What Was No on 8 Thinking?

Jim Burroway

March 6th, 2009

I don’t know if the folks running California’s No on 8 campaign saw this letter. They should have. It’s been on the Internet since July 29, 2008:

As the Democratic nominee for President, I am proud to join with and support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law. That is why I support extending fully equal rights and benefits to same sex couples under both state and federal law. That is why I support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, and the passage of laws to protect LGBT Americans from hate crimes and employment discrimination. And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.

For too long. issues of LGBT rights have been exploited by those seeking to divide us. It’s time to move beyond polarization and live up to our founding promise of equality by treating all our citizens with dignity and respect. This is no less than a core issue about who we are as Democrats and as Americans.

Finally, I want to congratulate all of you who have shown your love for each other by getting married these last few weeks. My thanks again to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club for allowing me to be a part of today’s celebration. I look forward to working with you in the coming months and years, and I wish you all continued success.

Barack Obama had spoken against Proposition 8 during his campaign, while hedging that he was not “for” same-sex marriage. That last position was exploited by the Yes on 8 campaign in ads targeting the African-American community which implied that Obama opposed Prop 8.

The Bay Area Reporter quotes Steve Smith of DeweySquare, a Democratic consulting firm, as saying yeah, they screwed up:

Smith also acknowledged that the campaign should have used then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s stated opposition to Prop 8. Instead, little use was made of Obama’s opposition in a letter last June to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, and right before Election Day the Yes on 8 campaign sent out a mailer featuring Obama’s image and quotes that he is opposed to same-sex marriage.

“That was a close call,” Smith said. “Maybe we should have.”

Smith said that people outside the Bay Area wouldn’t know what the Alice Club was, but club Co-Chair Susan Christian spoke up and said that in fact, Obama’s letter to the club been widely reported, including in the New York Times.

“I think we lost this campaign because of an approach that didn’t recognize ‘we are everywhere,'” Christian said.

Yes on 8 didn’t win the election. No on 8 lost it.

[Hat tip: Michael Petrelis]

a. mcewen

March 6th, 2009

I totally understand where you are coming from but the constant refrain of what was done wrong by those against Proposition 8 is bringing me down.

Yes they screwed up on several fronts but now is the time to look past that. But on that same note, I can only hope that they learned from their mistakes.


March 7th, 2009

I think it’s important not only hope that “they” learn from their mistakes, but to ensure that we all do. Discussing this stuff publicly is a bit of a bummer, but it’s still valuable. Barring a surprising ruling from the CA Supreme Court we’re going to have to fight this battle on the ballot again so it’s never too early to start thinking about what to do and what not to do next time.

Jason D

March 7th, 2009

I agree with werdna, those that do not learn from past mistakes are destined to repeat them.

Though it may not be fun to go over every misstep, there were many, and it is important that we go over each one.

We’ve learned that politics-as-usual isn’t going to cut it anymore. It’s destroyed our country. The same can be said for the business-as-usual model for gay rights advancement. It isn’t working, and we need to move on.

But we can’t move on to something better until we identify where we are. How are we to do something different or better if we don’t know what we were doing before?

It’s not pleasant, but it’s necessary.


March 7th, 2009

looking for that magic recipe. . .yes, whatever happens the eyes of the GLBT world, yes world, is upon Cal I Forn i A.

Although disappointing, the stumble of the No on 8 leaders has led more and more to start conversations with friends, family, coworkers, business leaders, politicians.

In my rose colored glasses of perfect 20/20 hindsight, if no on 8 would have passed last fall, they might have been a hint of ‘well you know, that’s Cal I Fornicators for ya’

The eyes are now focused on the MO’rmons, the Catholics, and the others who want to continue to demonize someone.

The Catholic Church is still having a tough time with an anti-semitic POP OFF.
Racial undertones are now producing a wake. There are folk sending out cartoon/greeting’s cards of watermelon patches on the front lawn of the White House in anticipation of Easter.

Things are not pretty.

But if the ‘recipe’ is perfected through the efforts of EQUALITY Cali and the other states. . . maybe there will be a Federal policy recognizing LGBT folk ‘in some way’.

Ben in Oakland

March 7th, 2009

A. McEwen: the problem is, they haven’t learned a thing. I sent a letter to them yesterday On That Very Subject. I haven’t heard back from them, and I don’t expect to.

This letter was written in response to a request for a donation, as well as recent video ad by Equality California referring to Harvey Milk.

Dear Equality CA: No, I will not be contributing. As far as I am concerned, you ran a losing campaign based on shame and fear. It is the same campaign you have run for the past ten years, and it was exactly as successful. I could see our defeat coming with all the inevitability of a slow motion train wreck.

There were plenty of people, myself included, who did what little we could to convince you to change directions. You weren’t interested. The most recent video that I saw demonstrated to me that you didn’t learn a thing. For every Jerry Falwell there’s a Harvey Milk? No, there’s not. For every Jerry Falwell, there’s at least ten more little Jerry’s who are not so blatantly obvious in their bigotry, but who are otherwise the same. For every Harvey Milk, there’s an assassin with a gun desperately trying to work out his own issues.

