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

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.


  1. says

    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.”

  2. John says

    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.

  3. Anonymous says

    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.

  4. Yeek says

    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.

  5. says

    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.

  6. Pender says

    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.

  7. jimmyboyo says

    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

  8. jimmyboyo says


    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!

  9. jimmyboyo says

    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!

  10. Sebastian says

    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.

  11. says

    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.

  12. says

    “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.

  13. says

    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.

  14. Jeffrey says


    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.

  15. Bill Perdue says

    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.

  16. says

    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 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!

  17. David B. says

    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!

  18. Aiden Raccoon says

    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.

  19. Aiden Raccoon says

    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.

  20. Pat says

    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.

  21. Ben in Oakland says

    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.

  22. Ben in oakland says

    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?

  23. says

    Thanks, BEN IN OAKLAND, for your valuable perspective. BS is right, and the more I think about it, the angrier it makes me. We don’t have to repeat past mistakes, yet we do. So many more of us are out now, yet we still run back to the closet, without even realizing that’s what we’re doing. I hope people, including Matt Foreman, pay attention to your wise words.

    Harvey Milk would, no doubt, be horrified to know that 30 years after he worked to tear down closet doors, we are still closeting our lives, and why? Because tests and polls and straight people tell us that’s what we SHOULD do to win our rights. Yet we lost. Since I wasn’t working on the ground during the Prop 8 fight, I can’t point too many fingers at how the campaign was run, but the strategy of making ourselves invisible is shameful and wrong, no matter the results.

    I wish everyone would reread “The Mayor of Castro Street” and take lessons from “Milk.” So much has changed, yet so much, sadly, hasn’t. Invisibility is never the right answer.

  24. Jeffrey says

    That is the best analysis of what went wrong with the no on 8 campaign that I have seen. Could you take a leadership position?
    You have my vote. I, too, put in time, energy and money and a had this nagging feeling the entire time that we were not going about it the right way and that we were going to lose. I am sorry that I didn’t speak up and trusted that the “experts” knew more than I did….

  25. Ben in Oakland says

    Thank you Jeffrey and Ernie, for your kind words.

    I have written a much more complete analysis of what went wrong. I will be happy to send it to anyone interested. Just click on my name and request it.

  26. Geoff says

    I have to comment on Matt Foreman’s claim that he “had nothing to do with the No on 8 campaign” and was a “purely armchair quarterback”. I do not know if he wrote this to claim that his opinion was unbiased or not, but since his organization gave over a quarter of a million dollars to Let California Ring he must have a certain level of bias especially when it comes to the subject of the effectiveness of the Garden Wedding Ad.

    Also, later in his editorial he writes “Santa Barbara was the only county in Southern California to vote No on Prop 8 and the only thing that was different was the Garden Wedding Campaign”. With this statement is he not linking the Garden Wedding Campaign directly to the No On Prop 8 campaign? And, how does he know the Garden Wedding campaign is the only thing that was different if he is a “purely armchair quarterback”? Was he in the field in Santa Barbara after the media test through to Election Day from July working with the GOTV efforts?

    Seems to me he needs to do a bit more research before making some of his claims.

    IMHO, the single most important thing about the campaign was the late start and the hiring of the ineffective campaign consultant.

  27. Ben Janken says

    Matt Foreman has written an extensive analysis of why we lost on Prop. 8. Basically, he claims that we did the best we could, and we could not have done any better. As you will see, I disagree completely. I think we could have done a lot better. I had no doubt that we could have and should have won. And we would have, but for the nature of the campaign– a deeply closeted campaign in mentality, and so afraid of taking the wrong step that it did nothing at all. The justifications that Mr. Foreman has listed may be true. I have no way of knowing, except that these justifications contradict every experience of my 37 years as an out and proud gay man, and they have failed repeatedly in every campaign since 1996.

    That alone should tell us: let’s maybe try something different. Maybe let’s trust the basic decency and sense of fair play that I think most people in this country, and certainly, most people in California, would exhibit if only they were given the chance. But they weren’t given the chance. They had to be protected from seeing us.

    Thankfully, since the election, more and more people are speaking out about the effects of a closeted campaign, and starting a true dialog in our community about our willingness to stand up for who we are, as we are. If we continue to employ political consultants who may have their own issues around shame and fear and homosexuality, and continue the strategies of the past that have yet to work, then I fear that the push for marriage equality is doomed. And despite their rhetoric that they are just fine with domestic partnerships, the anti-gay crowd is clearly not fine with it, and we can probably kiss any progress in that area goodbye as well for another twenty years. I’m too old for that. I have been hearing anti-gay prejudice my whole life– the lies, the hate, the distortions, and worst of all, the hate-disguised-as-love. I’m tired of it. And frankly, I think the whole country, and not just gay people, has paid an enormous price for it, if indeed it led to the disaster known as George Bush.

