Howdy, partners

You can’t go it alone. Gay activists in Texas, Maine, and elsewhere are partnering with straight leaders and civil rights groups as they fight antigay ballot initiatives this year and next

BY Christopher Lisotta

October 09 2005 11:00 PM ET

When it comes to
getting voters to pass an antigay ballot initiative,
Texas may seem like a lock. Its governor and many of its
lawmakers are overtly antigay and its citizens have a
long record of rejecting gay equality.

But that’s
because the gay rights movement in Texas has been largely a
gays-versus-straights affair, says gay former state
legislator Glen Maxey. And he is working to change
that. Maxey’s No Nonsense in November campaign
is building strong coalitions with straight allies and
organizations to defeat a state constitutional same-sex
marriage ban on the November ballot. And their
partnership has been throwing some antigay leaders for
a loop. “Most people who think about this say
‘Oh, you can’t
win,’ ” Maxey says. “But most
people are coming from a frame of reference from last
year.”

Indeed, voters in
13 states from Oregon to Georgia in 2004 passed
statewide ballot initiatives to amend their constitutions to
ban marriage for same-sex couples. This November,
Texas will be the only state with a marriage ban on
its ballot, and a proposed repeal of a gay-inclusive
nondiscrimination law in Maine is the only other antigay
state initiative.

Unlike the
high-profile presidential and congressional cycle of 2004,
the 2005 election in Texas is a pretty minor affair,
with no statewide offices on the ballot. Maxey
estimates that less than 10% of voters are likely to
vote on Proposition 2, which would ban same-sex marriage as
well as domestic-partnerships. If turnout is that low, an
organized campaign to get progressive voters to the
polls can make the difference between a win and a
loss, Maxey argues. “We are not trying to change the
minds of a million Texans,” he says.

Maxey
isn’t taking a cautious approach or relying on phone
banks to defeat the antigay bill. His No Nonsense
campaign has the support of Democracy for Texas, the
outgrowth organization of Howard Dean’s
presidential bid, which galvanized thousands of young and
progressive voters in the state. “All of us
just came to the consensus it is much too important
not to take a stand,” says Nick Lawrie, a steering
committee member for the 50,000-person organization,
which until now has not endorsed issue campaigns.
Democracy for Texas members are hosting house parties
and organizing “meetups” in at least 20 cities
and regions. Maxey’s unapologetic “We
deserve full equality” message is one of the
things that attracted Lawrie, who was disappointed with the
cautious and sometimes muddled messages
marriage-equality activists used in 2004. “I
don’t see that as a way to win a campaign,” he
says.

Toni Broaddus,
director of Equality Federation, a national organization
of state gay rights groups, agrees with Lawrie, noting that
groups who employed a “We already have a
defense-of-marriage statute” strategy lost
miserably. “We’ve learned some important
things about how we cannot avoid the topic of
marriage,” she says.

Texas lawyer
Anne Wynne wants to talk about marriage. A transportation
commissioner for former governor Ann Richards, Wynne founded
the nonprofit Atticus Circle, a group for straight
allies of marriage equality and gay rights, after the
2004 election. “I thought, Where are the rest
of the people who think like me?” she says.
“Did they not get to the polls?”

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