I wish it were true, because we desperately need a Harvey Milk, someone who can actually speak articulately about homophobia and prejudice, someone who understands the the enemy is not the Religious Reich, it is THE CLOSET.

This ad, this whole campaign, were conducted from the dark recesses of a closet mentality. I know of not one thoughtful, out, conscious, and grounded gay person who thought that this way of thinking and waging politics was anything but a loser. You couldn’t even say the words Gay and Lesbian. YOU COULDN’T EVEN SAY THE WORDS GAY AND LESBIAN!!! What the hell is THAT about? The one gay male couple you showed for 3 seconds were silhouetted, and cropped above the waist so that they could not be seen holding hands.

This is PATHETIC. This is why we lost.

I watched the hearings yesterday, and was appalled. More of the same. No talking about prejudice, religious or otherwise; the whole Yes on 8 campaign was nothing else, and is a clear attempt to force religious dogma on civil law. No concern for the children and families of gay people; those children are being denied equal protection of the law as well, because their parents cannot be married. No pointing out the obvious difference between DP and marriage– if they can vote to “disappear” my marriage, they can vote to “disappear” my domestic partnership as well. And they would have done so if they thought they could have gotten away with it. Let us not forget that there was another petition being circulated by Randy Thomason which would have done exactly that. The judges were no more convinced by the revision-vs.-amendment argument than I am. One more opportunity to make our case was squandered in a miasma of political correctness and everybody-make-nice liberal squishiness. And I say that as a thorough-going liberal.

So, NO DONATION. However, if you would like, I will be happy to provide you with my written critique. It’s nothing I haven’t said a lot before, but your organization needs to read it and understand it.

Because more of the same will not work for me. I would rather lose this battle because we have told the truth, than lose it because we have lied and hidden ourselves in shame.

Ben Janken


March 7th, 2009

I think that Courage Campaign would probably be a better group to give my gay dollars to lead the gay civil marriage campaign.

After seeing some of their ads, I can see why they call themselves the “Courage” campaign!


March 7th, 2009

They knew about it. But what good was that wishy-washy letter compared to “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman”? The Yes on 8 camp exploited that statement to the hilt, so sending copies of that letter to every person in California would have done little or nothing.


March 7th, 2009

Ok, enough already about ‘them’. You know what? ‘Them’ is ‘us’. ‘We’ screwed it up. Most of the gay community was incredibly apathetic until relatively shortly before election day.

I’m tired of the finger pointing. We all have excellent 20/20 hindsight, but EQCA and NCLR were the only ones stepping up to the plate at that time with major fundraising efforts.

The community needs more strong leaders, and those who would lead would do well to knock off the bickering. Remember Harvey Milk’s message: “You’ve gotta give ’em hope”. Community leaders who want to build hope need to do so by first stopping the attacks on the failed No on Prop 8 campaign.

A big reason why *we* lost the No on Prop 8 campaign is because it was a campaign being run in the absence of a movement. Let’s work together to build a solid movement that a solid, coherent campaign can be built on. Only then will the earlier mistakes be avoided. This is not about a candidate, or a proposition, this is about a *movement*. We need to reenergize the gay rights movement.

It is likely that the CA Supreme Court will rule against us. We need to be working toward the 2010 election NOW. There are already two competing propositions that have been filed with the CA Secretary of State’s office: one would be a straight repeal of Prop 8, the other proposes that the state get out of the marriage business altogether and issue civil unions for all. The first problem we face going forward is which of these propositions do we really want to see on the ballot? A signature gathering campaign needs to start NOW. Getting the message out that this has an impact on the gay & lesbian community has to start NOW. It takes time to get people to know us and recognize that we’re real people and not an abstract concept that’s ok to hate.

It’s time to come together as a community and move forward in preparation for 2010. I can guarantee you our opposition is.


March 7th, 2009

Guys there is a great LGBT civil rights organization called the Empowering Spirits Foundation. They are very creative in how they approach this hot topic issue, in that they engage in service oriented activities in communities typically opposed to equal rights to foster thought and change for LGBT equality.

A friend of mine told me about it and I thought it was a great, positive approach to the issue. We had so much fun at the last event and it was great to give back to the community. Plus it was great to converse with others on the other side of the table in a way that wasn’t confrontational.

Anyway, this can be such a heated issue and I thought this was a unique approach.


March 8th, 2009

The weekend before the election, I was one of a large number of No on 8 volunteers who distributed, in the predominately African American neighborhoods in Oakland, a flyer quoting Obama’s opposition to Prop. 8, as he stated in the letter to the Toklas club.

I think the No on 8 campaign should have made more use of Obama’s opposition to 8, but it untrue that they did not use the letter.

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