California | Gay Marriage | Interview | Kate Kendell | Los Angeles | News | Proposition 8

Equality Summit Interview: NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell

KendellGuestblogger_2BRAD WILLIS

Towleroad correspondent Brad Willis, who filed a report earlier today from Saturday's 'Equality Summit' in Los Angeles, sat down with Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, to discuss Proposition 8, Obama's civil rights agenda, and moving forward in the campaign for marriage equality.

What your position was with the No On 8 campaign?

I was a member of the (No On 8 Campaignʼs) Executive Committee [since] 2004.

There are a lot of people within the LGBT community who don’t understand why marriage is important. Why is it important?

What marriage provides is not only the practical security of a legally recognized relationship, but it makes it virtually impossible to continue to think of LGBT people as less equal and less valuable members of society.

If we do win the right to marry in states, it still won’t solve problems like immigration and taxation which are federal issues. Is that something we should be thinking about now?

There is no doubt that a lack of federal recognition of our relationships [inflicts] a tremendous hardship on LGBT people. There are many heartbreaking things about losing Prop 8 and seeing it pass. One of the most significant for me is that for a moment in time it has arrested the momentum for Congress and the Obama administration to move quickly to repeal DOMA. It is very gratifying to see that, notwithstanding Prop 8’s
passage, Obama lists (on his website) repealing DOMA as one of the significant priorities of his civil rights agenda. If DOMA is repealed, issues like social security and survivor’s benefits, or immigration and the rights of bi-national couples will be ameliorated and we will be on our way to fairness and equality.

If DOMA were repealed would our marriages be portable to other states?

Having a repeal of DOMA occur in this first Obama term, which I very much hope happens, would be a [huge] event in civil rights protection for LGBT people. But, until there is national recognition for our relationships, it will depend on where one lives, whether they enjoy both state benefits and federal benefits.

What would you say to people who say, Well, I think gay people should have all the legal rights, but I don’t agree with calling it marriage?

Continued, AFTER THE JUMP...

Embedded in that sentiment is a very clear signal that you are not the same, you are not equal, you are not equivalent in status to other people who have the status of being married. And as long as that cultural disconnect exists, it gives permission for hate crimes, bigotry, prejudice in the law. I simply cannot accept a situation where an entire class of people are told "Your relationships are less valuable than other people’s relationships."

There has been a lot of criticism of the campaign from within the community. What
do you think the campaign did right?

We were able to marshall a greater breadth of ally support, straight ally support, support in communities of color, religious support and visibility and money than any campaign in the history of anti-gay defensive campaigns to defeat anti-gay measures. That all manifested itself in almost defeating Prop 8 on November 4, and erasing the 12 point deficit that we faced just 8 years earlier when Prop 22 passed in 2000. So there is no doubt that the campaign was able to marshall a tremendous breadth of support and involvement and resources, and I’m proud of that, and I believe it sets a high water mark to build on.

I have read that there is a petition to get another measure on the ballot to reinstate marriage in 2010. I wondered what you thought about that?

Well, as a lawyer with the lead legal organization seeking to have Prop 8 invalidated by the court, I’m very much hoping that we won’t need to face the prospect of a ballot measure repeal of Prop 8. It is almost unfathomable to me to imagine the court eviscerating its ruling in the marriage case that was only decided not even a year ago. And if the Court upholds Prop 8, what they are essentially saying is the Court has no role in deciding equal protection issues because the majority vote trumps the Court’s role as protecting Constitutional rights. However, this is a novel legal issue for the Court. And there is a lot of public attention and scrutiny and rhetoric about activist judges that clearly the Court, I’m sure, is made nervous by. So while I think we should win in the Court, there is a possibility that we won’t. So now your question: if we intend to, or if we are forced to repeal Prop 8 at the ballot box, the first time we could be on the ballot in a statewide measure is November 2010. We have a tremendous amount of work to do between the summer when that campaign would have to begin, and November 2010. We could do it, but the money, the time that it will require will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen, even compared to the fight to defeat Prop 8. So we will have to bring our A+ game.

You mentioned earlier in answering the question that if the CA Supreme Court does not invalidate Prop 8, they will basically be saying that they have no power to decide these sorts of cases. And it sounded like you were saying “I’m very optimistic that they are going to invalidate it.” However, Justice Joyce Kennard, seems sort of dicey at this point because she voted not to hear the case again.

