Repeal of Prop 8: Prepare to Prevail in 2012

prop-8-protestIn the wake of the Proposition 8 victory at the polls in November we have witnessed rallies and protest marches calling for the repeal of the ballot measure that stripped the right to marriage equality for same-gender couples in California. This was followed by additional protests, rallies, meetings, and actual movement towards a repeal effort as early as November of 2010. The membership (mostly determined through online polls and email lists) of several groups in California, namely Equality California and Courage Campaign, have been fueling the drum beat to have the battle sooner rather than later. They argue, both explicitly and implicitly, that the momentum is there for repeal in 2010. “The community is mobilized more than we have ever seen,” they tell us. They claim that if we place an initiative on the ballot, the money is there to fund the effort to victory in 2010.

On the surface, their arguments make sense. We have seen the rallies, and we have even been told that the polls. are on our side. However, not everyone in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community are convinced. The skepticism extends beyond the LGBT community to leaders of allied civil rights groups and organized labor. These partners are necessary for the success of any ballot campaign to overturn Prop 8.

In a recent Huffington Post commentary Orange County activist Fred Karger argued several times that “we are very likely to be back DecisionDayAon the ballot in less than 17 months.” He was arguing for a strong voter registration campaign in order to secure the repeal of Prop 8. “We can make up the 599,602 votes that we lost by and win next year’s election to repeal Prop 8,” Karger wrote.

While activists such as Karger have been promoting an inevitable victory in 2010, other seasoned veterans are starting to sound warning bells of caution. The common thread of concern is that the work needed to accomplish, what they also believe to be the inevitable, repeal of Prop 8 cannot be completed in a 2010 time frame.

Among those encouraging caution about a 2010 campaign to repeal Prop 8 is Hans Johnson, Chairman of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation. He has been meeting with local leaders up and down the state sharing his experience in more than 60 ballot initiative campaigns in almost every state. The picture he painted at a meeting with Orange County LGBT leaders in mid-June scared the crap out of everyone in the room.

“There are some fundamental bench marks that any potential ballot initiative campaign needs to meet before moving forward,” Johnson told us. “First among those is the level of support for the question being presented for consideration. That support needs to exceed 60% in strong or likely support. Second, the results of the 2008 campaign, which we lost, need to be mapped and analyzed down to the precinct level so that effective voter targeting can occur.”

The most recent statewide poll shows that 47% of voters are likely to support repeal of Prop 8, with 48% opposed. Even with charitable spin, these numbers are simply not good enough. In addition, the poll was conducted prior to the California Supreme Court ruling that Prop 8 was constitutional. One of the factors identified as moving to those voters was the pending court decision. Simply put, the voters were not as likely to support repeal if the court were to rule it constitutional. 

Johnson explained that one key component of successful ballot campaigns is voter education. Coalitions and relationships need to be fostered in minority communities and communities of faith. Those relationships take time to build. The Yes on 8 campaign was able to translate their election materials, in a culturally competent way, into more than 30 different languages. The Yes on 8 campaign was able to then get that information out to voters through communities of faith rapidly and effectively.

DecisionDayB“They out maneuvered the No on 8 campaign at every turn with a comprehensive field strategy that reached voters and motivated them to vote yes,” Johnson said. “We have to match those relationships in California to be successful. The short timeframe of a 2010 election does not allow enough time to build the levels of support and infrastructure we need to win.”

The difficulty in raising the estimated $50 million needed to wage a repeal campaign can’t be ignored. It is expected that there will be several contentious ballot initiatives in November 2010, in addition to the election campaigns for Senate, and the State Constitutional offices like Governor. Coupled with the depressed economy, and dwindling financial resources facing organized labor and major political donors, the fundraising prospects are bleak at best.

The price of failing to decisively pass a repeal of Prop 8 in 2010 (60% to 40%) sets up the inevitable repeal the repeal movement from the right. If we lose outright, we risk setting back our effort for at least a decade before the voting population demographics change enough to make pushing repeal viable.

