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Fight to the Finish

Fight to the Finish


Is Prop. 8 unconstitutional, or should the voters have a chance to overturn it in 2010? Depends on whom you ask -- just know that some of the big names in marriage equality aren't quite seeing eye to eye.

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."

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