    Though I did a lot of work against 8, ultimately, I chose not to work with the official campaign above a certain minimum. It was very clear to me that this was going to be a campaign conducted from the closet. In fact, I wrote a couple of articles on the subject, which together constitute as clear a picture of what I saw happening as I could produce. This picture was confirmed to me when I took a training and I received the list of words that we were supposed to avoid, including these three: prejudice, religion, and children.

    I have read in the news and online the bases for the lawsuits against 8. All very well and good, and possibly even valid. But they don’t convince even me– especially the revision vs. amendment part of it, which seems to be the main plank– and so I have a hard time believing that they are going to convince a judge, especially if his/her job is on the line in a future recall. As with the No on 8 ads, obscure and irrelevant as they were, I’m not convinced, and I really want to be. Also, I believe this tack was already tried, and was rejected by the court. Of all possible arguments, this seems to be the weakest. And if it fails, there is no basis to appeal the matter in Federal court under equal protection or religious freedom laws.

    I’m not a lawyer, but I do have my 58 years of life, and 37 years as an out, proud, and happy gay man to guide me. Very frankly, it seems to me that these lawsuits are being conducted from the closet as well, and in exactly the same way as the campaign was. Once again, I see these three words being avoided: children, religion, and prejudice. And if this is indeed the case, then I truly fear that result will be the same. It will allow our opponents to say once again, “We don’t hate you. We’re just trying to preserve heterosexual marriage/the family/traditional values,” by which they mean the myth of heterosexual superiority and the realities of heterosexual privilege and prejudice. It will also allow them to continue to claim that somehow, if gay people are protected from discrimination, whether in marriage or the usual employment/housing/accommodations, that their freedom of religion is compromised, by which they mean their freedom to discriminate against gay people on the basis of their religious belief.

    The closet is about living a lie. It IS a lie, it is based on lies, and it engenders lies. It distorts, perverts, and debases everything it touches, as the sorry life of Ted Haggard will attest. And like all lies, the bigger it is, the longer it is told, the more damage it ultimately causes. One lie, that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, as told in the Gospel of John, ultimately led to centuries of anti-Semitism, the murder of six million Jews, and 250,000 murdered gay people as an afterthought. John was, of course, justifying the Jewish heresy that became Christianity, and was sticking it to the Jewish authorities of the time. The Christians won and the Jews lost. Another lie, that gay people are responsible for child molestation, has impeded so much progress in the battle to protect our children. After all, if you can blame it on the queers, you don’t actually have to look at child molestation and where it actually occurs most often– the family.

    As a Jew and as a gay man, I’m weary of losing.

    There is only one answer to a lie, and that is the truth. By hiding us, hiding our families, we are complicit in this lie. Jesus said “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” So when do we start telling the truth? I, for one, wish to be free.

    For 2000 years or more, gay people have been subject to a vicious, virulent, and consistent prejudice. We have been imprisoned, slandered, criminalized, degraded, pathologized, and murdered for being different. There are many people who deem it a good thing to make our lives as difficult and unpleasant as possible, often under the guise of “We love you” and “This is for your own good”. That this prejudice exists is beyond all doubt. The bulk of the Yes on 8 campaign was a conglomeration of known lies, distortions, and the-gays-are-gonna-get-your-children fear mongering, all very consistent with the existence of a prejudicial mindset. Prejudice and bigotry are not good bases for either law or public policy, and as we have progressed as a society, we have consistently rejected them.

    So why is prejudice apparently not a part of our legal and strategies? Are we still afraid to call the people prejudiced who have slandered us for two millennia– or for twelve months straight– especially since we know it is true? Whether it is presented as sincere religious belief, or admitted for what it is, it is still prejudice. Why can we not say that absent a compelling, factual, and real reason, our equality before the law cannot be compromised by someone else’s prejudice? I know the argument goes that we win no converts by calling people bigots. As far as I am concerned, if we are willing only to be silent about it, we are consenting to it. We can be polite, but we have to start being truthful. The closet depends on both lies and silence for its power over gay people and its support from heterosexuals. We don’t have to call people bigots. We do have to start talking about bigotry. We are not responsible for how people to react to us. We are only responsible for who we are, and to tell the truth.

    This is what Rosa Parks had to say about the consent of silence: “It’s not that I was fed up (that day). I was fed up all my life, as far back as I can remember, with being treated as less than a free person . . . as long as we continued to comply with these rules and regulations that kept us crushed down as a people, then the power structure would always say: ‘Well, they are not complaining, and they accept this, so they are satisfied with it.’”

    I would re-phrase that for gay people. “I have been fed up all my life, as far back as I can remember, with being treated as less than a whole person, as not good enough, not citizen enough, not human enough, to allow me the simple dignity and respect of living my life in peace. Well, actually they will allow that, as long as I don’t demand equality before the law — or respect, or dignity, or to live my life in peace.”

