Fight to the Finish

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com May 08 2009 12:00 AM ET

A day after Maine
became the fifth state to legalize same-sex marriage,
The New York Times

and
Los Angeles Times

on Thursday reported on efforts by California
marriage-equality groups to initiate a ballot campaign to
overturn Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in the state.
But to Robin Tyler, one of the plaintiffs involved in the suit
currently being considered by the California supreme court that
challenges Prop. 8's constitutionality, talk of
ballot campaigns is premature, if not outright dangerous.

Tyler says there was an
understanding between herself, a vocal advocate for marriage
equality, and members of the Courage Campaign and Equality
California that any announcement on a ballot effort should wait
until after the supreme court handed down its Prop. 8 decision.
That decision can come no later than June 3.

Torie Osborn, the
codirector of Camp Courage, a leadership program funded by the
Courage Campaign, gave a speech on Sunday night in
Oakland, Calif., and said, "We are who we've been
waiting for. If not now, then when?" A Monday
post on the Courage Campaign's blog,
Unite the Fight

, later expanded on Osborn's message: "Torie pointed
out that the grassroots, which was denied a role in the No on 8
campaign, is ready for the daunting challenge to take on a 2010
initiative. If the grassroots is ready to go, the Courage
Campaign will be there to support them every step of the
way."

On Thursday
the
Los Angeles Times

featured Courage Campaign founder and chair Rick Jacobs and
Equality California marriage director Marc Solomon talking
about overturning Prop. 8 at the ballot box, and Solomon was
quoted on the same topic in
The New York Times.

"All of us had
made an agreement that because of our legal
argument -- that the rights of a minority should not
be voted on by a majority -- that we would not bring [a ballot
initiative] up as an alternative, that we wanted the
supreme court to throw Prop. 8 out as illegal,"
Tyler says. "So everyone agreed not to say
anything, so I was shocked that Torie had called for it. I
think it was entirely inappropriate to do this."

Tyler believes her
case's legal argument is undermined by discussion of
another ballot initiative that puts civil rights to a vote.

Now that there's a
tidal wave of states endorsing same-sex marriage, Tyler
believes California's supreme court judges "may be
thinking not about [their own] reelection, but more
about their legacy."

Tyler's aggravation
is not directed toward Equality California; she feels
Solomon was simply playing catch-up after Osborn and
Jacobs made their intentions known. Solomon was
approached for comment but did not respond by deadline.

Osborn -- who
previously worked as an aide to Los Angeles mayor Antonio
Villaraigosa, worked extensively on the Obama campaign, and is
an ex-partner of Tyler's -- says her Sunday
announcement will have no effect on the California supreme
court.

"I've been
around long enough to know what the supreme court responds to
and what they don't," Osborn says. "Believe me,
our organizing has no impact on the supreme court. That's
just naive on Robin's part. The relevancy here is that with
the historic wave of now five states and three more set to turn
[on same-sex marriage], and the public discussion of this in
the new Obama era, history is just sweeping forward.
There's this unstoppable wave for equality. I just think
her call on this is mistaken. The most important part is
capturing this upsurge of activism and turning it into a real
kick-ass campaign that beats the right-wing at their own
game."

Should a ballot
campaign become necessary to overturn Prop. 8, Osborn thinks
next year is the way to go: "I know we're not going to
lose."

For his part, Jacobs of
the Courage Campaign stresses that even if there has
been preliminary discussion on a ballot initiative,
his group never made a formal announcement.

"We have 700,000
members and they have to vote before we take a position,"
Jacobs says. "They have not voted yet. ... Our intention
is to wait [on a formal announcement] until a decision is
handed down and then we'll ask our members what they want
to do." As far as the supreme court decision, Jacobs
believes it's already been written.

Jacobs later released
the following statement: "At Camp Courage Oakland over the
weekend, Courage Campaign staff conducted a series of
conversations with various marriage-equality activists,
progressive organizers, and grassroots leaders. As Torie
Osborn's closing speech demonstrated, the consensus was
clear: We are ready to go back to the ballot in 2010, assuming
the supreme court rules to uphold Prop 8. But before we can
make the ultimate decision to support an actual ballot
initiative, the Courage Campaign needs to survey our members
and consult with our allies in the polling group formed by
several organizations a few weeks ago. Based on a vote of our
members, we will move forward on a decision along with our
partners in the marriage-equality movement."

Osborn stressed that
political backbiting wouldn't help efforts to reinstate
marriage equality in California: "I think everyone has a
place at the table. This will be owned by lots of people. Robin
Tyler and her troops. [Equality California executive director]
Geoff Kors will play a role. Hopefully he's learned from
his terrible mistakes from the last time around. And he'll
do it better. But this will be owned by lots of
people. It will not be owned by four white executive
directors."