California | Gay Marriage | Matt Foreman | News | Proposition 8

California's Proposition 8--Ours to Lose? Nope.
It was always an Uphill Climb

GuestbloggerMATT FOREMAN

Matt Foreman is the former director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Empire State Pride Agenda. He is currently a program director at the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. He released this op-ed yesterday

A lot of people have been saying that Prop 8 was our side's to lose and that missteps by the No on 8 Campaign snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Those analyses ignore hard core obstacles and fundamentals underlying the contest, including how hard it is to hold and move opinions on marriage in the narrow confines of a campaign.

MattforemanI need to start by saying that I had nothing to do with the No on 8 Campaign. Because the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, where I work, has been so deeply involved in public education work in support of marriage equality, the law literally precluded any contact or coordination with the electoral campaign. So, as a purely armchair quarterback it's pretty easy for me to catalogue things I -- in my infinite wisdom -- would have done differently. But I also know that even if everything -- every single thing -- had gone our way, it still would have been incredibly hard to win by anything more than a tiny margin. Here's why.

Putting Minority Rights Up to a Popular Vote: the Difficulty of Winning

First off, it's nearly impossible for minorities to win or defend their rights at the ballot box. Californians have demonstrated that time and again, voting to outlaw affirmative action, to deny grade school education and non-emergency medical care to undocumented children, and to specifically permit race discrimination in housing. This profound disadvantage was exacerbated by the fact that marriage is in a class by itself as an issue. Everyone has an intimate, personal relationship with marriage and has an opinion -- usually visceral -- about it. True, over time people are moving toward marriage -- we've quite amazingly gained about one point per year since 2000. But within the narrow time constraints of a campaign -- under 90 days -- it is pure fancy to think there's a "movable middle" on marriage. At best there was movable sliver. More on that in a bit.

Our Opponents' Base -- Huge, Solid, Energized

Second, the other side had a huge, largely unmovable, energized base. We didn't. No surprise but they had older people all sewn up. While we won among all voters under 65, more than two-thirds (67%) of voters 65 or older voted for Prop 8. That alone -- yes, alone -- was enough to override our majority support among all younger age groups. Anyone who thinks a 90-day campaign -- even a flawless one -- is going to overcome the imprint of homophobia on those born before World War II needs to think again.

CONTINUED, AFTER THE JUMP...

In addition to older people, the other side also had a stranglehold on regular churchgoers. More than two-thirds (70%) of people who worship at least once a week voted for Prop 8 and they make up nearly half (45%) of the electorate. Yes, our side got an equally large proportion of people who hardly ever attend church (70%), but they comprise only 29% of the vote. Anyone who thinks it is easy to overcome homophobia that's reinforced on a weekly basis from a person's own house of worship doesn't appreciate the role of religion in so many people's lives or its pervasive use as a rationale for voting for Prop 8: an astonishing 94% of "Yes" voters said "religion" or the "Bible" was most influential in deciding how to vote.

What does combining older voters, frequent churchgoers and Republicans (81% of who voted for Prop 8) yield? A rock solid, close to 50% of the vote, that's what. How solid? Nearly three-quarters (73%) of those who voted for Prop 8 said nothing -- that's right, nothing -- would have changed their mind. And almost all of the rest of them couldn't really name anything real that would have changed their minds. For example, the most common answer offered by these folks was "calling same sex marriage by another name" -- an option not on the ballot.

Does this mean we can't ever move older voters, Republicans and frequent churchgoers? Of course not. My parents -- both 76, conservative Republicans and devout Catholics -- are prime examples. While they could not be more pro-marriage now, I know in my heart that it's only because my partner (now spouse) and I have been a part of their lives for years -- we could never have moved them in the 90 days the Prop 8 campaign essentially had.

Support on Our Side -- Smaller and Squishy

Our side? Not so big and not so solid. At best, we LGBT people make up 6% of the vote and unlike the fervor from our opponents' much larger base we weren't united on marriage equality. (Two polls said 5% of the LGBT community -- or 1% of the total vote -- actually voted "Yes.") I'm still hearing the refrain "I don't know why we're fighting for marriage -- I don't believe in it" or "It's not my issue." I think this is because for years we've mainly presented marriage as a package of rights -- like a better dental plan -- than what it's really about, recognition of equal humanity. Whatever the reasons -- they were united and energized; we weren't.