    It has been documented over and over again that the Catholics and the Mormons, along with other religious conservatives, were the primary organizers, financiers, movers, and promoters of Yes on 8. In fact, they are proud of it. Their arguments were primarily religion based: it’s against our religion, God ordained that marriage is between a man and a woman, ministers will be jailed, churches will be taxed and/or sued, religious freedom violated. The President of the Mormon church sent out a letter encouraging Mormons to “do what they can”, resulting in millions in out of state donations. Pastoral letters from the Catholic Bishops were read in church; Bishops Niedeaur and Mahoney have trumpeted their parts in this, claiming that they are only doing their Catholic duty. Brigham Young university students were encouraged to phone bank. All of this to enforce a certain, conservative religious view about homosexuality, and place a religious view about same-sex marriage onto the civil contract of marriage. The state, by virtue of the First Amendment, is supposed to be neutral in religious matters. By enforcing 8, the state is not being neutral. My marriage is a civil matter, with nothing to do with anyone’s religion but my own. We don’t have to attack people’s religion. But we to have to start talking about religion, freedom of religion, and the difference between religious belief and civil society.

    I am grateful that Jerry Brown is not defending Prop. 8 in court, but defending the equal protection provisions of the Constitution of the State of California. But he should also be defending the religious freedom provisions as well. I believe he has the legal ability to do so. But he must choose it. And so should we.

    I can think of very few politicians who have the integrity and the fortitude to stand for much of anything. I voted for John Kerry, but held my nose while doing so. I’m happy that Obama was elected, but despite his rhetoric, I’m fairly sure that gay concerns are way down on his priority list. He only sees “out” gay people. I doubt he gets the crushing burden of the closet, simply because he has never had to be in one. It is one thing to “support” gay marriage, it is quite another thing to be willing take a rhetorical bullet for it. We need only look at Feinstein’s wishy-washy “unfair and wrong” commercial, or Schwarzenegger’s unfulfilled promise to campaign against 8. He somehow managed to be out of the state in the final week of the campaign, when he should have been on TV. And as far I can tell, no one called him on it. Certainly not his lesbian chief of staff.

    Where is the lawsuit from a coalition of religious groups– UU, UCC, Episcopal, Reformed Judaism, to name but a few, plus a host of ministers from many other denominations– who don’t want their religious beliefs dictated by the conservatives and imposed upon civil law, especially in the matter of how civil law affects their parishioners? Since this is a civil contract, why is my access to it compromised by the religious beliefs of people who want their religious views reflected by civil law? Why is it that only THEIR freedom of religion the one that counts?

    Moreover, just because they claim it is about their religious beliefs does not make that a true statement. Nor does it make it right. It only makes it sound reasonable, unmotivated by hate or fear. Like all prejudice, religious prejudice is never reasonable. It’s just prejudice. And what about MY freedom of religion, every bit as important as theirs? Again, by not speaking out about it, we are consenting to it. We don’t have to attack anyone for their religious beliefs. But we do have to talk about it.

    If this were not about gay marriage, but was about any other religious difference of opinion, this would be called what it so clearly is: discrimination on the basis of religious belief. We have laws at every level of government which say that discrimination on the basis of religious belief, yours or mine, is wrong and has no place in secular, pluralistic society. Why is this different? I’m certainly old enough to remember “exclusive” country clubs and neighborhoods. But if Prop. 8-1/2 said that Jews could be discriminated against because they do not share majority Christian belief, it would be thrown out by the courts without a moment’s hesitation, though before WWII such practices were considered acceptable. But because this is about this very ancient prejudice against gay people, often supported by religious belief but occasionally admitted for what it is, and about sex in our deeply puritanical culture, somehow, we are not allowed to point this out. Why is this 800 pound gorilla in the living room apparently invisible? What do we have to lose by calling out bigotry for what it is? What do we have to gain by pretending that it is not? How is the continuation of the closet served by not talking about bigotry and prejudice?

    Again, our silence means consent. Or, as my Act Up brothers would say, Silence=Death.

    Finally, there is the matter of children and family, or as I like to call it, The Children (TM). Because, despite all of that pro-family, love-the-children rhetoric of the religious right, The Children (TM) are just one more commodity in their never-ending battle against ending this prejudice and our full inclusion in society– and arguably, in their whole socio-political agenda, which I believe is ultimately the control of our society and the rule of their “theology”. I can think of all kinds of children they don’t care about: the estimated 70,000 children in California with gay parents, the 3%-4% of the children that will grow up to be gay, but meanwhile have to grow up in the closet and suffer every last indignity that it can bestow, from shame and self-hatred to the ultimate: a Ted Haggard life of furtiveness, or a Bobby Griffith suicide of despair. And how many children world-wide could have been fed, clothed, educated and immunized for the 85 million spent on this campaign? How many children in Darfur died of starvation while Yes on 8 was attacking my marriage? How many social programs in Utah have gone begging while the Mormon Church was getting all moralistic on our asses?

