Despite a weekend summit that brought together more than 150 marriage equality activists, consensus over the timing of an attempt to repeal California's Proposition 8 at the voting booth remains elusive. But that hasn't stopped some gay groups from preparing for the earlier option.
Reactions to the heated LGBT Leadership Summit, organized by Marriage Equality USA and held in a San Bernardino, Calif., church, ranged from "pretty good" to "utter failure." A straw poll conducted at the end of the summit favored a 2010 ballot initiative 93-49.
In preparation for the summit, Marriage Equality USA held 40 town hall meetings in June and July across California to gauge public opinion on a ballot initiative timetable. Participants at meetings in West Hollywood and Bakersfield overwhelmingly favored 2010, while Oakland, Palm Springs, and others preferred 2012.
Regardless, Love Honor Cherish, a grassroots organization founded last year prior to the passage of Prop. 8, will hold a meeting next month with other groups supportive of a 2010 initiative. The session will allow the groups to organize their signature-gathering effort, which will begin in November, said John Henning, Love Honor Cherish's executive director.
"We'd love to see the larger groups like Equality California join us, but until they do, we'll lead the way," Henning said.
Marc Solomon, marriage director for Equality California, said he'd like to see an agreement between groups, but "there's no requirement to do that. If a group chooses to go ahead and [work on 2010], it can."
Meanwhile, Equality California is drafting plans for both 2010 and 2012 ballot initiatives and will release its own recommendation next week.
"We need to set up some sort of ongoing structure to coordinate a campaign. Whether it's 2010 or 2012, we are in a campaign now," Solomon said. But he stopped short of naming Equality California to that coordinating role. "It has to be an independent voice, it can't be any one group, but I think we do need some sort of coalition to help us keep moving forward," he said.
Several major donors and policy analysts have already warned that attempting to repeal Prop. 8 in 2010 might be premature and disastrous. David Bohnett, a philanthropist who gave more than $1 million to the No on 8 campaign, told The New York Times he would donate again when he feels the time is right: "The only thing worse than losing in 2008 would be to lose again in 2010." Mark Baldassare, director of research at the Public Policy Institute of California, and Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll in the state, also expressed concern over a 2010 campaign.
In 2008, Prop. 8 opponents raised an estimated $43 million, compared to the $83 million raised by the Yes on 8 campaign. Solomon predicts the campaign to repeal Prop. 8 will cost at least $30 million to $50 million. "I don't believe you can run an effective campaign with anything less," he said.
Rick Jacobs, founder and chair of the 700,000-strong Courage Campaign, said he left the summit feeling "pretty good." Although the summit did not reach a conclusion, he was heartened that the energy to repeal Prop. 8 still exists and feels that the date issue will sort itself out "really fast."
Jacobs said that his organization has never claimed to lead the campaign, but will continue to work with grassroots organizations to educate and mobilize voters. He also suggested California's groups bring in a professional mediator to move the ballot discussions along quickly.
Phillip Minton, who runs Unite the Fight's blog, called the summit an "utter failure" in a Monday post. "Our community has splintered into factions lead by no one, going in all different directions with various agendas," he wrote.
Minton blasted the summit and attendees for straying from the agenda and failing to trust leadership. Like Solomon, he called on marriage equality groups to stop clamoring for a presence and for state leadership to remain accountable.
"It's not about 2010 or 2012 anymore," he wrote. "It's about us uniting."