In addition to meeting with Johnson, LGBT community leaders have participated in town-hall style meetings in Orange County to gage community support for efforts to repeal Prop 8. At one such meeting a majority of participants, after learning of the work and resources necessary to go with a 2010 campaign, supported a “Prepare to Prevail in 2012” strategy by almost 2 to 1.

Subsequent to the town-hall meetings, the two oldest LGBT political groups in Orange County, Harvey Milk Stonewall Democrats and the Elections Committee of the County of Orange, joined the chorus of LGBT leaders and organizations supporting a “Prepare to Prevail” strategy for achieving marriage equality in California. Their message is a simple one; they want to win marriage equality the next time this is on the ballot and they strongly believe that the resources of time and fortune need to be expended to develop the support they need to accomplish that goal.

Today, coalition of labor, civil rights, and LGBT groups have signed on to a joint statement (below) regarding the repeal of Proposition 8. As a leader in the Orange County LGBT, progressive, and labor communities I am proud to add my voice in support of building the support we need to win marriage equality in 2012.

Prepare to Prevail:

Why We Must Wait In Order to Win

A public statement on how to win back marriage equality in California

July 13, 2009

Issued by:   API Equality-LA, HONOR PAC, Jordan Rustin Coalition

            l  l

Unlike Proposition 8 in 2008, any upcoming electoral campaign for marriage equality would be one of choice, not one of necessity in fending off an attack from religious-right foes. Timing is ours to determine. Going back to the ballot to remove the voter-imposed ban on same-sex marriage from the state constitution in 2010 would be rushed and risky. We should proceed with a costly, demanding, and high-stakes electoral campaign of this sort only when we are confident we can win. We should choose to Prepare to Prevail.

We have much work to do before we proceed to the ballot. Many of us, which includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations and progressive allies, have been doing critical educational and organizing work for years, intensified it during the Prop. 8 campaign in 2008, and have continued to communicate with key constituencies after the election. We vow to intensify our efforts until we win back marriage equality in California. We invite all groups and individual leaders to sign on to this statement and join us in building a solid battle plan for equality. We must step up our work, collectively and in concert, as soon as possible.

Prepare to Prevail requires making progress on the following before proceeding to the ballot:

1) Winning requires full LGBT community support and a broad coalition of allies. Only a few segments of the LGBT community have announced their intention to pursue a “vote-yes” campaign next year. Energy and passion are a necessary prerequisite for any effective campaign but are not a sufficient substitute for a broad coalition with a clear strategy backed by ample resources. For California to win back marriage equality, broad segments of the LGBT and progressive community including critically important people- of-color groups, LGBT families, and other allies need to pull together. We should proceed when we have a unified strategy and a massive coalition of progressive non-LGBT allies ready to act in unison. Anything short of a broad coalition of allies would place our campaign in a strategic disadvantage from the onset.

2) We need to build strong majority support before placing the issue before voters. Popular support for marriage equality for same-sex couples has not changed since the last election. Today, California voters’ opinions on a constitutional amendment to overturn the voter-imposed elimination of marriage equality remain evenly split, according to all recent polls. In order to seek major investments of time and money from key stakeholders and allies in an affirmative ballot-measure campaign seeking a “yes” vote from voters, seasoned campaign experts advise against proceeding to the ballot without evidence of a strong majority in favor of the measure. Failure to begin with a sizable majority puts sponsors in a more likely position to lose. More than two-thirds of all ballot initiatives fail to pass on Election Day. Moreover, polls can overstate actual public support for LGBT rights because respondents may be reluctant to reveal their bias to pollsters. In 2008, some polls indicated majority support for marriage equality and against Proposition 8, which was not the result on Election Day. This was also true for Proposition 22, when opponents of the measure thought there was more support for marriage equality than the final vote demonstrated. In Washington State in 1997, some gay-rights activists pushed forward with a pro-active ballot measure aimed at outlawing antigay discrimination in the state. Despite having public opinion narrowly on their side, they lost 60 to 40 at the polls on the measure. It took nine more years for LGBT rights supporters to secure passage of a nondiscrimination law by the Washington state legislature. Proceeding with campaigns seeking a “yes” vote without support from a strong majority of voters holds foreseeable danger.