The vote that the Court took where Kennard was a lone voice was a petition asking the Court to take the case to review the validity of Prop 8. Kennard voted not to hear the case, meaning “Go back to the trial court and start over again if you want to challenge Prop 8.” What does Kennard mean by that, because Kennard was one of the four votes voting to end the exclusion of same sex couples from the right to marry and to hold us to be a suspect class? I think it’s a perilous endeavor to try and figure out what votes like that might mean.

Someone asked during the summit session how much money was left over from the campaign and where that money was and what it is being spent on. Lorri Jean said that she had just emailed the Treasurer earlier this week and that she had not gotten a response back. We’re almost 12 weeks out, so that was surprising to me.

I do not think there is any money left, but I don’t know that for sure. We had about $400,000 left at the end of the campaign, and we had about $400,000 in payables, which included tons of vendors, particularly folks who had helped design the ads to earned media to our lawyers to the paid field staff who had outstanding invoices. It doesn’t surprise me that we haven’t totally closed the books yet, because the other thing that we’ve been advised by our campaign lawyers to do is hold that money for the inevitable fines because every campaign faces them. For example, for donors who contributed a significant amount of money but didn’t do their own filing, they may be fined a couple of hundred dollars. Campaigns usually cover those fines in order to build good will with these donors to give again in a later campaign. I would love for there to be a couple million dollars or so left to put to the next fight, but there is no money left, for all intents and purposes.

How can we make inroads with communities who voted against us?

People of faith need to understand there is not a unanimity of view from religious people on the issue either of marriage for same-sex couples or the existence of gay people, generally. They have to appreciate that there is a divergence of view. And if you appreciate that there is a divergence of view among people of faith, even if your own pastor is saying something different, understanding that there are other people of faith who embrace full equality can give you just enough room so that you will support gay issues. Mobilizing younger voters to care about this issue and to take it on with that sort of Obama zeal that they demonstrated can not only help to make inroads into communities of color because all these young people come from a family, especially young people of color, come from a family where they could be the agents to have the conversations to bring a whole family to vote the right way, not just themselves. And finally, I think being our own evangelists. I think there are many people in this room who did not do much work on Prop 8. I think there are many people in this room who have not talked to all of their friends and family members about gay issues and how much they want their support on these issues and how important it is. We all could do more.

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Comments

  1. Andy, I think you left a format tag open--the red text you were using for the questions seems to have bled down through the rest of this post and everything underneath it--which makes the site really hard to read!

    Posted by: Michael | Jan 26, 2009 6:48:46 PM


  2. Re the comment about religious support for marriage, did the No on 8 people not do that? Because here in Vermont our Freedom to Marry folks have been working on that since well before 2000. There is a huge list of clergy from VT who support the right to marry:
    http://www.vtfreetomarry.org/religious-support-for-equality.html

    The more I hear about CA the more I realize how great our own grass-roots efforts have been, light years ahead of CA. We now have something like 54% of voters in favor of full marriage, which we hope comes this year.

    Posted by: Kevinvt | Jan 26, 2009 7:05:19 PM


  3. There are "people of faith" who are our allies, But the overwhelming majority of organized religious bodies are authoritarian hierarchies who see same-sex mariage as an attack on their power.

    And you know what? IT IS!!!!

    Authoritarian religions LIVE to regulate people's sexual and social lives in any way they can. Marriage under their aegis began as a means of controlling women. The property of their fathers were transferred to their husbands, whose property they became. It took a whole lot of feminism to get rid of that.

    Next was abortion and birth control. Now that's beeen won despite constinued screaming from the usual suspects. The Teri Schaivo fiaso played a tangential role in this in that the church demanded that it and it alone would make decisions about life and death. Another Big Loss despite the interventio of President Low Normal.

    When same-sex marriage wins (And we WILL win) the church is over.