But more important, unlike our opponents, our base beyond LGBT people is squishy on its leading edge. Going into the Prop 8 contest, only a slim majority of Californians (54%) even believed that our relationships are moral. (This figure also was our high point in the superficial public pre-election polls to which so much significance was attached.) This slim majority is all our side had to work with. After all, no one who thinks we're immoral is going to vote to protect our access to the ultimate societal institution used to judge and control sex, procreation and "family values." At the same time, it's hardly a given that people who do not see us as immoral are automatically for marriage equality.

The Ick Factor

In fact, many of those people are still deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality. This "ick" is and always has been our Achilles heel, something our opponents skillfully exploit time and again. Lots of folks I respect have been saying if only the No on 8 Campaign had put up or hit back with forceful, to-the-heart ads featuring gay and lesbian families -- instead of those soft ones with parents or surrogates like Sen. Diane Feinstein -- we would have won. I desperately want to agree, but can't.

The sad reality is that our movables get all wobbly -- they blanch, they stammer, they get visibly uncomfortable -- when faced with the reality of our couples, our families, our children. I've personally seen it dozens of times in focus groups, in one-on-one interviews, and in my own life and my friends' lives. Ads, for example, that make you and me cheer don't work with them at all, they backfire.

What's this about? The short answer is that the ick factor is alive and festering even among people who want to suppress it. These are people who truly want to be fair and who don't want to hurt other people. At the same time, they remain deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality and marriage goes right to the heart of their discomfort, given that sex is central to marriage.

Ads that Move Us Don't Move those We Need to Move

In 2004, when I was at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, we -- like so many people now -- were sick of our side resorting to intellectualized arguments like "Don't write discrimination into the constitution" when the other side was going for arguments that hit the heart and emotions. We were frustrated that our side's campaigns almost never put up ads showing our families speaking in emotion-based arguments in support of marriage.

With no small amount of self-righteousness, we taped a dozen ads featuring gay and lesbian couples speaking from the heart, many with heart-wrenching stories. LGBT loved them. But when we showed them to voters who were opposed to anti-gay discrimination but weren't there on marriage (that is, the movables) all we were able to get from a few people was a hint of empathy, but absolutely no movement on marriage. It was stunning -- incredibly hard to witness. Our elaborately planned campaign had to be scrapped -- we couldn't justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on something that made us feel good but didn't move anyone else.

Closer to home, nearly three years ago the Haas, Jr. Fund, Gill Foundation, the David Bohnett Foundation, Ambassador Jim Hormel and others invested nearly $500,000 to understand what would move Californians to support marriage equality and how to address the deeply conflicting views the mushy middle holds about LGBT equality. Once again, ads featuring gay people -- individuals or couples or families -- just did not work. What did work were messages that pushed people to think about the issue in a new way, namely, asking them how would they feel if they were in our shoes. But again, gay and lesbian people didn't work as the messengers.

That's where the "Garden Wedding" ad came from -- the message being delivered silently by a bride facing numerous obstacles trying to get down the aisle that ended with the tagline "What if you couldn't marry the person you love?". Did I like the ad? Absolutely not.

Did it work? Absolutely. Let California Ring conducted rigorous testing in the Santa Barbara media market last year. A baseline poll found that only 36% of people there supported marriage equality, 8-10 points below the state average. That was followed by a substantial buy for the Garden Wedding ad, coupled with field organizing. A follow-up poll showed that support for marriage equality grew significantly, including a 16% jump among younger voters (as opposed to zero growth in markets where the campaign did not run). More tellingly, on Election Day, Santa Barbara defeated Prop 8 by 10 points (compared to it passing Prop 22 by 14 points in 2000). Santa Barbara was the only county in Southern California to vote No on 8 and the only thing that was different was the Garden Wedding campaign.

