Prop 8 Backlash Hits NYC Mormon Temple
10,000 March in Midtown Amidst Cal Vote Post-Mortems
By: ANDY HUMM
Gay City News
No speeches. No leaders. But lots of anger.
Mobilized through social networking sites, an estimated 10,000 people turned out Wednesday night at the Mormon Temple near Lincoln Center in New York to protest the passage of the California amendment eliminating the right of same-sex couples to marry and the fact that most of the money for the Yes on Prop 8 campaign came from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - the Mormons.
Gathering at 6:30 p.m. at West 65th and Columbus, the site of the temple, the crowd soon marched down Broadway behind a huge white banner saying "GOD LOVES GAY MARRIAGE" made by Gilbert Baker, creator of the Rainbow Flag 30 years ago.
Corey Johnson, one of the key organizers with Mike Signorile and Ann Northrop, said the turnout "was a tremendous outpouring of grassroots energy and support." He hoped that energy can be harnessed to win marriage equality in New York.
Signorile said, "It's about a right that was taken away, not just marriage." He wants those energized to demand all of our civil rights and that Mormon-owned companies such as Marriott "stop giving money to the Church."
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel said, "The spirit of ACT UP is in the air."
Ben Shepard, a teacher and activist there with his daughter, Dorothea Imogene, 5, said it reminded him of the demonstration here after the killing of Matthew Shepard in October 1998, though that one turned chaotic after police tried to break it up. This march was peaceful.
"Tax the Mormon Church," the predominately male crowd chanted. "The Church of Latter Day H8te," a sign read.
Timothy Jordan, 18, said, "I just want to get married myself." He was there with friends Ivy Williams, 18, and Jellani Britton, 17, all from Safe Space, a group that serves at-risk youth.
Lavi Soloway, an activist and immigration lawyer there with his baby daughter Lily, is moving to Los Angeles and had hoped to get married. He knows he may have to settle for a domestic partnership there now.
State Senator Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat, along with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn among the few politicians spotted, was an early supporter of President-elect Barack Obama. "I believe in transformation," he said, adding that the Legislature in Albany will pass a marriage equality bill despite the obstruction of his colleague, Ruben Diaz, Sr., a Bronx Democrat (see "State Senate Control Iffy," in this issue).
The next stop for activists in New York is City Hall on Saturday, at 1:30 p.m.
This week's actions here are the latest in a nationwide wave of protests that followed the five percentage-point victory that anti-gay forces won in California on November 4 - despite a $35 million No on 8 campaign that matched the Yes effort.
In addition to the protests, however, there has also been an outburst of recrimination and defense over the way the No on 8 side waged its battle.
Those looking for a silver lining in Prop 8's win point out that in 2000, California voters approved a statute banning same-sex marriage by a 22-point margin. Still, the referendum seemed safely on the way to defeat as recently as early October. Mark DiCamillo, director of the respected Field Poll, wrote that the trend in his poll and that of the Public Policy Institute of California showed an increasingly narrow spread as Election Day neared. In August, before TV ads on the issue began, Field had Prop 8 losing 55-38 percent. By late October, the No side was still leading 49-44 percent.
The biggest last minute change in how people polled and how they voted, DiCamillo wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, was among Catholics, who are about 24 of the electorate and whom late polls showed going 44 percent for the measure.
"However," he wrote, "the network polls showed that they accounted for 30 percent of the California electorate and 64 percent of them voted 'yes.' Regular churchgoers showed a similar movement toward the 'yes' side," growing from 74 percent yes in a pre-election poll to 84 percent yes in the exit poll.
Notably, the pre-election poll showed that 58 percent of Catholics understood that voting yes would not take away the full domestic partner rights that gay couples enjoyed before the court ruling "versus 47 percent among non-Catholics." Many Catholics seem to have been swayed by a letter from their bishops read from most pulpits on the Sunday before the vote.
While that may explain whose votes were moved and why, it does not offer a fuller view of the No campaign's failure to be more effective. The gay blogosphere was full of reproaches for a campaign that almost entirely refused to feature gays or lesbians or appeal to emotions the way the Yes side did, but the invariable answer from No on 8 leaders during and after the battle was, "We know what we're doing." They insisted their ads were focus-group and field tested and that they worked with the voters that they needed to win over.
Mark Monford, columnist at the Chronicle, called the response of the No side to the attack ads by the Yes people "utterly limp," writing, "As one of my politically savvy Chronicle colleagues put it, 'No on 8 was a bad campaign. Bad, bad, bad. Inept, amateurish, incompetent, and, above all, guilty of committing the first and worst sin of politics: taking the voters for granted."
