Repeal Prop 8 Leadership Summit Recap

About 200+ marriage equality activists gathered in San Bernardino on Saturday for what was billed as a “LGBT DecisionDayCLeadership Summit” to discuss how and when to repeal Proposition 8 which was passed by voters in 2008 removing the right to marry from same gender couples in California.

While there were a significant portion of those attending who were actual “leaders” of organizations in the LGBT community, about half those attending the meeting were marriage equality activists determined to push the effort to repeal Prop 8 in 2010, no matter what the results of analysis of polls and discussions with political campaign experts revealed. Leading those activists was Love Honor Cherish a Los Angeles based group that raised $500,000 to support the No on 8 campaign.

After the state Supreme Court ruled that Prop 8 was valid thousands gathered in Fresno to protest that decision. That weekend, several hundred activists gathered and agreed to research the viability of a repeal ballot initiative campaign and when the best time to move forward with such a campaign would be.

Equality California conducted a dozens of community town hall meetings with Marriage Equality USA, billed as the “Get Engaged Tour” across the state. These forums revealed that in areas of California that voted against Prop 8 participants were more likely to support a repeal campaign in 2010. Those from areas where Prop 8 passed by large margins were more inclined to support waiting till 2012 for a repeal initiative.

DecisionDayDPolitical leaders and experts were more likely to endorse an effort to build stronger support for marriage equality and run an initiative campaign in 2012. These leaders and campaign experts contend that while it is theoretically possible for a repeal campaign to be successful in 2010, they have major concerns that the voter demographics of a 2010 election are less favorable and that there is not enough time to raise the needed money and voter support to win.

The advocates for 2010 weren’t buying any of the conventional wisdom. They believe that there is sufficient support in California to repeal Prop 8 in 2010 and that the polls and experts are wrong or irrelevant.

On Sunday, the New York Times reported on the summit and the reluctance of many major donors to last year’s No on 8 campaign to pony up the money to repeal Prop 8 in 2010.

Backers of Gay Marriage Rethink California Push

LOS ANGELES – Discouraged by stubborn poll numbers and pessimistic political consultants, major financial backers of same-sex marriage are cautioning gay rights groups to delay a campaign to overturn California’s ban on such unions until at least 2012.

The timing of another campaign has since been questioned by several of the movement’s big donors, including David Bohnett, a millionaire philanthropist and technology entrepreneur who gave more than $1 million to the unsuccessful campaign to defeat Proposition 8.

“In conversations with a number of my fellow major No on 8 donors,” Mr. Bohnett said in an e-mail message, “I find that they share my sentiment: namely, that we will step up to the plate – with resources and talent – when the time is right.”

“The only thing worse than losing in 2008,” he added, “would be to lose again in 2010.”

“A slapdash effort based on wishful thinking, rosy scenarios, and passion, is not enough to win on,” said Hans Johnson, a board member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Read the complete article here

The meeting itself was a disaster. The agenda was not distributed in advance and the 2010 activists in particular wanted the agenda to include a decision regarding whether the repeal of Prop 8 should be sought in 2010 or 2012. They were not at all interested in hearing about the results of the “Get Engaged” tours or the opinions of experts. They simply wanted an up or down vote, since they focused considerable effort on turning out supporters of 2010 to the summit.


At several points during the meeting the assembly could not agree to process for discussion of the process to be used to repeal Prop 8. There was discussion at one point as to whether or not to allow online participants to vote in the process discussion. The difference in the vote on allowing votes from online participants to be considered was 8 votes, resulting in online participants votes not considered.

I was tweeting during the summit @ so if you are interested you can view the blow by blow as I tweeted.

prop-8-protestThe 2010 advocates did get their vote on whether the effort to repeal should occur in 2010 or 2012. At the end of the day,and after a brief break where more than half the summit participants had left, a straw poll was taken. To no ones surprise, the poll resulted in 2 to 1 supporting repeal of Prop 8 in 2010. I suspect that this straw poll will be the only poll they consider valid.

The bottom line of the LGBT Leadership Summit on the repeal of Prop 8 is that while marriage equality advocates are in unanimous agreement that the injustice of Prop 8 must be undone, that is where the consensus ends. As far as the when, where, and how of getting there is concerned, there is no agreement at all. Most telling of this was the vote on process to repeal Prop 8. The options were narrowed to two choices. First, establish and hold a state wide convention to work out the details of a repeal campaign. Or second, let a “Coalition of the Willing,” those who want to move forward with a 2010 campaign, meet within the next couple weeks and determine the next steps, structure, and plan for the repeal of Prop 8 in 2010. That vote ended in a tie.

