11/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

My Brief Journalistic Dilemma Over California's Prop 8

I've been having some very revealing discussions about Proposition 8 lately. Prop 8 -- that ballot measure that would change the California constitution to take away the fundamental right to marry for same sex couples -- the one the Religious Right has spent tens of millions of dollars to pass or face Armageddon -- that one.

A producer for a local NPR radio station called to cancel my appearance on the network version of the show -- because the guest host wanted someone non-partisan, someone who could talk fairly about both sides of the issue. And obviously, as the gay news editor for two LGBT publications (lIN Los Angeles magazine and Frontiers magazine) -- that wasn't me.

Oh, I could fairly and accurately report on the positions of both sides, I told her -- but am I an advocate for one side -- the side that wants full equality for official second-class LGBT American citizens like me? Damn straight!

After a 35-year (OMG! Has it been that long?) professional career striving to be a fair and balanced journalist, trying to keep myself out of the story and be as "objective" as possible, I found myself telling a professional colleague that sometimes the two sides in a political debate are not equivalent.

Prop 8 amounts to the Jim Crow laws of our time where the majority is using "traditional values" and religion as the rationale to take away an existing civil right of a minority. If you are going to truly be fair and balanced in presenting this case, I told her, you would need the equivalent of an avowed religious/racist -- someone from the KKK, for instance -- to debate an African American citizen who just wants the equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Maybe they would do a Prop 8 story later on, closer to the election, she said.

I understand the critical importance of discussing the economic crisis -- which has trumped the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, healthcare, poverty - everything but William Ayers, ACORN and now drug use -- in these last weeks of the presidential campaigns.

But other than the economy and the two wars, the only other story I'm interested in during this extraordinary election season is the unabashed attempt by the Religious Right to deprive a minority (that includes me) -- of an existing civil right by plebiscite -- Prop 8.

The fight to preserve marriage rights for same sex couples is actually non-partisan -- Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, for instance, supports marriage equality. And the LA-based Republicans Against 8 group actually went to the state and national GOP conventions to advocate a "No" vote in a party that has not been very hospitable to gay people over the past eight years.

In fact, I've been roundly criticized by LGBT Democrats for constantly pointing out that Barack Obama wasn't born in a manger (as he joked about recently), and that as an expert in the US Constitution, he should understand that civil unions are not the same as civil marriage equality but separate and unequal treatment for a specific class of people. Gays should not be penalized because he thinks "God is in the mix" when it comes to marriage, as if God views gay people differently than His other children. I would think Obama would know that his personal religious beliefs should not infringe on my civil rights.

"Just shut up! Let us win the White House first," I've been told. "Do you want John McCain and four more years of George Bush?"

I explained that silence and invisibility haven't work for us so far -- and I find it difficult to believe that my criticizing a presidential candidate would be sufficient to bring him down. Many of us criticize the ones we love, after all -- and then go to Al Anon. But thank heavens I have the backing of my publishers.

I have also been yelled at for noting that Democratic vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden screwed up by agreeing on same sex marriage with Sarah Palin. But at least he didn't evoke his Catholicism.

I was also intensely disappointed that Biden didn't come out publicly in opposing Prop 8 when he was in the gay heartland of West Hollywood Thursday -- appearing about 40 minutes after openly gay West Hollywood City Councilmember John Duran whipped up the crowd in the Pacific Design Center Plaza with shouts of "No on 8."

I was already stirred up about the fundraiser because neither the Democratic National Committee nor the California Democratic Party has given a penny to No on Prop 8 -- and here the Obama/Biden campaign and the DNC were holding a $500-per-ticket plaza event featuring Maroon 5 and a $5,000-per plate dinner -- taking money out of California when it is so desperately needed here. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that Obama is outspending GOP rival John McCain four-to-one in advertising.

I managed to get into the Biden event so I hung on the rope line eager to ask him about Prop. 8. He's a very friendly guy, six terms as a senator from Delaware so he's had lots of practice schmoozing folks, though I actually think he's authentic. He posed for pictures with the kids whose parents brought them to hear Maroon 5 and only knew that he was famous and he hugged Latino women who earlier chanted "Si Se Puede!" with LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He appeared to enjoy the limelight.

But when he got to me, Biden stopped cold in his tracks. Maybe it was the look on my face. I wasn't beaming. I introduced myself and he surprised me by taking my hand, and leaning in very closely so he could hear me. "Are you going to oppose Prop 8...." -- I didn't have to finish or explain. He immediately stood up upright and said, "Yes. I was just on the Ellen show and I came out against it." And then he moved on.

