Prop. 8 Lessons



Many believed that a key to victory would be finding a way to prevail over antigay prejudice, and there was hope that the time was right to do so, even though it was clear that some demographic groups, like Republican senior citizens, couldn’t be persuaded before the November 2008 vote. But no one foresaw that so many people who were assumed to be solidly in our base and who had previously supported us would, by Election Day, shift to oppose the freedom to marry. The Fleischer report reveals that huge numbers of parents with kids under 18 living at home, disproportionately white Democratic mothers — women who initially supported our freedom to marry — left us in droves after the other side invoked the specter of harm to children.

The lessons to be learned from this new information are crystal clear. First, future campaigns must find a way to preempt the scurrilous “your kids are in danger” appeal. Frustratingly, no campaign for the freedom to marry has succeeded at that.

Second, the ads and other tactics to unequivocally rebut ads that inflame fears about children must be created in advance and used immediately to respond to attacks, no matter what expert consultants or campaign managers say about the necessity for “message discipline” and sticking to the campaign message rather than responding to attacks.

The mistakes made in California (the No on 8 rebuttal ad worked, but it was too little, too late) and in Maine (which failed to explicitly rebut similar attack ads) cannot be repeated. Given the clear evidence and conclusions in the Prop. 8 report, there will never again be any plausible excuse for failing to properly respond to predictable attacks. And that’s the best thing about Fleischer’s report. It provides a road map for future campaigns that, if followed, may get us to victory much sooner than otherwise.

At the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, we’re doing our part to gather the kind of information that will be vital to repealing Prop. 8 and to waging similar campaigns across the country. Since January of 2009 we have been leading the effort to actually talk to people who voted to pass Prop. 8.