Why did it work? Instead of asking viewers to accept a gay couple -- which was simply too much too much for many people -- the ad provided them a way to be empathetic that was more comfortable to them. This made the issue about who they are -- fair minded, not bigoted -- rather than about whether they approve of gay relationships. Sadly, our side was unable to raise the millions required to take the ad statewide in the years and months before Prop 8 qualified for the ballot. Part of this failing was the simple reality that it's very hard to raise money in the absence of a campaign and crisis; the other main reason was that gay donors didn't understand the power and appeal of the ad and didn't step up to fund it.

Where Gay and Lesbian People Don't Make Good Messengers and Where They Do

Here's another painful reality all this research again showed: using gay and lesbian people as messengers not only failed to move people in our direction, it actually hurt us -- driving movables against marriage equality. Over and over the same result: showing them ads with gay and lesbian individuals or couples pushed people the wrong way. And ads that included children with their gay or lesbian parents did even worse. That's why the "Yes on 8" campaign so prominently featured children in its ads.

Think about friends who tell you their relatives are OK with them being gay or lesbian so long as they don't talk about it. Why do so many of us find it so incredibly hard to bring up gay issues with co-workers or when we visit our families over the holidays? Or when we do, what about the painful silence or uncomfortable glances that so often follow? Think your Aunt Jane -- who's only recently started to be nice to your partner -- is going to see a television ad and suddenly think, "Darn, I've been wrong all along about this gay marriage thing!"? Think again.

I am not saying we shouldn't be putting our lives, stories and faces front and center over and over again or that we can't move people solidly to our side. Most of us have seen how taking our lives up close and personal to people around us does, in fact, create change. Moreover, having these direct, real conversations is the only way we're ever going to squelch the ick and inoculate voters from attacks that exploit it.

What I am saying is that we can't leave this hard work until the last minute -- which is what a campaign really is. We can't expect some brilliantly crafted ads -- coming from our collective heart -- to be the silver bullets that kill anti-marriage ballot initiatives in the heat of a campaign, when there is no time and the other side is assaulting our movables with carefully crafted messages designed to exploit every anti-gay fear and myth. Instead, we need to move people beyond short-term political campaigns and before they get underway.

Moving Forward

Yes, I do think we could have won -- by a fraction of a point -- if everything had gone our way. But everything didn't go our way, including mistakes our side undoubtedly made and things beyond our control like the Mormon President/Prophet's ordering his faithful to fuel the "Yes" campaign. That gave our opponents a two-to-one money advantage 60 days out, something few campaigns of any sort, anywhere, are able to overcome.

As numbing, insulting and painful as our loss was, let's take real pride in the fact that we moved the needle nine points on marriage -- yes, marriage -- in less than eight years. Of course we must face up to and learn from our missteps. But rather than getting caught up in endless recriminations of our recent loss, let's focus on the long term work ahead -- how to build our social movement to win complete equality in California and across the nation.

From a big picture view that means ramping up education and organizing within churches, among younger voters, and in people of color and rural communities. But more important it is what each of us can and must do everyday: having those hard, from the heart talks with our friends, neighbors, relatives and co-workers. Time is once again on our side, let's make the most of it.

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Comments

  1. MAN, is this SO spot-on! It's sad that he wasn't able to be more involved, due to the constraints of his job.

    Posted by: troschne | Jan 23, 2009 8:03:27 AM


  2. Ick has nothing to do with it. It's all about power. Same-sex marriage means the power of the church -- whcih is to say its power to regulate sexuality -- is OVER.

    Marriage was the means by which women were exchanged from fathers to the men who would be hisbands. Both parties OWMED women as property. The feminsit revolution put an end to that.

    Gay and lesbians were seens as beyond the pale. A subkect not to be brought up in polite conversaion. "Sick" peoiple to be shunned, and selectvely arrested (if you had money you could "get away with it") for profit.Placing us rhetorically aside allowed the gay pedophile cult called the Roman Catholic Church to function with impunity. No one DARE say the devil wore Prada, until very recently.

    We are going to get marriage. And sooner than we think.

