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

Maxey and Wynne
are working together, something that has surprised
marriage-equality opponents. Wynne recently debated
Proposition 2 with one of its chief legislative
sponsors, who was expecting to face someone gay.
“For years nobody has been going up against these
guys except gay people,” Wynne says, noting
that progressive voters are a natural constituency for
marriage-equality issues. “It’s an easy sell.
There are lots of people out there, but we
haven’t gotten on their radar yet.”

In Maine, a
recent poll showed strong voter support in favor of
retaining the threatened antidiscrimination law. But
Jesse Connolly, the straight campaign manager for the
group Maine Won’t Discriminate, isn’t assuming
his side will coast to victory. “We’re doing
things a little differently,” he explains,
noting that in 2000 Maine voters narrowly defeated a
gay rights law. In the past, gay activists focused on the
southern, relatively urban part of the state. Connolly, the
former Kerry-Edwards campaign director for Maine, says
his group has a statewide presence. In addition, the
campaign has gone bipartisan, picking up a former
chair of the Maine Republican Party as one of its senior
leaders. Its leaders have built a larger business
coalition and increased the number of events where
supporters can have face-to-face contact with
undecided voters. “You haven’t seen that in
past campaigns,” Connolly says.

This new way of
thinking has been working its way into statewide
campaigns gearing up for another big round of antigay
initiatives in 2006. Alabama, South Carolina, South
Dakota, and Tennessee are all set to vote on
constitutional same-sex marriage bans. Arizona, Florida,
California, and Wisconsin—the latter having no
existing statute against same-sex marriage—may
also see such initiatives in 2006. “We have the
advantage this year of time,” says Seth Kilbourn,
vice president of the Human Rights Campaign’s
Marriage Project. “We have more time to talk
about same-sex couples and their families, and that’s
going to be key to succeeding in those places.”

Although it is
not certain that California will be on the list of states
with anti–gay marriage initiatives, three separate
ballot measures are gathering signatures. One,
intended for the June 2006 ballot, would not only
constitutionally ban same-sex marriage but repeal most of
the rights and protections already extended to
registered domestic partners. Geoffrey Kors, executive
director for the gay rights group Equality California,
sees Maxey’s No Nonsense campaign as an important new
approach. “This is about coalitions,” Kors
says, noting that his organization has gained support
from religious organizations, business groups, and the
powerful United Farm Workers union. In addition,
California’s chapter of the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People became the first to
come out for marriage equality.

Unlike most other
states, where the question of whether to recognize
same-sex couples is hypothetical, the proposed referenda in
California threaten the state’s very real
domestic-partner registry, which over the past four
years has been vastly expanded. Kors thinks this gives his
group more to work with when it comes to winning over
voters. “This will be the first measure that
will roll back existing rights,” Kors explains.

Despite all the
optimism, organizing, and strategizing, Broaddus knows
there are plenty of losses ahead for marriage-equality
advocates. But she takes a wider view: “Even if
we lose a constitutional amendment in the short term,
we have to fight this as a long-term battle,” she
says. “We need to be thinking about full
equality over the next 15 to 20 years.”

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