A Road Map for the Next Chapter of Marriage Equality

Where Did the ‘No on 8’ Campaign Go Wrong?

Amid widespread criticism of their efforts, the No on 8 Campaign has promised an independent investigation into why their campaign failed. Well, “promise” may be too strong a word. According to L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center CEO Lori Jean, the report will be released someday, by persons yet to be decided and even then, it probably won’t be released to the public because it might be damaging.

Queerty says, “Why wait?” We listened very carefully to the No on 8 Campaign’s virtual town hall last week (you can listen to it yourself here) as well as the many people from outside the campaign who have criticized the campaign and have come up with a forward thinking road map for marriage equality, which we present here, no consultant’s fee asked:

Somebody has to be in charge.
It’s astounding that a campaign which seemed so insular from the outside was so dysfunctionally egalitarian within. The structure of the No on 8 campaign consisted of a giant committee that then went on to elect an Executive Committee (EC). No on 8 leaders decided that groups or persons who significantly contributed to the campaign ought to have a place on the EC, handing out seats as quickly as a non-profit community theatre.

This was a mistake and it’s no surprise that the campaign’s hired strategist’s asked the EC to create a “Mini Executive Committee” to handle decisions. It’s also no surprise that none of the No on 8 Campaign leaders have taken responsibility for the loss when it’s clear there was nobody in charge. Asked about field operations at the virtual town hall, Geoff Kors, head of Equality California said he couldn’t speak to how it was run as he wasn’t the one responsible for running it, despite the fact that he was in the executive committee. Farming out the job to someone else doesn’t absolve you of responsibility.

Future marriage efforts must have a single person serve as campaign manager and chief executive of the effort. This person can be held accountable and fired if they do a poor job, but a campaign where everybody is in charge is really a campaign with nobody in charge.

The leaders of the No on 8 Campaign must have a place in future marriage equality efforts.
There are those out there who want to burn down the house and rebuild the gay community from scratch. There are compelling reasons to do this. The leadership of the gay community has been myopic in their reach and in their focus on fundraising at the expense of outreach. Even now, gay leaders seem unaware of just how much the community’s support for them has ebbed.

That said, Geoff Kors, Lori Jean and the rest of the No on 8 Campaign have dedicated themselves to helping the gay community and they have begun to acknowledge that their were plenty of tactical mistakes made on their part. If gay leaders are willing to listen to the community and adapt to its needs, they should continue to have a place at the table. But we realize that’s a big “if”.

The No on 8 leadership must not lead the next equality battle.
Despite the good intentions of No on 8 leaders, the campaign they ran was flawed not just tactically but strategically as well. Campaign leaders rebuffed advice and aid from minority groups and they relied on big money strategists rather than tapping into the grassroots communities where campaigns are won. The attitude that marriage equality could be won through checkbooks instead of door-knocking is deeply flawed. Beyond the outdated political styles, there’s the practical fact that the gay activists on the street and the net will not join an equality campaign run by existing No on 8 leadership.

If unity is truly important to the campaign leaders they will let new leadership, as Lori Jean herself said at an L.A. rally, “take the torch”.

Put the kids in charge.
It’s a pretty good sign you’re out of touch when your “virtual town hall” is Windows only. Young gay activists are already in the process of reshaping the gay community and they’re both motivated and plugged-in. As AIDS Healthcare founder Michael Weinstein told the L.A. Weekly:

“Young people weren’t a part of the debacle. They have the energy, and the future is about them. But it doesn’t mean they intrinsically know what to do. Now we have a chance to do something different because the A-gays failed. We can make something better.”

There are compelling reasons to do this besides the fact that younger gays understand YouTube, Facebook and MySpace. For a younger generation that grew up with far more images of gays and lesbians in everyday life, the question of equality is framed as part of a larger civil rights struggle. They are less ghettoized than older gays and lesbians and therefore it’s easier for them to reach out to a wider and more diverse community for support.

As the Obama campaign demonstrated, young people are extremely motivated to take part in civic life, so long as they feel empowered to make a difference. This attitude will benefit not just young people but all who wish to take part in the fight for equality.

Get in people’s faces.

The virtual town hall with Prop 8. leaders ended with Lori Jean questioning the wisdom of starting a new ballot initiative to overturn Prop. 8 until after the Supreme Court rules because she doesn’t want to give the court a reason to “punt” the decision to the voters in 2010. She then pointed out that we have never won a ballot proposition and that ultimately, it is the courts who will provide us with equality.

It’s a really frustrating thing to hear from someone who is supposed to be a leader of passing a ballot initiative. If there’s that level of complacency at the highest levels of the gay community, there’s absolutely no chance we ever will win a ballot proposition. The idea that civil rights will be granted by the courts inevitably is foolhardy. The idea that gays and lesbians should bide their time until that day is even more so. No civil rights movement has won by asking politely for their equality sometime in the future when it’s convenient for everyone else.

The gay community needs to be fearless in its pursuit of equal rights. It must insist on it as not just a legal right, but a moral one as well. This means being impolite. This means being visible on a regular basis and not just in the safety of the gay community. It means judicious boycotts. It means making homophobia socially unacceptable. What it means is that the fight for equal rights will be waged at the front door of our society instead of in the backrooms of power. It is a bigger fight, but it is the only way to win.

We must make the case to everybody.
The No on 8 campaign failed to energize its base and to reach out to ethnic and rural communities. As Rev. Eric Lee suggested during the Town Hall, future leaders must go to civil rights and religious leaders in Black and Latino communities and enlist their aide. Not all religious leaders should be written off and while there is value to protesting outside the church, there is also value in sitting down and having conversations with church leaders. There will always be people who reflexively hate and fear gay people, but we must be willing to win over at least some of them if we hope to win.

That means finding allies in places that were ignored this time– in communities of color, in rural places and in the church. The leaders of the No on 8 campaign represent a small portion of the gay community. It’s time to give the rest of us a voice.

The gay community must clearly state what its goals are.

As we’ve suggested before, the gay community ought to draft a Declaration of Equality to define their goals, not just for their own benefit, but for all Americans as well. The gay community needs a large public symbol that can be used to dispel a lot of the bigoted lies that have been used against marriage equality. This includes making a clear distinction between legal marriage and religious marriage. It should demand equal rights in all fifty states and it should be clear about the fact that marriage equality advocates will continue to protest and boycott peacefully until gays and lesbians are afforded the same status as straight people.

In January, gay leaders from around the country are scheduled to meet to discuss what to do next. It’s an opportunity to start anew that shouldn’t be passed up. The meeting ought to include not just traditional gay rights leaders, it should be open to all civil rights leaders wishing to attend. It ought to invite not only the young, but also include a way for all people to participate, either through online discussions or webcasts of the meetings. There is no drawback to enlisting more aid and to being transparent.

The passage of Prop. 8 and the resulting protests and boycotts have captured tha attention of the nation. Now it’s time for us to step up to the microphone and tell the world what happens now.