    Oh sure people will go, but not in the numbers they went before. Moreover the thuglike manner in which it declares people "sinners" and others "saints" will have reached its "sell-by date." The church is perfectly entitled to its opinion but its alleged "moral authority" will hold no sway on a state that supports the rights of "non-believers" to live and breathe.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Jan 26, 2009 7:15:15 PM


  4. Ok. I'm confused about the responses to the questions regarding DOMA.

    Kendall says: "If DOMA is repealed, issues like social security and survivor’s benefits, or immigration and the rights of bi-national couples will be ameliorated and we will be on our way to fairness and equality." I don't understand this. DOMA ostensibly prevents the federal government from permitting equal recognition for gay couples. I don't think repealing DOMA means that the federal government automatically permits same sex couples to have social security inheritance rights without additional legislative or administrative action.

    Kendall also says with respect to marriage portability if DOMA is repealed: "until there is national recognition for our relationships, it will depend on where one lives, whether they enjoy both state benefits and federal benefits." I don't understand this either. There is generally no national recognition for personal relationships. The federal government recognizes what states recognize. Isn't the answer to this question: no, it depends upon whether your state recognizes out of state marriages BECAUSE states have traditionally been able to refuse to apply the laws of another state if it contravenes a state's public policy. Given that, states may still fight to recognize gay relationships even if DOMA is repealed.

    I just don't understand these responses. Does anyone else have any thoughts? Did I miss something?

    Posted by: Brandon | Jan 26, 2009 7:29:50 PM


  5. Geez, what a softball interview...

    Posted by: David B. | Jan 26, 2009 7:32:39 PM


  6. I thought it was primarily gay MEN who were heavy into drugs. WHAT is Kendall on????

    Based soley on the quotes here, one would conclude that it is her "expert/lawyer's" belief that repealing federal DOMA would automatically result in, for instance, married gays from Massachusetts being granted FEDERAL benefits.

    THIS IS RAVING, STEAMING, IRRESPONSIBLE HORSESHIT!!!!!!!!!! It will, undoubtedly, take further, EXPLICIT legislation to do that. For instance, repealing the explicit heterosexual definition of "spouse" will not, ipso facto, mean the IRS would recognize homosexual couples when they never had BEFORE federal DOMA. In addition, there is the problem of the federal DOMA definition of "marriage"—repealing it opens the door to [but does not necessarily guarantee] benefits to married gays in Massachusetts, but what about those in domestic partnerships or civil unions? The ACLU has suggested a federal law that would define "marriage" to include them. But Madame Kendall seems to think they're simply going to fall from Santa Obama's toy bag.

    And with all due respect, Brad, you seem not to understand federal DOMA yourself by your question about opening portability. Federal DOMA does NOT preclude IN ITSELF portability. Re the states, it simply reaffirms any given state's right to not recognize portability if they CHOOSE to [which Obama's own US Constitutional advisor said they did not need].

    While we are a very mobile society, for the majority of gay couples the most important issue will not be what happens to the way another state might treat their relationships but how the federal government does wherein virtually all the important conflicts are. E.g., IRS regulations follow us everywhere, but in neither Texas nor Florida, I believe, would you need to worry about losing spousal state income tax benefits because they don't have a state income tax.

    Finally, what are YOU smoking, KEVINVT? Y'all MAY well have done a better job at clery outreach than those in CA, but you are comparing apples and apple seeds. At less than 700,000, the ENTIRE population of Vermont is less than San Francisco alone. CA has at least 36 MILLION people.

    Posted by: Leland Frances | Jan 26, 2009 7:43:08 PM


  7. And, thank you, David Ehrenstein for addressing Kendall's naivete regarding religion.

    The greatest thing that would help her [and most "gay leaders"] is to have to live a couple of years in the South or Midwest surrounded by religious homophobes. Instead, whatever their religious backgrounds, they now live intellectually in a bubble.

    The political A-Gay subculture of SF [where Kendall is gay royalty] and LA and DC and NYC is TOTALLY out-of-touch with the kind of people who vote against us that FAR more is needed than "outreach." Gay conservative Dale Carpenter recently applauded Obama's outreach to Rick Warren as smart politics; imagining the day when people like Warren and gays will recline together like lions and lambs.

    BULL FUCKING SHIT!!!! The only thing that would make that happen is for them to stop BELIEVING that being gay is a sin or for us to stop BEING GAY! This isn't about carnivores and vegans being able to share Thanksgiving dinner in peace, it is a chasm between CORE beliefs.