Shortly after the meeting ended, Courage Campaign issued a public statement of four tenets needed in order to find a path to victory that they had presented to the summit participants:

  1.  Our campaign to win must begin now, regardless of when we put marriage equality on the ballot.
  2. To unite the strength of activists across California, the campaign must be independent, accountable, and not dominated by any one organization.
  3. To gain the trust and full commitment of supporters, the campaign needs a representative and functional governance structure.
  4. Victory on election day requires a strong, experienced campaign manager who knows California well and has won battles like this before. Our opposition is well-organized, and we need exceptional leadership on our side to prevail.

Unfortunately, none of these tenets were passed or agreed upon during Saturday’s Leadership Summit.

So from here we have those who want to move forward with 2010 pretty much driving the Titanic yelling at the top of their lungs; “Damn the Icebergs, full speed ahead.”


For my part, I am now trying to figure out where the nearest lifeboats are and wondering how I can support the repeal of Prop 8, without going down with the ship.

Misha Houser contributed to this report.

  7 comments for “Repeal Prop 8 Leadership Summit Recap

  1. Jordan
    July 27, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    One-sided? No – not at all!

  2. July 27, 2009 at 6:16 pm


    Not sure I understand your point. If you have a different perspective to present, please do so.

  3. Misha Houser
    July 27, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Chris is leaning 2012 and I’m leaning 2010 IF we have the four tenets proposed by Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign in place…that’s not one-sided.

    We both have complex views of the issue and both of us believe that it will be on the ballot in 2010. If by one-sided you mean that we thought the meeting was poorly run and frustrating to both the 2010 and 2012 supporters, then yeah, I guess maybe it is one-sided.

    I thought the meeting was painful and accomplished little. We didn’t come away with a governing body, nor did we come up with a strategy…all we managed to accomplish is a straw poll. I’m concerned that we’re doing a lot of talking and not seeing much action.

    Those who are in favor of 2010 should be concerned too, because without that leadership, the clock will run out and we will be out of options.

  4. Lester
    July 27, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    This is not so much a report as an argument for one particular point of view. No one bused in their “supporters.” The vote took so long to be taken because those who oppose an initiative did not want to have it at all. And where do you get off deciding who is and who is not a “leader.” That kind of elitist, exclusionary attitude is what doomed the last campaign and it is disrespectful to the grassroots activist that are carrying the brunt of this movement.

  5. Brian
    July 27, 2009 at 9:21 pm

    2010 is better as it will be a gubernatorial election campaign. We have 2 strong democratic candidates for governor that are both pro-equality: Newsome and Brown. Both will be great spokespeople for a new ballot initiative, something sorely lacking last year. If we wait to 2012 we will be in a presidential election year with the democratic candidate (obama) being anti-equality. They will run ads using him and drive out the homophobic vote again. I say if not 2010 then just sit back and hope for a court victory or wait till 2014. We can’t win with Obama at the top of the ballot. He has been poison for our community.

  6. July 27, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    Lester, I am one of those grassroots activists who moved to a leadership role. I speak not from a position as an elitist, but rather a position of experience. If you feel that the grassroots is all it takes to win then I guess you will have to learn from experience.


    The voter demographic for mid-term elections are lower turnout and more conservative. There is zero evidence that there has been a significant change in voter opinion on marriage equality in our favor.

    Rallies and demonstrations do not demonstrate a sea change in opinion. No one is saying that victory in 2010 is impossible. It is simply a reality that we have a better chance of winning during a presidential election year and more time will enable us to gain stronger support.

    I want to win, I do not want to see our community spend a fortune and lose again. We can do this the hard way or the smart way. 2010 is the hard way. So damn the experts, damn the polls,damn the icebergs, full speed ahead.

  7. Misha Houser
    July 27, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Lester, I am also a grassroots activist. I walk and knock, phonebank, and do whatever needs to be done to get voters to show up at the polls.

    Just to clarify on the definition of leader, every grassroots movement that is successful has a leader or group of leaders. Harvey Milk was a grassroots leader. Saturday, John Henning, of Love Honor Cherish demonstrated that he is a leader…and I would consider him to be a grassroots activist.

    There’s nothing elitist about that. He is willing to put himself out there and get beat up for his stand on marriage equality.

    My point is that unless SOMEONE emerges as the leader, we’re going to talk ourselves to death and get nowhere. If we’re going to win, SOMEONE, or a group of someones must put together a winning campaign. The problem we have right now is that we haven’t moved the center of gravity sufficiently to enable anyone to actually take charge and run a decent campaign.

    I for one am fully supportive of the four tenets and pray that somehow we get to a place where leadership emerges that knows how the hell to run a campaign. We need someone who knows how to run a field campaign, do outreach to communities of color and faith, and actually campaign outside of our base.

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