    Stilfe the "ick," Foreman. We're well aware of how much gays and lesbians are taught to loathe themselves, and how hard it is to get over it.

    Even for LBGT "leaders."

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jan 23, 2009 8:29:52 AM


  3. Right on, Matt! I've been waiting for someone to crystalize in a cogent way why all the post-election rehashing and complaining about the alleged "epic fail" of the No On 8 Campaign are wrong and unfair. This was always an uphill battle, and those who were so shocked at the loss didn't understand the dynamics of anti-gay politics. The reality is that we have to wait at least another ten to twenty years for public opinion to significantly change on this issue. That will happen primarily when those who are now 65 and older can no longer vote because they've taken the big sleep.

    Posted by: John | Jan 23, 2009 8:36:36 AM


  4. I worked with Matt at the Task Force during the period he's referring to. And though the results of all that testing were never publicized (really, why give the right such potent information?), I recall being stunned at how badly we did with ads that had gay couples that we tested in Texas. Another similar initiative looked at how to move people on transgender equality and that was also really disheartening.

    What we need is a prolonged, multi-year public education campaign that will make No on 8's expense look like a dribble. And, given that other research into LGBT philanthropy indicates that less than 5% of us donate to any of our movement organizations, it's unlikely to be affordable in the near future.

    Posted by: Anonymous | Jan 23, 2009 8:39:24 AM


  5. Well, he's certainly thought a lot about it.

    I like his "evidence only" approach. Not doing what WE like, but what we see actually works on persuading people. It's a tough pill to swallow to realize that people are more likely to be fair to us when they can't see us, but if it's true, it's true. Let's work with what we've got.

    Posted by: Yeek | Jan 23, 2009 9:05:08 AM


  6. What a load! It's all well and good to talk about social change and canvasing people about their feelings on specifics, but that's NOT what political campaigns are about.

    Political campaigns are about instilling in the voter that to vote the other way will be "BAD" for them - and BAD is almost never specified.

    The NO ON 8 club failed because they were on their ignorant social change/education horse and ignored and refused to listen to people that knew better.

    It ABSOLUTE was ours to loose, and the too-little too-late cloister of the non-profit social CEO's were out of their league and locked out people that knew what they were doing in the arena of CA politics - which is a shark infested acid-bath.

    Forman can think, consider, and structure lovely arguments all he wants - but that doesn't make it so. The NO ON 8 league of cronies that keep eachother's company on so many things in CA failed in a way that is inexcusable.

    Posted by: David B. | Jan 23, 2009 9:25:17 AM


  7. Thank you for this incredibly thoughtful piece. I am (was?) definitely among those angry with No on 8 for failing to use gay families in its ads.

    I understand the focus group testing, and I truly respect that people are trying to approach this issue from an evidence-based angle.

    I'm still not convinced that this is the right approach, though -- specifically, I'd like to see evidence that REPEATED exposure to ads featuring gay families are less effective than the more cerebral ads of the 2008 cycle.

    You're right to talk about the ick factor and how that influences our strategy, but I wonder: how do we defeat the ick factor in the long term? I haven't seen this question addressed rigorously other than by the striking observation that being personal friends with a gay person is a better predictor of one's position on gay rights than almost anything else. (Am I wrong about that?) So it's my gut reaction that the best way to overcome the ick factor is to stimulate the same kind of empathy that comes from having gay friends: by showing sympathetic gay people repeatedly. And doing it repeatedly is crucial: reducing the ick factor in the long run will mean a robust, enduring victory on all issues of gay equality and dignity, whereas clawing our way over the finish line on marriage with this hide-the-gays strategy seems to me to leave us starting over the next time around.

    This is just a gut reaction. If there is empirically sound evidence that I am wrong -- and I'm by no means discounting the possibility that I am -- I'd really like to see it. I'm a pretty open-minded person when it comes to empirical evidence, and I'd accept the reality.