I was heartened -- at least he understood Prop 8 was a problem. Too bad he didn't equate it with the overall need for change. West Hollywood was the perfect place to take a stand by linking Prop 8 to the right wing fundamentalists who have profoundly influenced the Bush Administration. Biden is being used in the Yes on 8 ads, after all, so he would be the perfect messenger. But the campaign apparently thought he should bundle it up with other issues and toss it out in the comfortable national environment of
Ellen's talk show
on Monday.

If the Obama/Biden team -- and the DNC -- have announced that they are opposed to "divisive" measures -- why don't they actually take a stand and publicly loudly decry these measures in California, Arizona and Florida and give money to match the millions from the Religious Right? If Prop 8 was explicitly a new Jim Crow law stripping any other minority of an existing civil right -- would they be as low-key and stingy?

And speaking of Ellen -- applause, applause for her finally stepping up after my initial story caused such an uproar and took on a life of its own. Three groups formed on Facebookto encourage her to donate to No on Prop 8.

But when I learned Sir Ian McKellen had come out against Prop 8 in response to a request from the Beverly Hills High School Gay/Straight Alliance -- I looked at their website(which needs updating -- TR Knight has contributed $100,000, for instance), I was struck by the huge number of famous LGBT people and allies who have not gotten involved in the No on Prop 8 effort. And that's not to mention the studio executives, agents, publicists -- the gay machinery that makes Hollywood work.

I don't understand why everybody just screeching to a halt at the prospect of this extraordinary, extreme and preventable civil rights violation.

A friend in the entertainment industry said he asked the same thing of a famous actress. Apparently she said that her contract did not allow her to get involved in politics?

What? I've heard about the "morals clause" where an actor can be fired for some illegal or scandalous behavior. But a clause restricting freedom of speech? Really?

Surely that's not something Rosie O'Donnell would agree to -- and yet -- where is she on Prop 8? Silence. Invisible. Nada since her famous walk down the long marble stairs of San Francisco's City Hall after getting married in February 2004 to her wife Kelly.

What's everybody afraid of? Doesn't anybody worry that Prop 8 might be the harbinger of something more sinister: the advance of theocracy in a democratic society -- where the Religious Right is determined to buy an election.

As of Friday, the Mormons have contributed over $9 million dollars and launched a websitewith seven Yes on 8 videos, also posted on YouTube.

And a quick check of the
California Secretary of State's website
indicates that Christian fundamentalist Howard F. Ahmanson Jr. contributed another $95,000 . through the Fieldstead and Co. yesterday to the Yes on 8 campaign. That's in addition to his previous $900,000 contribution. (The Advocate's Kerry Eleveld recently reportedon Ahmanson's past contributions to radical right wing political causes.)

I wonder -- if their "preservation" of "traditional" marriage between a man and a woman is so sacred -- why haven't they poured that money into pre-martial counseling to curb the high heterosexual divorce rate? And if they wanted to eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry, why didn't the Religious Right mobilize in Massachusetts during the many opportunities there from May 17, 2004 to June 2007, when a marriage amendment failed to get five votes in the state legislature to qualify a ballot initiative?

And how will the media report on the massive Christian Right rally at Qualcomm Stadium Nov. 1 - the culmination of 40 days of prayer and fasting described on TheCall"s website? Will anyone make the distinction between their right to freedom of religion and speech - and our civil right to marry and exit? Look at their video and you decide how to report this story.

But here's the other thing about covering the battle over Prop. 8 -- there are so many people -- gay and straight -- who do understand how profoundly important this fight is. Friday afternoon bloggers from the California-based progressive Courage Campaign and Calitics, among others, organized a new group BloggersAgainst8 that rallied so quickly and so extensively, they "won" a weekly fundraising contest for Equality for All/ the No on Prop 8 campaign on Daily Kos that enables them to raise political contributions through that huge progressive site.

The ad wars are now on and I'm probably wind up reporting who's up and who's down in the polls -- even though the polls are mostly snapshots of that moment. An entertainment industry fundraiser this Tuesday at Ron Burkle's estate will help bring in money to keep that ad war competitive.

As for me and my seeming 24/7 reporting on Prop 8, I think that when this battle is over, I won't lose any sleep over my temporary loss of objectivity. In fact, I think I will sleep soundly knowing I have done the best reporting I can -- for and about my people and what we represent for democracy.