    Posted by: Leland Frances | Jan 26, 2009 7:52:32 PM


  8. Brandon, the repeal of DOMA would allow court cases to be filed for civil marriage equality. If DOMA is repealed nothing will happen, nothing will change UNTIL a court case is filed asking for civil marriage equality, or more likely challenging a state's DOMA law.

    Posted by: Sargon Bighorn | Jan 26, 2009 8:39:14 PM


  9. Saragorn: I'm not sure that I understand what you are trying to say. I've read DOMA and unless there's a provision of which I am unaware, there is nothing in DOMA that speaks to the jurisdiction of federal courts, i.e., prohibiting federal courts from hearing cases for civil marriage equality. Given that gays & lesbians aren't barred from federal courts now by DOMA, I'm not sure how DOMA's repeal would allow court cases to be filed.

    And by your point about nothing changing until a case is filed, are you saying that it's your belief that gay marriage will occur via the judicial versus legislative process, i.e., we're better of in courts than legislatures?

    Posted by: Brandon | Jan 26, 2009 10:35:51 PM


  10. Did I miss the "real" interview? Was this a Larry King marshmallow that got mislabeled?

    In an homage to Jo Anne Worley, BOOOOORRRRIIIIINNNNNGGGGGG!!!!

    Posted by: Derek Washington | Jan 26, 2009 11:51:47 PM


  11. There are unexamined assumptions and unasked questions that are remarkable for their absence from this debate.

    At what point did the furious longing for what's been denied us overwhelm consideration of the ramifications of having it? We're so focused on the battle that we don't debate the consequences of winning it. While the justice of equality under law is inarguable, does that automatically make it desirable? The righteousness of a fight and the consequences of victory are quite different. When is gaining equality a loss?

    The argument that the right to marry is merely the right to choose is disingenuous in the extreme. In practice, marriage is effectively mandatory for straights. Never-married, non-LGBT people past a certain age are socially suspect and often regarded as failures, undesirable, or otherwise defective. Discrimination is not uncommon. The freedom to marry is in practice a near-absolute, rigid requirement to marry, with punishments for failure to comply. How will this improve the lives of LGBT people?

    The definition of marriage is similarly inflexible. For example, successful marriage is defined as monogamous. Transgressors are routinely pilloried without regard to whatever agreement they may have made with their spouses. Will the presumption and enforcement of monogamy benefit or harm LGBT people? How might other unexamined assumptions about marriage might constrain, limit, or even oppress LGBT people?

    Marriage is the core of the orthodox nuclear family. How will confinement of our people in such families impact the larger, more nebulous extended families LGBT people have traditional created? Traditional nuclear families are insular, self-involved, and selfish. Will shared LGBT community values such as creativity, diversity, social progressiveness, and the abandonment of sexual shame suffer as a result? What do we as a unique people stand to lose if we allow the state a stake in our relationships?

    As an institution, heterosexual marriage currently suffers a 50% failure rate. In aggressively pursuing marriage equality, are LGBT people clamoring to board a sinking ship? Divorce is inseparable from marriage and is now a cultural norm for straights. It's also monumentally destructive in ways well documented elsewhere. Will the legal benefits and surface respectability of marriage outweigh the emotional, economic, and community damage of divorce?

    The right to marry will quickly become the expectation of marriage, followed by the enforcement of everything marriage is believed to represent. Are LGBT people foolish enough to believe we can don the straightjacket of respectability in order to gain its privileges while somehow remaining uniquely free of its constraints? Historically, once the vampire of state interest is invited over the threshold, it's all but impossible to get it leave.

    Posted by: Bryan | Jan 26, 2009 11:54:26 PM


  12. Or, it won't. The full faith and credit clause will give legal traction to challenging state laws.

    Posted by: TANK | Jan 27, 2009 2:15:02 AM


  13. Bryan, you really assume way too much. You sound like those that argue slippery slope mentality. Marriage, or anything you do in life if what you make of it. If you want to not get married then fine, I'm sure there will be plenty of other unmarried gay guys to choose from.

    As for DOMA getting repealed, that is step one. Obama also will allow for civil unions nationwide which will give us those all important federal benefits. States will have to recognize civil unions. The case of whether to call it marriage will still be left up to the states. It is a compromise that we can all live with for now. It will get people comfortable with loving gay couples and will allow for them to see that we deserve marriage.