    Perhaps part of No on 8's mission should have been to explain the basis of its strategy to its constituents. It seems to me that the campaign was characterized by an overriding paranoia about its "secrets" being exploited by the other side -- but how likely is it that the other side didn't run focus groups of their own and independently deduce all of the information you're talking about? More important would have been (I think, possibly) to do a better job of getting the gay crowd on board with the strategy so that we'd be better at early fundraising.

    Finally, I do think No on 8 was incompetent even notwithstanding everything addressed in this column. Friends of mine who did phone-banking (which I could not, unfortunately, because I was out of state throughout the campaign) were uniformly disgusted by the experience and by the script. A friend of mine in Palo Alto of all places reported a barrage of No on 8 television advertisements: how could it be a wise decision to spend so much on advertising in one of the richest and most liberal towns in the country? Who in that town is not already on our side and planning to vote? And while I have no personal experience one way or the other on this, I have heard that No on 8's attempts to reach out to, e.g., black preachers was somewhere between pathetic and nonexistent.

    So yes, given the above, I'm hesitant to give No on 8 the benefit of the doubt on anything. Again, if there's specific evidence that I'm empirically mistaken about anything written above, I'd like to see it.

    Posted by: Pender | Jan 23, 2009 10:19:16 AM


  8. reality says differently

    Reality = POLLS!!!!

    The polls for 2-3 months pre the vote showed our side ahead by 1-3% points. Margin of error but they were consistent which shows it was GROUND GAME GROUND GAME GROUND GAME

    If you don't focus on getting out the vote then you loose.

    Educate the other side all you wan't it rarely changes % points by a wide enough margin to win. The thing that wins elections is getting your base out to vote and registering new voters for your side and making sure they get to the polls.

    Save the educating for later especialy since there are HUGE segments that will never accept being educated. Spend time and money on GOTV = GET OUT THE VOTE

    Our sides GOTV efforts failed because the groups and leadership involved on our side are too far removed from common day street reality. Suit and tie fund raisers in ivory towers hamper one from understanding the down in the streets GOTV


    Posted by: jimmyboyo | Jan 23, 2009 10:28:04 AM


  9. PS

    The churches were BUSSING!!!!!!!!!!! voters to polls.

    Where were the gay buses? hell, gay and straight dems in CA didn't go to the polls because Obama had already been announced as the winner (CA always has this problem with the time diff) and because many were naive in thinking "this is CA, there is no way it will pass here."

    The churches bussed their voters to polls and too many gays in CA are too busy dancing at a club to even be bothered with registering to vote. We need to focus on educating our own community on getting registered to VOTE!

    Posted by: jimmyboyo | Jan 23, 2009 10:31:08 AM


  10. post post script :-)

    Lets look at the past AA Civil rights movement

    Did they spend time and money on trying to educate the other side?

    They spent time and money on organizing protests and GOTV

    "educating the other side" is ivory tower, suit and tie, champagne sipping fund raiser BS

    GOTV! Every single member of the so-called leadership should be chained to the front door of every gay bar in CA and try to register unregistered voting age gays so they can wake up to reality and see where their time and money should have been spent.

    There is NO data what so ever that gays vote in larger margins than their straight counterparts. In fact most data shows that we share the same damn problem as straights = apathy. Overcome that apathy by registering voters and lighting a fire under our own community to make sure they get to the polls!

    Posted by: jimmyboyo | Jan 23, 2009 10:40:35 AM


  11. This is one of the best analysis of the Prop 8 issue I have read so far and shows the glbt community has a lot of educating the public still to do.

    As for the ICK factor, nothing is more icky to me than a man and a woman getting it on, that is as vile and disgusting as all out and if I had to see it live I would pass out.

    Posted by: Sebastian | Jan 23, 2009 10:51:21 AM


  12. Oh Matt what a load of whitewash bullshit.

    You know I remember years ago when you were with the Anti-Violence Project in NYC BEFORE our "gay leaders" became Board Members and when we were down in the dirt. Things went so much better then

    Since the 80's it has been well known that "the other side had a huge, largely unmovable, energized base."

    You state we didn't? And why was that? Mostly because the NO ON 8 people didn;t think that energizing our own communitty and involvinv different groups was such a good idea.

