defeated an attempt that year by two anti-gay groups to put similar initiatives on the ballot. Executive committee members and other leaders told the Bay Area Reporter that they have been gearing up for a potential battle for months.

"What you are seeing is a lack of bubbles on the surface," said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and an Equality for All member. "But that doesn't mean there isn't incredible activity underneath, it just needs to be more obvious."

According to Kendell, organization leaders started meeting in January after sensing a pending threat of one or more constitutional amendments being placed on the ballot in 2008. Yet three months after the first initiative was submitted to state Attorney General Jerry Brown's office, Equality for All's Web site hasn't been updated. The Web site is stuck in 2006.

"Since now we know there is a serious effort, now we know these initiatives are circulating, now we know that some very big donors are ponying up for signature gathering," said Eric Bauman, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, "they best better get that information updated, because ordinary, everyday gay people and our allies who are going to start to hear about this in the news, read it in the media, and read about it in the gay press, are going to need to go to a place to get information."

Kendell agreed. "We knew the possibility of facing something was real, a lot of stuff has gone on, and we just haven't done a very good job of communicating it and we can do a better job of doing that."

Kendell told the B.A.R. that Equality for All was going to make updating the Web site a top priority and that NCLR's Web site would have a special page for people to go to for information within the next week.

After the B.A.R. inquired about the outdated information on Equality for All's Web site as well as coalition organizations' Web sites, Equality California posted updated information about the proposed anti-gay initiatives on the front page of its Web site on Monday.

There are five proposed constitutional amendments being floated by two anti-gay groups. Vote Yes Marriage has three, all of which ban same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships. Another group, Protect Marriage, has two proposed initiatives that only bar same-sex marriage; one of them explicitly states that it will not affect domestic partnership laws.

Four of the measures have been cleared for signature gathering by the secretary of state's office.

Vote Yes Marriage is supported by Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, and former Republican Assemblyman Larry Bowler. Two of its proposed initiatives also define a man and a woman as "a man is an adult male human being who possesses at least one inherited Y chromosome, and a woman is an adult female human being who does not possess an inherited Y chromosome."

Protect Marriage is backed by Gail Knight, the widow of the late state Senator Pete Knight, who authored Proposition 22, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman in the family code.

As reported in the B.A.R. in May, Equality for All submitted letters of appeal to the attorney general's office to assign each initiative with a correct title and to write an accurate summary. The attorney general's office agreed and titled Vote Yes Marriage's initiatives "Marriage. Elimination of Domestic Partnership Rights. Constitutional Amendment." Protect Marriage's initiatives are titled "Limit on Marriage. Constitutional Amendment."

The holy dollar

In July, Vote Yes Marriage reportedly starting running radio advertisements on three Christian radio stations in 12 markets and on its Web site, In an appeal to "financially blessed" Christians, Bowler tells donors that they have the "means to save marriage" and asks for their assistance to raise $2.5 million for its "rock solid marriage amendment for the ballot."

According to campaign consultants, this strategy won't garner Vote Yes Marriage very much money and it will end up spending more money through these ads.

Marriage equality and civil rights leaders are taking the ads seriously, without giving it more attention than necessary. Instead they are continuing to focus on their public education campaigns while simultaneously preparing for an eventual ballot fight.

As of June 30, according to the secretary of state's first quarter report, Vote Yes Marriage raised $4,970.99 leaving it with a total of $115,651 in the bank.

Protect Marriage's initiatives, as reported in the B.A.R. in July, are being backed by anti-gay groups Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, which combined with their political action groups, have over $140 million between them, said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of Equality California and an executive committee member of Equality for All.

As of June 30, Equality for All reported $69,586.25 to the secretary of state's office, but much more money would need to be raised to fight the initiatives.

Kors told the B.A.R. that he has been in conversations with key donors and that currently Equality for All is looking for a fundraising consultant. It also hired a "top notch" campaign consultant, Steve Smith of Dewey Square Group, who was behind "No on 85," a parental notification measure that was defeated last year. Smith was hired on a preliminary basis and is guiding the organization through revamping and revising its plans in preparation for an eventual campaign. Equality for All is negotiating the next phase of Smith's contract, Kors said.

The problem with raising funds for a campaign right now is that there is "no there, there," according to Kendell. Organization and campaign consultant experts told the B.A.R. that until there are signs that signatures are being gathered to put these initiatives on the ballot there is no ammunition for donors because there is no direction in which to aim.

According to Kendell, Kors, and Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA, the direction Vote Yes Marriage and Protect Marriage will take is unclear, very similar to two years ago when the attempt was made to place anti-gay initiatives on the ballot. That effort fizzled when the anti-gay groups weren't able to raise enough money to gather signatures needed to qualify for the ballot.

This time around, according the Kendell, Kors, and McKay, they are way ahead of the game with educational outreach, networks, and donors. But rather than fatigue resources they are preparing, donors aren't pledging money, but they aren't saying no, either.

"We have absolutely had donors say to us, '�call me back when they've gathered these signatures,'" said Kendell. "They said, 'call me back when you see real evidence that they are gathering the signatures' and we don't see that yet."

Equality for All and its partner organizations have been watching very closely to see if there has been any signature gathering taking place. But it is going to take the LGBT community, allied communities, and people who normally are not involved in the political process to participate – so they are watching, waiting, and educating.

"We have folks in unlikely places watching for signs that this effort is serious, but we are assuming it is and we are acting as if it is," said Kendell.

McKay agreed. "We have the ability to pretty much be anywhere in a 15-20 minute time period. Wherever these guys try to have their protect marriage rallies ... every place they show up, historically, we've been able to be there in larger numbers than they produce."

The Capitol Weekly reported July 26 that the LGBT community and its allies are ahead. Marriage equality, civil rights, and political experts agreed. They told the B.A.R. that they have built the foundation and the infrastructure to respond to any threat.

"I believe that we can pull off a California miracle," said Kendell. "If we defeat an amendment in California, I believe the whole effort around constitutional amendments will lose steam and the inevitability of lesbian and gay relationships having full protection and security and all the others that we care about health care, employment, youth – all issues will benefit, but California is going to be as it often has been a harbinger and a lynch pin � it is impossible to overestimate the importance of defeating an amendment here."

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