    When I attended the above mentioned speaker’s training, which turned out not to be much of a training at all, my intellectual hackles were raised when we were told there was a list of words we weren’t supposed to use and were to try to avoid (at worst) or to euphemize (at best). It reminded of the first time I ever heard the words “politically incorrect”, when I was working against the Briggs Initiative 30 years ago; I thought then that speaker was joking, and was shocked to find that she was serious. This time, when I saw that list of words, my spirits fell, because I received yet another confirmation that this campaign was going to be conducted from the dark recesses of the closet, as has every other failed campaign for the last ten years.

    But the final blow, what told me that we were very likely to lose this battle, and what decided for me that I would put little energy towards the official campaign– though I did personally donate $500 to it, and raised about $1000 more– was the exclusion of one word: children. I asked the presenter why we could not talk about that. Her first response was that the Yes people had appropriated it. I couldn’t swear to it, but she may even have used the word “co-opted”, a word I haven’t heard used since I first learned it from the admitted socialists (and I don’t mean that as a put-down, just a context) running the anti-Briggs campaign.

    I asked the trainer why we couldn’t talk about gay families, or gay people with children. Her response: focus groups had shown that any association of gay people and children activated the worst animosities of the anti-gay crowd and, more importantly, the worst fears of the crucial undecided voters in the middle who would actually decide the contest. 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.

    So many lethal absurdities here. Yes on 8 had co-opted the issue, so we can’t talk about it. Let’s pretend that gay people don’t have children instead. Let’s tell a lie, even one of omission. From my point of view, it is all the more reason that we should be talking about it, and loudly. People who don’t know gay people, who know nothing about us, who don’t know that we have children, that many of us love children, that some of us have adopted the unwanted, cast off children of irresponsible heterosexual reproduction, cannot be informed that their beliefs and perceptions are wrong, lest we…what? Scare them? Challenge them? Educate them? If they are so locked into their fears and their hatred that the simple act of showing our humanity, our families, and our children will cause them to vote against us, then they would not be voting for us anyway.

    But Foreman’s column said we SHOULD be avoiding this topic. However out-of-the-closet Mr. Foreman and these political consultants may be, this sentiment makes me wonder if they might have their own issues around fear and shame. I say we should trust the basic decency and fairness of our fellow Americans. I say we should reach hearts and minds with real people and real families. I would rather lose the campaign because we have told the truth, than because we have been complicit in a lie. There was a very telling scene in the movie “Milk”, where the politicos were going to hide gay people, and Harvey Milk said NO. He understood the closet, and in fact, gave me my understanding of its pernicious nature long before many of these political consultants were even aware that they were gay.

    I have a friend who adopted a child with her partner– an unwanted child who would have been raised in poverty and disease, another piece of third world refuse heading towards an early death because his heterosexual parents neither wanted him nor were prepared to care for him. M. has been given a chance at a different life with her, and is now healthy, bright, charming, well behaved, and a joy to be around. Marriage provides a certain set of rights and responsibilities upon people who are married, and a certain set of protections for their children. Preventing my friend from marrying another woman, which would give M a set of married parents and all of the benefits that the law and society allow, is advocating is to keep him, and the children of all gay couples, in as legally, financially and socially precarious a position as possible. Domestic partnership goes only so far in protecting the children of gay people, and stops exactly at the state line.

    The legal and social status of the children of gay people is an issue that must be addressed, and if we don’t do so, you can be sure that we will see another anti-gay, Arkansas-style initiative that will. By conducting our campaign and our lawsuit from the fear and loathing of the closet, we are avoiding it. We are doing nothing to counter the the-gays-are-gonna-get-your-children fear mongering stereotypes and outright falsehoods that are the anti-gay industry’s stock-in-trade, and their most potent and vicious ammunition. And in so doing, we are failing our children just as surely as our opponents are. What’s good for the children of heterosexuals is good for the children of homosexuals. Opposing marriage equality is tantamount to punishing those children. What have they ever done to deserve that? What about their equality before the law, their freedom of religion, their rights? If we are going to say that children are our most precious resource, then we must stand up for them now, just as we surely should have done throughout this whole, sorry campaign.

    We should have won and we could have won. We cannot allow our opponents to own those three words– religion, prejudice, and children– any more than we can allow them to own the word “marriage”. Keeping our lawsuit and our campaigns in the closet is the same as keeping gay people in the closet, and will have the same results. We will remain invisible and powerless as a community.

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