California's Gay-Supportive Attorney General on What's Next for Prop. 8

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com June 06 2012 12:55 PM ET

When San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris won a squeaker of a race to become California's attorney general in 2010, it was a major win for LGBT people in the state. The mixed-race Harris has long been a supporter of LGBT rights and built her campaign on the promise to not defend Proposition 8 in a federal court challenge.

On Tuesday, the day the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a second blow to the antigay ballot initiative, Harris weighed in on what's next for marriage equality in the country's most populous state. With the court denying to review the case again, if the Supreme Court doesn't take up an appeal promised by Prop. 8 proponents then can Californians just start getting married?

Harris also talked about being honored with the George Moscone Ally Award at Los Angeles Gay Pride this weekend. If you're in West Hollywood, keep an eye out for her in Sunday's parade, looking like her usual polished self.

The Advocate: Are you surprised the marriage equality opponents’s en banc appeal was denied?
Kamala Harris: No. What’s most important, and what I would love to see, is the highest court in the land ultimately make a decision, and the right decision. That would be to find that Prop. 8 is a violation of equal protection under the Constitution, and to stop denying LGBT people the right to marry. We’ll see if that happens in the year of our Lord, 2012.

Is it really that wise for marriage equality opponents to petition the nation's highest court?
By going to the Supreme Court, they are also taking a risk, which is the highest court of the land making a decision that impacts the entire country. They’re really taking a risk by letting it leave California.

When will the stay on marriages in California finally end?
The stay will last at least the next 90 days. The U.S. Supreme Court has to decide if they take the case. If they take it, the stay will continue. If they decide to not take the case, it will be for us in California to see if the Ninth Circuit lets the stay end.

Wait, so marriages wouldn’t automatically be legal?
No, [Harris or her representatives in the attorney general’s office] would have to go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, tell them the last court decision declared Prop. 8 unconstitutional, and ask to lift the stay.

On a lighter note, you recently attended an LGBT garden party at the home of Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The Huffington Post described your speech as you “held forth with a preacher's fire that could have only been learned through years of Baptist church osmosis.” What do you think of that description?
(Laughs). I did grow up in a Baptist church.

How does it feel to be honored with the George Moscone Ally Award by Christopher Street West, the organization behind L.A. Pride?
I’m extremely proud at this time in the heat of the struggle and the fight for marriage equality that I received the honor of this award as an ally. It has been a priority for me since almost birth of always feeling the need to be vigilant in fighting for equal rights for everyone. I carried that spirit and commitment as D.A. of San Francisco, when I convened prosecutors across the country and brought them to California to do a training and talk about defeating the gay panic defense. I’ve also pushed for punishment for gay hate crimes. I also have a victims’ services unit that services LGBT victims of crime. I’ve also taken on the difficult subject of gay rape. LGBT issues have been a longstanding focus for me. As attorney general, I also made a point of saying we would not use the limited resources of our office to defend Prop. 8, a law I believe is unconstitutional.

On top of all that, the award is named after George Moscone (the former mayor of San Francisco, who was assassinated with Harvey Milk). I know the Moscone family, and I feel I’m in line with how he served and his early commitment to this issue. I always thought of him as a hero. I’m very honored and humbled.

The California Senate passed a bill making conversion therapy illegal. Would that stand up to legal challenges?
I have not looked at the legality of the conversion therapy bill, so I can’t say with certainty yet. But I’m absolutely opposed to the idea of conversion therapy. It’s harmful and misguided. Being gay is not a disorder or something that needs to be treated.

What can the A.G.’s office do about bullying? It’s becoming the foremost issue in the LGBT struggle.
A large part of my focus in criminal justice policy is to be smarter in the way we use resources. Instead of reacting, let’s focus on the issue beforehand and prevent it from happening. The step before bullying is socialized isolation—I learned that from Laura Talmus and her nonprofit Beyond Differences. Laura's daughter had a severe health issue that made her completely isolated. After her daughter passed away, Laura created this nonprofit with teens and pre-teens, teaching other kids about social isolation and that it’s everyone’s responsibility to combat it. That isolation is a precursor to bullying and worse, like violence and suicide. I’ve done a lot with cyber-bullying, too, creating a whole e-crimes unit. Of the many beautiful uses of technology, it’s got a duality. Technology and social sites allow people who are isolated, like the physically handicapped and seniors, to connect to the world. But for a teen or pre-teen who’s bullied online, they often become isolated because they experience it by themselves. There needs to be rules in these social networking environments.