Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New group wants march on DC

The Bay Area Reporter Online | New group wants march on DC

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Since Prop 8 passed November 4, several groups have sprung up and organized marches and rallies around California.

Now, at least one new group wants another march on Washington, D.C. But others are expressing doubt as to how successful Yes on Gay Marriage, the new group, can be.

Kelley Moran, an organizer with Yes on Gay Marriage, said it was formed to work for marriage in all 50 states and recognition by the federal government.

It's "imperative as a community that we stand up for our civil rights and go to Washington, D.C. and ask for [the Defense of Marriage Act] to be overturned," said Moran, who's openly gay and president of Moran and Associates, a Sacramento-based agency that works in political consulting, public affairs, and other areas.

Moran said Yes on Gay Marriage has a list of several hundred LGBT groups that they're contacting and his organization will be meeting with others in January to discuss a strategic plan.

After some reluctance to be specific, he said the groups include organizations such as the Denver-based Gill Foundation, which on its Web site describes itself as one of the nation's largest private foundations focused on LGBT civil rights.

In a December 29 interview, Moran said communications with the Gill Foundation indicate the foundation is "very interested in hearing more about our organization and our plans."

He said that Patrick Flaherty, Gill's deputy national director, has corresponded with him via e-mail and left him a voice message before Christmas.

Flaherty did not respond to an e-mail from the Bay Area Reporter by press time.

However, in a December 23 interview, Fred Sainz, Gill's vice president for communications, seemed unenthusiastic about meeting with the group.

"Last week, probably three-fourths of the people in our office got an e-mail" introducing Yes on Gay Marriage, Sainz said, adding they learned that people at other organizations had received the same e-mail.

"We merely wrote them back to see who they were, and that is basically the extent of our conversation with them," said Sainz.

On December 30, Sainz called the B.A.R. to discuss the paper's e-mail to Flaherty. He said that Yes on Gay Marriage had contacted Flaherty and told him they would be in Denver for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change conference, which starts January 28, and wanted to have a meeting. Sainz said that Flaherty had left them a voice mail saying he would welcome such a meeting.

"More than likely we will be entertaining that meeting, but we will entertain that meeting with a very suspicious eye, because given the nature of the organizations that already exist within the movement that are dedicated to marriage and the state of the nation's economy right now, we're going to be looking for how this organization is unique," said Sainz. "That's something that every organization is having to do right now, in an era in which mergers and consolidations is more than anything really the name of the game for all nonprofit organizations," LGBT or otherwise.

Another 'hole in the head'

Steven Goldstein, chairman of the New Jersey group Garden State Equality, said he had no idea who the people behind Yes on Gay Marriage are, but questioned why the new group is necessary.

"The fact is we need another national marriage equality organization like we need a hole in the head," said Goldstein.

Moran said that what sets Yes on Gay Marriage apart from other groups is that "we're leading the charge" in calling for a march. No major group has advocated for a national march, said Moran.

But Robin Tyler, who Moran wasn't familiar with, has been calling for a march for weeks. Tyler, who along with her wife, Diane Olson, recently filed suit against Prop 8 with the state Supreme Court and has called for a national march on Washington in 2010, noted it takes time, money, and permits to organize a march.

Tyler said she hadn't heard of Yes on Gay Marriage until the B.A.R. asked about the group.

"A lot of people are calling for a lot of things, but unless we focus and plan what we are going to do, the newly found energy of our community will dissipate," Tyler wrote in an e-mail.

"... For the people that are calling [for] a national march, and may not have worked on one previously, it is not that easy," Tyler added.

Tyler said she's worked on all four previous marches – which were in 1979, 1987, 1993, and 2000 – and said she's "communicating with activists all over the country, to see the kind of support a march will get. So far, there is great interest."

She wrote, "I truly believe, with the right planning and national input, this could be the largest March on Washington for our community so far. If someone else decides to do it earlier, good luck to them. This is not a competition, it is a movement."

The last march, in 2000, was controversial. The board of directors of the 2000 Millennium March on Washington had refused to release a financial statement, and at the time speculation was that as much as $1 million eventually had gone missing.

Amy Balliett, an out lesbian from Seattle and creator of Join the Impact, a group that's used the Internet to organize events like the numerous anti-Prop 8 protests that took place across the country November 15, expressed the need for caution when planning a march.

Balliett wrote in an e-mail that Join the Impact is not organizing a march, but "will be happy to help once all the groups have decided on a unified date."

"The problem is that there are many groups planning a march on Washington, and unfortunately, until they all come together and unite under one date and banner, this event will only be splintered and attendance will be slim," Balliett wrote.

"We have millions of eyes and ears on this movement and we need to all move together as one. Most of the groups planning a march are doing it for the movement. Unfortunately, some are doing it for the credit of planning the march ...," she wrote, without naming anyone specifically.

Asked if his organization is just trying to make money and get publicity, Moran said, "Absolutely not," and said the group hasn't even asked for contributions.

Moran said the group's forming 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations so it can engage in both education and lobbying activities. He said though they are not currently soliciting funds, "we certainly hope to sit down and talk about what's needed in terms of putting together a march on Washington, D.C."

Moran said the group welcomes debate. But since it's been so long since the last march, and especially with the inclusion of anti-gay evangelist Rick Warren in President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration, "It couldn't be more evident we need to make sure our voices are heard" and there's no better forum than the march.

Moran, who said he didn't want to name a date for the march until more work has been done, said it's important to create more activists, and the community's voice should be heard within the first year of the administration taking office.

"We don't want our agenda to be pushed aside," said Moran, who married Gabriel Gendron, his partner of 16 years, in July.

Goldstein, the New Jersey equality official who questioned why Yes on Gay Marriage is needed, also said the term "'gay marriage' is one of the dumbest monikers I've ever heard people curse a new group with."

He said the term implies same-sex couple's marriages are different from other marriages.

Moran said his group is unapologetic for the name.

"What we are seeking is our civil rights as gays to marry," said Moran.

Impact of movement questioned

Meanwhile, despite all the protests and rallies that have occurred since November 4, CNN recently reported that public opinion on same-sex marriage hasn't changed.

In June, 44 percent of those surveyed said that same-sex marriages should be recognized as legally valid, while 53 percent said they should not be recognized, the network reported.

Six months later, the numbers are virtually unchanged. Support for same-sex marriages is still at 44 percent, while opposition is at 55 percent, according to the network, which noted the change is not statistically significant.

The telephone poll of 1,013 adult Americans was conducted by Opinion Research Corporation on December 19-21. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Balliett, of Join the Impact, wrote, "I think it's too early to tell how the protests are truly affecting people's views on same-sex marriage. Our movement needs to continue visibility and prove that this isn't just a flash in the pan. If we can prove that and continue our outreach and demonstrations, then the public opinion will change."

Kip Williams is working with the group One Struggle, One Fight to plan a march to Sacramento in March [See story, page 3.] and said that on November 15 he and 14 others were arrested in connection with their peaceful, 20-minute blockade of the Highway 101 southbound off-ramp at Market and Octavia streets.

Williams questioned the accuracy of the poll, and said, "This issue doesn't really rest with voters anymore. It rests with the Supreme Court," and it's more important for the court to see the civil unrest than it is for voters.

Besides Tyler and Olson, civil rights groups, and San Francisco and several other local governments have filed lawsuits with the state Supreme Court claiming that Prop 8 is a constitutional revision, rather than merely an amendment, and should have to go through the state Legislature for approval.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown also filed a brief urging the court to throw out Prop 8. But his reasoning finds that the amendment process cannot be used to extinguish fundamental constitutional rights without compelling justification.

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