    You did make one good satement though, It is time to move forward and break free of our "suppossed leaders" who are now more like business execs than activist.

    Posted by: Wolf | Jan 23, 2009 10:55:32 AM


  13. "The short answer is that the ick factor is alive and festering even among people who want to suppress it. These are people who truly want to be fair and who don't want to hurt other people. At the same time, they remain deeply uncomfortable with homosexuality and marriage goes right to the heart of their discomfort, given that sex is central to marriage."

    My instinctive response is: fuck that. The "ick factor" isn't going to go away if we continue to make ourselves invisible to placate squeamish straight sensibilities. I can't claim to be a political strategist, but if we're running a campaign where we have to closet ourselves to win (and we didn't win!), then I don't want to be a part of it. I keep thinking of Harvey Milk when the "experts" suggest that we stay out of the spotlight--it implies that we're ashamed and afraid, two things Harvey refused to be. There is power in visibility, even if the polls suggest that we hide. Perhaps we should be less heart-wrenching and more pissed off.

    I hope that the good side of defeat is that it woke some apathetic gay people up--we'll see.

    Posted by: Ernie | Jan 23, 2009 11:18:30 AM


  14. I find it astounding how many commenters here are drawn in by Forman's slick words... It's nice to see another perspective, from an academic standpoint, but this is just claptrap from another insider covering for a bunch of unqualified control freaks.

    Posted by: David B. | Jan 23, 2009 11:39:06 AM


  15. http://fablog.ehrensteinland.com/2009/01/23/ick/

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jan 23, 2009 12:18:19 PM


  16. Jimmyboyo:

    Please give us some facts and figures from a reliable source about the percentage of gay voters who didn't vote.
    I have seen NOTHING to support your assertion that there was a low voter turnout from the GLBT community.

    Posted by: Jeffrey | Jan 23, 2009 12:54:10 PM


  17. Anti marriage laws are the new sodomy laws.
    Lobbying is the least effective way of winning our agenda. In the electoral field that was expressed by No on 8's sweet talking lobbying effort aimed at voters. Their perspective has a 100% track record of failure on same sex marriage, which is now illegal almost everywhere.

    Lobbying, whether targeted at legislative hustler or the voters themselves is an exercise in futility. But don't try telling that to the self- appointed leaders of the No on 8. They're drawn from paid movement bureaucrats and from the ranks of right centrist Democrat Party. They claim to be skilled and to Know Secret Stuff You Don't Know.

    However it was No on 8's disgraceful, clueless policies of ignoring minority working people and their inability to summon up the courage to criticize Obama's blatant bigotry that ultimately destroyed our chances to win.

    No on 8's leadership imposed an undemocratic 'non-confrontational' policy because their greatest fear is upsetting the applecart holding what's most dear to them; self appointed positions, bloated salaries, 'retreats' and other self-imposed gratuities. Militants and activists tend not to be so respectful of their bureaucratic and self appointed leadership so they avoid drawing them into to movement, instead relying of political operatives hot shots. Many of these paid political hot shots are straight and even more clueless than their employers.

    That's why they refused to involve our community or working people, particularly minority workers' in a direct challenge to the system that produces homophobia.

    Before the vote they refused to tap the energy of activists in demonstrations at mormon temples, Saddleback and catholic cathedrals. They adamantly refused to organize statewide mass demonstrations whose very pointed goal would be to promise bigots that if Prop 8 passed there will be more, much more, of the same. Years of the same.

    Because they're Democrats the No on 8 misleaders outright refused to call Obama to task for his open bigotry. When the mormons, Warren and the catholics used it against us in a last minute blitzkrieg they galvanized the bigots who voted against us. Instead of giving the bigots pause with militant mass demonstrations No on 8's political bankruptcy gave the bigots permission to vote their bigotry as did Obama.

    Prop 8 passed because of the Democrats refused to criticize Obama which in turn made the job of Warren and the catholic-mormon axis who quoted Obama much more effective. And they demobilized our movement by refusing to muster our activist base which is huge in California.