The only direct appeal from a lesbian or gay person in a TV ad was from Ellen DeGeneres, who paid for airing it herself.
A reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog wrote that he or she worked on both No on 8 and the Obama campaign: "One was top-down, the other bottom-up. Ironically, it was the presidential campaign that was a grassroots model, not the state-level proposition campaign. As soon as I started working for the No on 8 campaign, I was amazed at the level of scripting: 'Don't say "civil rights," don't say "constitution," don't say "gay."' I couldn't believe it."
A source within the campaign confirmed for Gay City News that it was indeed a top-down operation and that its leaders got a lot of complaints about that from volunteers. "We did a really shitty job with our ads," the highly placed source said. "We should have had couples or families. Our ads were too abstract. People couldn't connect to them, unlike those of the opposition."
The Yes ads may have been lies - about churches being persecuted for not marrying gays and children being taught about gay marriage in elementary school -but they were effective. Even Barbara Walters on "The View" was repeating the Yes on 8 lies after the election, essentially saying that a Yes vote was understandable.
The right wing was also successful in exploiting Barack Obama's opposition to same-sex marriage in mailers and robo-calls, particularly in the African-American community. The No side responded with their own robo-calls citing Obama's opposition to Prop 8, but calls using his and Joe Biden's clear and early comments opposing Prop 8 went out only during the last weekend.
Some opponents of Prop 8, including sex columnist Dan Savage, aggressively seized on an exit poll that found 70 percent of African Americans voting for it, igniting a furious dialogue over race in the community. The morning after the election, he wrote, "I'm done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there - and they're out there, and I think they're scum - are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color."
Savage failed to note the critical role African Americans played in electing Obama - whose future judicial picks are the only hope for ever overturning all the anti-gay marriage measures in place across America - and he and others also ignored the fact that the largest harvest of Yes votes came from older people, Republicans, and churchgoers in general.
The leaders of the No side acknowledged that they did not make a serious outreach to the African-American community and did not feature blacks in their ads. After the campaign they wrote, "We achieve nothing if we isolate the people who did not stand with us in this fight. We only further divide our state if we attempt to blame people of faith, African-American voters, rural communities, and others for this loss."
Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, was credited with being a fantastic fundraiser, matching the right wing dollar for dollar- at least toward the end - in what became the most expensive state initiative campaign in US history.
Most of the Yes money - in excess of $22 million of it - was raised from Mormons and their temples late last week quickly became the target of street protests, mostly generated through the Internet, across California. There have been so many protests that gay journalist Rex Wockner dubbed them "Stonewall 2.0" as well as "Activism 4.0" because of the manner in which they have been quickly organized.
Three thousand LGBT people and their supporters demonstrated in Salt Lake City. Hundreds marched in Chicago. In Delta Township, Michigan, a militant gay group called Bash Back took responsibility for disrupting a service on Sunday at the Mount Hope Church.
And back in California, three lawsuits have already been filed to overturn Prop 8, making the argument that it constituted a wholesale "revision" of the California Constitution - not merely an amendment - requiring a two-thirds majority of the Legislature before going to the voters (see Arthur S. Leonard's legal analysis on page 6). Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opposed the amendment but refused to campaign against it, supports the legal challenges.
"[Gay people] should never give up," he told CNN. "They should be on it until they get it done." Attorney General Jerry Brown said before the amendment passed that it would not apply to same-sex couples already married in California, an assessment the governor shares. James Esseks, veteran litigation director of the LGBT Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed that the amendment was not retroactive, but the plain language of it says, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." The validity of existing same-sex marriages is sure to be contested and legal opinions vary, even among gay legal scholars.
If Prop 8 is upheld by the California courts, it can be overturned by a contravening amendment, which could be brought forward by the Legislature and governor, bypassing the laborious signature collection process. There have been calls to start down this path immediately, but most proponents of same-sex marriage are cautioning about going back to the voters too soon.
Meanwhile, the right wing, flush from its West Coast victory, knows what it is going to do next. With the legislatures of New York and New Jersey judged the most likely to move affirmatively on marriage equality, Christian right leaders have announced plans to head east pronto. They also pledge to make a cottage industry out of their win last week in Arkansas, where gays, along with any other unmarried couples, are now barred from adopting or even serving as foster parents. Pity the children, indeed.
Photo credit - Jefferson Siegel - Gay City News