3) Campaign donors will be constrained given the current unprecedented economic downturn. Over $81 million was raised and spent by both sides in the Proposition 8 campaign, more than in any previous anti-gay ballot initiative. Many of the LGBT nonprofit organizations doing critical work for our communities have suffered layoffs and cutbacks in services. The current economic downturn has also reduced the capacity of campaigns both educational and electoral to amass multi-million-dollar war chests from small, large, and institutional donors. The scope of anxiety and human need in California means that individual donors are making hard choices about charitable dollars. Major donors, including foundations that provided funding for critical educational campaigns, have endured hits to their portfolios, and many are exercising caution. Any successful “vote-yes” campaign will require generous support from pro-LGBT institutional donors. These donors give=2 0based on evidence of likely success, which for 2010 is filled with grave doubts. It is unlikely that we will be able to raise the necessary funds to undertake an effective electoral campaign until after 2010.

4) Educational, voter-ID (not electoral) campaigns with specific goals should begin immediately. To reach a threshold of support for marriage equality suitable to begin an electoral campaign, supporters need a voter-ID campaign aimed at moving an identifiable subset of California voters. Vote-no campaigns typically seek to plant doubts and promote confusion among voters about measures. Several arguments used to pass Proposition 8 have not been widely rebutted and thus retain their appeal as attack strategies with particular currency as part of a vote-no campaign. A campaign of changing hearts and minds of selected groups of voters requires time, diligent research, and targeting of specific communities. The worst time to attempt to educate voters is in the midst of a heated campaign, which makes it difficult to rebut lies and fear-mongering. The voter-ID campaign should precede the electoral campaign aimed at mobilizing support to remove from the state constitution the discriminatory language already approved by voters.

5) We need time to build a coordinated data infrastructure that can support a winning campaign. We need time to establish robust get-out-the-vote (GOTV) data systems and a statewide online voter contact database to make and measure contacts with California voters in a coordinated fashion with participation from the many pro-marriage stakeholder groups across the state.  Unlike narrow special interests, our cause is a broad-based movement that will require coordinated data collection among multiple groups working in concert. Many individual groups have started this work, but winning will require buy-in and participation in a singular statewide and coordinated data system. Agreements and accountabilities need to be worked out and trust needs to be rebuilt.  Time and true collaboration are vital to developing organizational partnerships and the data systems needed to tap and deploy our grassroots network and measure our progress toward specific voter-contacts goals.

6) Time and greater effort is needed to build trust and relationships in communities that represent the f ull diversity of California voters, including limited-English-speaking voters and voters of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.  The 2008 campaign against Prop 8 did not adequately reach non-English-speaking vot ers and failed to engage or empower allied groups poised to communicate with millions of such voters. The Yes-on-8 campaign, in taking its victory laps, bragged about the many tongues into which it translated its materials and the diverse congregations whom it mobilized. This lapse must be overcome in a future campaign to win back marriage equality. We must learn from our mistakes made during the last campaign and not repeat them. Doing so will require deepened relationships with partner organizations and leaders who can reach diverse racial, ethnic, and non-English-speaking communities. It will require working to increase the ability of LGBT parents and caregivers with children across these communities to effectively communicate the impact of marriage equality on their children. We must establish the communications capacity needed to achieve cultural competency as well as fluency in persuading immigrant, people-of-color, an d non-English-speaking communities to support marriage equality. Most of all, it requires time to build trust and relationships in targeted communities in order to succeed.

7) Labor, religious allies and communities of color are indispensable to winning. More time is needed to convert general support into full organizational backing to secure increased grassroots engagement, resources, and votes. Coordinate d outreach with labor and religious institutions remains crucial to building a strong majority for marriage equality in California. Forging lasting collaboration with and among these organizations must be a top priority for both the education and electoral campaigns. In addition to traditional civil-rights and community groups, as well as entertainment and sports celebrities, the same labor and religious organizations already highlighted will be critical in mobilizing people of color voters to support marriage equality. Rather than simply asking for support from allies, a winning campaign must be prepared to welcome these entities to the planning table and demonstrate reciprocity with them in the course of the long campaign to regain marriage equality. Winning a majority of “yes” votes on a future ballot measure will not be easy. But it will be impossible if we work in isolation or avoid competent and fluent communication with California’s diverse voters.