    People like that, who orbit the Democrat party, are not only incapable of leading our movement; they're an obstacle to equality. The defeat in California was unnecessary and unexpected. More than anything else our movement needs a stand-up fighting left to counteract the influence of right centrists like Democrats and the Log Cabin Republicans.

    Posted by: Bill Perdue | Jan 23, 2009 1:15:11 PM


  18. Short-term political campaigns and long-term community outreach aren't mutually exclusive. Can't we do both?

    Given that the political campaign is over (at least for now!), we can reinvigorate our efforts at community outreach. That's the reason for the SERIOUS OUTREACH project, which just launched this week. The Serious Outreach project was created to promote outreach of the LGBT community to racial, ethnic, religious, social, and professional communities across the U.S.

    Serious Outreach will propose and publicize outreach dates to meet with specific communities across the country. The first is outreach to the LOCAL MEDIA, which is proposed for Thursday, February 26, 2009. Stay tuned to www.SeriousOutreach.com for the announcement of additional community outreach dates, including for the African American, Hispanic/Latino, Roman Catholic communities...and many more.

    Please consider taking part in this important effort!

    Posted by: OutreachNow | Jan 23, 2009 1:37:22 PM


  19. I think this is all probably true and he seems to have grasp of the challenges but this begs two questions:

    A) why did we mount a 45 million dollar campaign when we were likely to lose anyway?

    B) where is the leadership that is so attractive in Harvey Milk, even if it has to come from Gavin Newsom or another straight politician (tho I think the gay community has to have someone with vision to spearhead this movement) to move US citizens to do the right thing? Lobbying and hobnobbing with the status quo politicians no longer works with this issue (and many others which is why we have Obama!) Where is the gay Obama?

    This fight will not move until we get our MLK!

    Posted by: David B. | Jan 23, 2009 3:00:34 PM


  20. We lost by 2 percentage points. He's overanalyzing this. In two years things will have changed.

    Posted by: Paul R | Jan 23, 2009 4:19:58 PM


  21. Ok the next battle will be in Maine. Everybody move to Maine now and just survive there till Nov 4th 2010. Pass the vote allowing gay marriage and move to the next state.

    Posted by: Aiden Raccoon | Jan 23, 2009 10:03:06 PM


  22. Here's the problem. What percentage of people voted No on 8 because even though they might be against marriage, they don't want change the constitution. Well the constitution is changed now. So in 2010, these are the voters that we have now lost because it will require US this time to change the constitution back or revise it.

    Posted by: Aiden Raccoon | Jan 23, 2009 10:07:10 PM


  23. Agree with the comments above that Mark overlooks the ground game, which could have potentially tipped the scales. But David Ehrenstein needs to get a grip... just because one describes the 'ick' factor doesn't make one self-loathing. David, all you need to do is take yourself out of the exclusively gay world you live in to see it.

    Posted by: Pat | Jan 24, 2009 9:00:18 AM


  24. As my German husband would say: BS. BS. und BS. And Quite a load of self-serving political BS at that.

    We lost on prop. 8 for two very simple reasons. First, this campaign was conducted with the invisibility of the closet. Gay people were invisible. Marriage was invisible. Our lives were invisible. Our families were invisible. Prejudice was invisible. Religion was invisible. Religious prejudice was invisible.

    the campaign was a lie from start to finish. It was based on shame and fear. It has never worked in a marriage campaign, and has rarely worked any place else. Why wuld you expect it to finally work now? Oh, i know. focus groups.Studies have shown consistently that people who know gay people tend not to vote against them.

    the second reason? Stupidity. Every vote counts. Yet the central valley was basically ignored. Phone banking was king in a state where 40% of the population use unlisted cel phones, and nearly everyrone has caller ID, and prefer not to answer calls from unknown strangers. Community outreach was nil. Public speaking was nil.

    This approach has been tried for the last 30 campaigns. and it has lost for the last 30 campaigns. but it has kept a lot of political operatives employed. I firmly believe that we did as well as we did not because of your campaign, but despite it.

    and even if your arguments are correct, which I do not believe for a moment, I do believe this (and please forgive my shouting)...