    Posted by: Aiden Raccoon | Jan 27, 2009 3:20:13 AM


  14. Bryan, you really assume way too much. You sound like those that argue slippery slope mentality. Marriage, or anything you do in life if what you make of it. If you want to not get married then fine, I'm sure there will be plenty of other unmarried gay guys to choose from.

    As for DOMA getting repealed, that is step one. Obama also will allow for civil unions nationwide which will give us those all important federal benefits. States will have to recognize civil unions. The case of whether to call it marriage will still be left up to the states. It is a compromise that we can all live with for now. It will get people comfortable with loving gay couples and will allow for them to see that we deserve marriage.

    Posted by: Aiden Raccoon | Jan 27, 2009 3:20:32 AM


  15. Bryan, you really assume way too much. You sound like those that argue slippery slope mentality. Marriage, or anything you do in life if what you make of it. If you want to not get married then fine, I'm sure there will be plenty of other unmarried gay guys to choose from.

    As for DOMA getting repealed, that is step one. Obama also will allow for civil unions nationwide which will give us those all important federal benefits. States will have to recognize civil unions. The case of whether to call it marriage will still be left up to the states. It is a compromise that we can all live with for now. It will get people comfortable with loving gay couples and will allow for them to see that we deserve marriage.

    Posted by: Aiden Raccoon | Jan 27, 2009 3:20:36 AM


  16. Leland, honey, what are YOU smoking? Yes, Vermont is smaller, but last I checked that would mean that its gay population is also proportionately smaller. If we had 100 clergy signatures, doesn't that mean the CA folks should have had 1000? or more? Or do you think the gay population of VT is the same as CA? I wish.

    We had neither the numbers nor the $$ of any of these CA organizations, but our people DID do the outreach. I get the impression all anyone did in CA was do studies and then put ads on the air. God forbid they actually go out and TALK to people, go door to door, go into churches, go to fairs or other events. Our guys did all that. For years.

    Please note that we were the FIRST state to have official recognition of any kind equivalent to marriage, and the fact remains that in terms of real rights, because of DOMA, what we got in 2000 is no different from what CA had in 2008.

    Posted by: Kevinvt | Jan 27, 2009 10:48:44 AM


  17. "Obama also will allow for civil unions nationwide" and everything else following it that Aiden wrote—FUCKING NONNNNNNNNNNSENSE!

    OBAMA has no more authority to do such a thing than any other President. The "He's he New Messiah" mass hypnosis seems to have accomplished something other than making people like you look like a gullible child....it sucked out your brain!

    Posted by: Leland Frances | Jan 27, 2009 10:49:25 AM


  18. Leland: you don't like Obama. Ok. But do you always need to come at people so hard? I mean if this is how you treat your fellow mo's, I really hate to see how you treat your enemies. Yeah, Aiden got it wrong, but it's no reason to tear him a new hole. Frighteningly, you and I agreed that Kendell's legal analysis was wrong, but did you notice the difference in how we made that point? I asked a question and pointed out what I understood to be the law. You asked if she was on drugs, started using expletives, etc.

    It is, of course, your right to do all of these things. However, I just ask that you remember that many of the posters on here, like Aiden actually care about gay equality. And while I disagree with Kendell's analysis and take issue with it, I just don't understand what's to be gained by screaming at her. Legal analysis aside, she is trying to do some good.

    You clearly feel passionately about many issues-- including gay equality. But even when you are making a valid point, people have to wade through so much invective that your point might get lost. If I'm Aiden, I don't even know that I'd pay attention to what you said, despite the fact that you've made a very important point about the limitations of presidential power that some in our community don't understand, namely that the repeal of DOMA is only part of the battle for marriage equality on the federal level.

    Just a thought.

    Posted by: Brandon | Jan 27, 2009 2:24:54 PM


  19. kevinVT: Actually a large number of clergy and religious orgs signed on to amicus briefs in the original CA marriage cases as well as in the current legal case to overturn prop 8. Check out the list on NCLR's website http://www.nclrights.org/site/PageServer?pagename=issue_caseDocket_Prop8LegalChallenge_About#amiciandsupporters

    Posted by: Ming | Jan 28, 2009 8:38:59 PM


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