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Courage Campaign pulls out of 2010 effort to repeal Prop 8

The Courage Campaign, the second-biggest player for the gay side in California's continuing war over same-sex marriage, said Nov. 30 that it was pulling out of the campaign to put an initiative before voters in 2010 to repeal Proposition 8.

Passed by voters in 2008, Prop 8 amended the state constitution to re-ban same-sex marriage just 4 1/2 months after it had become legal.

"We need a combination of powerful and clear research that informs an expertly run campaign, an unstoppable movement that harnesses the new energy we have seen since the passage of Prop 8, and the connections through personal stories and outreach in order to win at the ballot box," said Chair Rick Jacobs. "We are taking the lessons learned from last year's Prop. 8 campaign, the campaigns in Maine and other states to understand the fundamental work that must be done before moving forward in California. We also must come together as a community to create a broad coalition and governance structure, put in place a strong manager and secure the resources to win. Right now, the pieces are not all in place to do so confidently."

The biggest player for the gay side, Equality California, came out in opposition to the 2010 effort previously, saying it will instead work toward a 2012 campaign asking voters to re-amend the constitution.

Courage's decision leaves the Los Angeles-based group Love Honor Cherish (LHC) as the sole substantial player working to put a Prop 8 referendum on the November 2010 ballot.

On Nov. 16, LHC started gathering the more than 1 million voter signatures it needs to put the measure before voters. Exactly 694,354 valid voter signatures must be turned in to state officials by April 12.

LHC has said it will rely only on volunteers, eschewing the normal practice in California of hiring people to gather hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Executive Director John Henning did not respond to a reporter's e-mail asking how the signature-gathering is coming along.

The proposed amendment being circulated states, in part: "To provide for fairness in the government's issuance of marriage licenses, Section 7.5 of Article I of the California Constitution is hereby amended to read ... Marriage is between only two persons and shall not be restricted on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or religion."

Meanwhile, the federal lawsuit by famous lawyers Ted Olson and David Boies, which argues that Prop 8 violates the U.S. Constitution, is heading to trial in San Francisco in January.

Some key activists, speaking privately, believe the gay side will win both at the trial-court and the appeals-court level, which would deposit the case on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court.

These analysts think four U.S. Supreme Court justices might agree and four might disagree that Prop 8 and other same-sex-marriage bans violate the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution by singling out gays for disfavored legal status and discriminating on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

The biggest wild card, the thinking goes, is Justice Anthony Kennedy, who previously sided with gays in striking down all remaining U.S. bans on gay sex as well as a statewide ban on gay rights laws in Colorado.


In the aftermath of the Courage Campaign's announcement, a mini-controversy erupted when the group refused to release new internal research data on which it said its decision was based.

Among those who criticized the nonrelease were well-known gay journalists and bloggers.

"However and whatever way you peel the onion, (Courage Campaign) has lost some trust in the grassroots community, no matter whether you agree that trust should have been broken or not," blogger Phillip Minton wrote at his UniteTheFight.org site. "Showing how much research was done and by whom, how much money was spent, how extensively and in what way, could be a first step in rebuilding that trust. Another step could be to confidentially share their findings with other LGBT advocacy groups who may really need the information. Otherwise, CC is well on its way to being ironically put in the same position as its old rival Equality California found themselves after Prop 8 -- being angrily and distrustfully called to intense accountability with disbelief being the response to anything they say."

But Courage spokesman Steve Hildebrand strongly defended the group's silence.

"We do not think it is in the best interest of the marriage-equality movement to share strategic research with the media, as it would result in news stories that provide vital strategic information to our opponents," he said. "Same-sex marriage opponents have proven to do whatever it takes to prevent LGBT people from gaining equality. They have kept a tight lid on their strategy and tactics and it's proven successful. Our side needs to be just as smart and keep strategic data internal to our efforts."

Blogger Michael Petrelis was unimpressed with that reasoning.

On his Petrelis Files blog, he wrote: "I'm over being asked to trust any gay leader with a roadmap, polling research or inside-baseball knowledge that just simply can't be shared with the larger and fuller cross-spectrum of the gay community. If these leaders can't in 2009 determine a way to conduct research, create a gay sunshine panel to review the data, without divulging super-duper top secrets to our enemies, and share some of their damn research, research that is the basis for big decisions, then I hope they fail. No more blind trust from gays for choices made by our unelected leaders behind closed doors."

Petrelis' anger hearkens back to the harsh criticism last year of the leaders of the disastrous No on 8 campaign, who were widely disparaged for alleged insularity and ineptitude.

Of those leaders, only Equality California Executive Director Geoff Kors seems poised to play a major role in the next campaign.

EQCA's plans

In an interview Dec. 5, Kors said, "EQCA has taken the lessons learned from Prop 8 and the loss in Maine to heart and we are committed to trying and testing different approaches, messages and messengers rather than turning everything over to campaign 'experts,' who I believe rely too much on focus-group-driven research, as that has not resulted in a marriage victory at the ballot in any state."

Kors said that in preparation for the 2012 campaign, EQCA has opened field offices around the state and is "doing door-to-door canvasses with other organizations in the places where the Yes on 8 campaign got the majority of their votes."

He said such canvassing didn't happen last year "and is essential to building the grassroots field infrastructure that is needed and that the community wants."

In addition, Kors said, EQCA has increased its work with "communities of color and faith," is hosting public and online forums "to obtain greater input about our work" and is "aggressively pushing elected officials to support full equality."

He said the organization also is "calling out" same-sex-marriage opponents "for creating a climate that results in hate crimes and teen suicides, and making it clear that the danger to youth comes not from students learning about LGBT people in schools, but rather from not teaching about LGBT people in schools."