    I WOULD RATHER LOSE THE CAMPAIGN BECAUSE WE TOLD THE TRUTH (for once) THAN LOSE IT BECAUSE WE TOLD A LIE as we have continued to do, and as you have advocated.

    I wrote this after the election.

    Time. Energy. Money.

    As a recently married gay man, I contributed a lot of each against Prop. 8. I’m sad that we failed to beat it. But I'm also angry-- and not just about political campaigns fueled by bigotry, conservative religion, and way too much tax-free money-- because I could see defeat coming with the inevitability of a slow-motion train wreck.

    At the campaign kickoff, I asked Mark Leno personally if campaign leaders were going to do the liberal-tolerance-equality strategy again, pointing out that it has failed repeatedly. Or, were they going to show actual gay people, actual families, and actual lives. You know: reality. He said that focus groups indicated that everybody-make-nice and civil liberties were the way to go. This would move the undecided voters who were so crucial. I made the same point to HRC’s Marty Rouse and several campaign leaders, and got the same response. The approach would be political rather than human, in every sense of both words.

    What a concept! Let's ask straight people who are afraid of gay people about how to win gay rights, instead of asking gay people what has worked in their lives. You can see the result of focus group viewpoints. We have been focused over big-time.

    Politics may move undecided voters, but the movement is only as valuable as the last person they spoke to. Human connections move hearts and minds, even minds that are made up. People who know gay people don't usually vote against them. But it's easy to vote against someone who is invisible, faceless, a menacing other, instead of friend or family, or even someone you just met on the street. And in No on 8, we were invisible. We saw the supportive, loving parents, but no gay daughter, no grandchildren. No on 8 was uninterested in a speakers’ bureau to reach out to community groups and churches; I gave up asking. They wanted volunteers for phone banking and sign waving, not personal contact with real voters. At a training we were told NOT to use words like children, because Pro-8 people had appropriated the issue. Because we refused to claim it-- to claim reality-- it was used against us. Likewise, we can't talk about this ancient and deeply rooted anti-gay prejudice, either, because by calling attention to a reality in our lives, we might offend the very people who call us a threat to family, faith, and country. Newsflash! Our existence offends them.

    This all may make sense to professional political people in their world and culture, but not in mine. It fails as a strategy because it embraces THE CLOSET, which is our real enemy. The closet is US. It is making ourselves invisible and unknown, rather than showing the simple fact and humanity of our lives. It is our consent to the lies, our silence in the face of naked prejudice. It is us not standing up for ourselves, and when we don't, who else will stand with us? I absolutely praise and thank our leaders for their efforts and sacrifices and dedication. But frankly, if our leaders don't know that we have to stand up for ourselves, as ourselves, then they shouldn't be our leaders. Because here's the result: we gay people were barely visible, and more people thought that the standard of living of California chickens was more important than the families of their fellow Americans.

    Thirty years ago, I worked against the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay teachers. A much smaller group of people, with far fewer resources, in a far less accepting time, succeeded against great odds. Maybe I'm romanticizing, but I remember it was because all we really had to show were ourselves and our lives. We said NO to the closet.

    I know this fight is far from over. We will be back. However, if future campaign organizations want to continue this losing strategy of focus groups, phone banking, invisibility, and cute but irrelevant ads that look good on political resumes but change nothing, the rest of us need a parallel campaign that comes out of the closet and presents us as who we are.

    If you expect me to stay in the closet, then don’t, DON'T expect one minute of my time, one iota of my energy, or one dime of my money.

    Posted by: Ben in Oakland | Jan 24, 2009 12:23:22 PM


  25. I know not one out, thoughtful, conscious, grounded gay person who thinks this campaign was anything but a loser. If you want to deal with the ICK factor, then you need to make gay people un-icky. you're not going to do that by hiding us in the closet. the closet just re-inforces the idea that there is something icky there. your focus groups may show that people respind with theick facotr, but is that in just one ad show, or does that continue over multiple showings?

    Posted by: Ben in oakland | Jan 24, 2009 12:39:42 PM


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