Is It Time For A Gay Marriage Ballot Initiative in California?

shopproductimg_pict5976Political consultant Chad Griffin told attendees at this weekend’s Equality Summit in Los Angeles, “There is one thing worse than losing Prop. 8, and that would be losing again.” But a growing chorus of California gays and lesbians disagree. Rick Jacobs and the Courage Campaign are leading the way on a 2010 ballot initative that would overturn Prop. 8. Jacobs said, “I don’t think anybody knows when is the best time to go back. My philosophy is having it go every time, and eventually we will win.” It’s the first major decision the LGBT community has had to face in the wake of gay marriage being outlawed in the Golden State and all signs point to it being a divisive flash point. So, naturally, we’re going to weigh in.

First, let’s face some political realities. The people saying that we should hold off on a gay marriage ballot initiative are mostly No on 8 people. Whether they realize it or not, these leaders have no clout in the gay community right now, especially when it comes to trying to promote the message that we should hold off on jumping into another fight. Put simply, they’re in no position to claim an expertise in strategy.

And then there’s the Rick Jacobs factor. Nature abhors a vacuum and, at least currently, so does politics. The Courage Campaign has moved swiftly to define itself as the spearhead of the new gay political movement. The day after the Equality Summit, Jacobs was holding a “Camp Courage” in West Hollywood, which began training activists in the nuts and bolts of running a campaign. In a sign of just how influential Jacobs has become, Equality California’s Geoff Kors attended the camp, not as a speaker, but an attendee. More Camp Courage’s are planned across the state and the Courage Campaign have asked people to vote on where the next one should be. (Watch scenes from this weekend’s Camp Courage here.)

We fail to see how any gay group would be able to sit out on another initiative battle and survive.

The Camp Courage side of the gay community has youth, idealism and energy on its side. It also is unburdened by the recriminations and self-examination that hover over the remnants of the No on 8 campaign. With two initiatives already submitted to the Secretary of State, one launched by a gay rights group in Davis that would repeal Proposition 8 outright and a second that would eliminate marriage from the State Constitution and replace it with civil unions for all, the ball’s already rolling on a 2010 fight. Who is going to tell these gay activists that they should stop working for their rights?

That said, the No on 8 folks have some good points. Pollster David Binder worries that money will be tight in a tough economy and points out that Yes campaigns are much harder to win than no campaigns. Of course, the obvious rejoinder is “Tell that to the ‘Yes on 8’ campaign.”

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says that these activists need “a full appreciation of the enormity of such an undertaking” and John Henning, executive director of Love Honor Cherish points to the enormous logistics needed:

“The deadline for us to be gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative would actually be this fall. We have to raise money, we have to train people how to gather these signatures and we have to get 10,000 people out doing something they may not be comfortable doing.”

But, we fail to see how any gay group would be able to sit out on another initiative battle and survive. Should the No on 8 leaders fail to join a 2010 ballot initiative campaign, they wouldn’t just be rendered irrelevant, they’d be tarred and feathered and sent on the first train out of town.

So, this thing is going to happen and our gut instinct is that it ought to happen. The time for careful, cautious strategies is over– it’s time for the gay community to embrace a “shock and awe” approach. Each new campaign, whether it fails or not, will act as a battering ram on the door of intolerance. More importantly, our sense is that the gay community can not go through another five years of free-floating frustration. A new ballot initiative will have tangible benefits in community building and organization. Camp Courage’s genius is that it’s giving civil rights activists the tools to do something tangible.

One of the lessons frm the Equality Summit is that to win marriage equality, we will need more leaders. It may be a trial by fire, but a 2010 ballot initiative will help forge the next generation of gay leadership.

We don’t really do endorsements here at Queerty, but here is one case where we will make an exception: A ballot initiative in California may not win at the polls, but if it has even an outside chance of doing so, it’s a battle that must be fought.