A Gay Marriage Coaltion That Can Win

WEST Hollywood, California – The California Supreme Court has spoken, ruling that voters had the right to amend the state’s constitution and eliminate the fundamental constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples. And while the legal arguments over Proposition 8 are settled, the issue of gay marriage will by no means go away.

It is time to expand the coalition of allies in order to win in 2010, when California voters will likely be asked to restore marriage equality for all Californians, not just those who are heterosexual or happened to get married between June and November, 2008. Looking to the future, gay and lesbian Californians should say that today marks “the first day of the rest of my life,” and put the battle over Proposition 8 in the past, where it belongs.

Even if the court had overturned Proposition 8, gays and lesbians would have still face inequalities, mostly at the federal level. Gays and lesbians are not allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. Nor can gays and lesbians claim any of the nearly two thousand federal benefits of marriage – tax benefits among them – or receive housing or employment protections in many states. As couples move to, from or between states and even countries that honor gay and lesbian marriages, the rights and responsibilities that apply to the couples will remain unclear until settled under federal law.

This discrimination continues to exist and as the movement towards full equality progresses, gays and lesbians must remember to put their own interests first, despite the appeal of building a big tent of allied causes. Today, gay and lesbian activists must not assume that because they lean left all of their allies follow suit. Forcing a “progressive agenda” onto the movement for equality risks alienating volunteers, donors and potential allies.

During the ballot battle over Proposition 8, a rainbow coalition was cobbled together among people of faith, people of color, business leaders, Republicans and many others. But because of the diversity and frailty of the coalition, good opportunities to leverage allies to the cause were missed. The opposition to Prop 8 by conservative figures like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and outspoken Affirmative Action opponent Ward Connerly was largely downplayed or ignored through most of the campaign, for fear that these spokespeople may alienate liberal members of the coalition, like labor and the NAACP.

Had opponents to Proposition 8 looked at the 30% support they had among Republican voters and increased it – instead of letting it slip to 18% by election day – there would have been no need for a Supreme Court ruling. In Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, Republican legislators cast the deciding votes on whether marriage equality became the law. And in New York, it looks as though a handful of Republican Senators will decide whether gay and lesbian couples may marry.

But in looking at how the public campaign for same-sex marriage is being waged, It feels like some labor activists, having taken note of the new energy – and disorganization – in the gay rights movement, decided to co-opt that energy for its own cause. If gay and lesbian activists allow this to continue, it will be at their own peril.

Yet this is exactly what these public – and publicity-minded – activists risk doing. Rick Jacob’s Courage Campaign seized the anger of gay and lesbian activists over November’s vote in favor of the ban to push what they call a “new era for Progressive Politics in California.” Somehow, I fear, Jacobs is not trying to become the next Hiram Johnson.

The Stonewall 2.0 group, Equal Roots, used a Gay Pride week protest at the Long Beach Hyatt as a cover to protest the working conditions of housekeepers who were required to clean at least thirty rooms a day.

Even after Doug Manchester, a San Diego hotelier who donated $125,000 to get Proposition 8 on the ballot, sought to make peace with gay and lesbian activists, boycott organizer (and former tobacco lobbyist) Fred Karger refused to call off the boycott because the labor issues remained unaddressed.

Cleve Jones, who worked closely with Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black has effectively moved from being a gay rights activist and is now a union organizer for UNITE HERE, which represents, you guessed it, hotel workers.

Stonewall Democrats have teamed up with the AFL-CIO to form a campaign to support federal card-check legislation to take away worker privacy during union organizing campaigns.

As a supporter of marriage equality and full rights of citizenship for gays and lesbians, I could care less about whether my hotels’ housekeeping staffs are unionized. And, as a Republican, I am not alone in either position.

Aside from those who are or have family members who are gay or lesbian, the most likely Republicans to support gay and lesbian equality are those people who are Republicans because they are pro-business. They remember when the party stood for a strong economy, above all. It’s a tough sell to ask these pro-business Republicans to support a movement that is actively working against them – labor unions – but that is exactly the road that many gay and lesbian activists have taken in the wake of Proposition 8.

Now that the Proposition 8 and its fate has been decided, it is time for the gay rights movement to turn towards the future and put full equality for gays and lesbians at the forefront of the agenda, and build a broad coalition that includes all allies. Only then can supporters of marriage equality win in 2010.

Copyright (c) 2007, SteelWill, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Spot On is a trademark of SteelWill, Inc.

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