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Isobel White Headshot

Same Sex Marriage in CA: 8 Reasons Why We Should Lay Off the Debate over 2010 v. 2012

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In recent weeks, some prominent LGBT organizations have been attempting to energize the rest of us by holding "2010 v. 2012 forums," where we debate when to return to the ballot box in California and ask voters to approve same-sex marriage. My first reaction was "2012, please -- I'm tired!"

But upon further reflection, I think the whole idea of this debate is based on a faulty premise that our only recourse is to return -- right quick -- to the same type of initiative battle we just finished. Herewith, my reasons why we should take a deep breath first.

1. Sad but true: it is just downright easier to get support when you're being threatened than when you're working for change affirmatively. Prop. 8 was an attack on us. When we're under attack, of course we've got to fight back (or else why would that chant "under attack/fight back" be so catchy?) It's harder to convince people to change the status quo and, to my deep dismay, this is the status quo that was just affirmed by the court. We had the advantage in 2008 when, for a brief moment, the law of the land was in our favor.

2. Voters weren't decided then, but they are now. The ugly Prop. 8 campaign caused most undecided voters to make up their minds by November 4. Even if some of those who voted yes on 8 might still waver when asked if they think same-sex couples should have marriage rights, that doesn't mean they want to be forced to vote on it again so soon.

3. When you're under attack, it's easier to rally supporters to believe this is the most important thing they could work on. When I was a little kid, I used to fantasize about a big giant coming along and threatening earth, forcing us all to unite. Prop. 8 was the progressive community's big threatening giant. But really, if we had to choose among all the pressing issues LGBT people face, not to mention all the progressive battles we have to win, would this be #1? Mounting another initiative campaign by our own initiative (pun intended) should mean we're deciding to put everything we've got into this fight. Are we?

4. It's incredibly expensive. The battle for and against Prop. 8 cost $83 million -- more than any other initiative in U.S. history. Money poured in from every state. I personally asked for campaign donations from friends and family all over. I'd frankly be embarrassed to go back to them again without something concrete to show that this time will be different. Otherwise I'd feel like I was crying wolf.

5. Other states need more help. Even if same-sex marriage in California is the most important issue here in our state, we'd need significant nationwide support as well. Same-sex couples can't adopt a child in Arkansas, Mississippi, Michigan or Utah; 38 states don't fully protect against LGBT discrimination in employment. Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students reported being harassed in 2007. In California, we do actually have basic protections. We don't have same-sex marriage, but we do have a safety net. Shouldn't some of that national support be thrown at states that don't?

6. Return to the ballot box too soon, and it's easy for the opposition to argue that we're subverting the will of the people and the Courts. It's like we're handing them their talking points on a silver platter. And our talking points? How do we explain to Mr. and Ms. Middle of the Road why they should vote differently so soon after? "We know you voted on this in 2008 and it's only two (or four) years later, but maybe you were mistaken, so won't you please vote the other way now?"

7. If I were on the winning side of a proposition, I'd be downright pissed to be asked to vote on it again so soon. We'd risk the voter equivalent of "If I told you once I told you a thousand times - no!" Sure, that wouldn't influence actual same-sex marriage supporters or die-hard opponents, but my guess is that the very voters who are still swayable would be those most affected by the tone and timing of a campaign.

8. The waaaaiting is the hardest part. But it's more lasting. We and the other side can keep going back and forth, back and forth, spending millions upon millions. Or we can actually create enough of a cultural shift that being anti-same sex marriage is no longer widely acceptable. We can step out of the initiative process for now, and do the much harder work of talking one-on-one with supporters and those who can become supporters. I'm just not convinced that all those millions spent mounting an initiative in 2010 or 2012 would actually get us there any sooner than smart base-building and dialogue with conflicted voters.

So what do we do in the meantime? We organize. We fundraise. We talk to our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers about our lives, our relationships, and why this fight matters. We embolden our supporters to reach out and talk about why marriage equality is important to them. We go back to the ballot box when we're coming from a position of strength - when we have the funds, the know-how and the support to win this once and for all.

For more critical reasons why we should "prepare to prevail," including the "importance of building trust and relationships in communities that represent the full diversity of California voters," see this public statement by the Jordan/Rustin Coalition. And for tips on talking with your friends and family about why marriage equality and other LGBT rights issues matter to you, go to Tell Three.