8) More time means more “yes” votes for marriage equality. The demographics of opinion on marriage equality indicate that natural changes in the state electorate, with new and younger voters replacing older voters, contributes over time to increased support for marriage equality. In weighing the options of presenting a ballot measure on statewide ballots either next year, in 2010, or in a future year, the latterp ortends a much greater capacity by marriage equality supporters to leverage and benefit from the natural shift in voter opinion.

THE UNDERSIGNED COMMIT to PREPARE to PREVAIL.  Evidence and data should guide political strategy. Running and winning a statewide ballot-measure for a “yes” vote on marriage equality depends not on haste, but on preparation. Expanding public support and developing the infrastructure to mobilize our communities should be our top priorities. We commit to continuing the hard work of identifying the partnerships, commitments, and resources to launch necessary public education campaigns and setting the foundation for a solid and winning campaign. We call on all interested organizations to join in a collective body to coordinate the critical educational work that we must do. When we go back to the ballot, we intend to be active players to ensure its success just as we have always participated i n the fight for marriage equality. Please join us in winning back marriage equality in California.


ACLU of Northern California

ACLU of San Diego and Imperial County

ACLU of Southern California

API Equality-LA

API Equality-Northern California

Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team

Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Asian/Pacific Islander Queer Women/Transgender Activists (AQWA)

Ballot Initiative Strategy Center Foundation

Chinese Rainbow Association

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)

Elections Committee of the County of Orange (ECCO-PAC)

Equality Action Project (Santa Cruz)

Gamba Adisa Quilombo

Gay-Straight Alliance Network

Harvey Milk Stonewall Democrats of Orange County


Imperial Court of Los Angeles and Hollywood

Inland Counties Stonewall Democrats

Jordan Rustin Coalition

Martin-Lyon Leadership Institute

Office & Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), AFL-CIO

Our Family Coalition

SATRANG, South Asian LGBT Organization

The Wall Las Memorias Project

Robert Chacanaca, President, Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO*

Kerry Chaplin, Interfaith Organizing Director, California Faith For Equality*

Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kwong, Interfaith Organizer, California Faith For Equality *

Jerry Sloan, President Emeritus, Lambda Community Fund, Sacramento*

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*affiliation listed for identification purposes only.


The people over at Love Honor Cherish have posted a responst to the Prepare to Prevail statement. Why We Can’t Wait.

The following story was also posted in the LATimes:

Gay-rights coalition urges measured pace on same-sex marriage amendment.

  2 comments for “Repeal of Prop 8: Prepare to Prevail in 2012

  1. henrygattis
    July 13, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Let’s hope they hire political operatives this time and not a bunch of losers.


    That is the only reason, if anyone claims otherwise they are lying or in severe denial. GOTV. DUH.

    West Hollywood does not need resources, Antioch, Riverside, San Jose and Fresno DO.

    Get the house together before trying this again.

  2. gen
    July 13, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    I’m not sure where the idea of “Prepare to Prevail in 2012” is coming from, because the statement never mentions anything about going to the ballot on a specific date. If you read the statement, it challenges the LGBT community to build a strong FULLY INCLUSIVE coalition and a strong strategy, and to keep in mind that we’re in the middle of a recession with limited financial resources needed to fund a multi-million dollar campaign. And yes, also the fact that there are places with communities of color that are harder to reach out to (San Gabriel Valley, Koreatown, Westminster, Garden Grove, Thai Town, East L.A., Antioch, Daly City, San Bernardino, etc.) because the people are being swayed by lies by their respective media outlets. This statement is a list of things that [still haven’t been completely addressed and] need to be done before a measure is put on the ballot to ensure that we don’t have to go back to the box repeatedly.

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