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Prop 8: Same-Sex Marriage and Coalition Building
Prop 8 demos— photo by Ellen Shub
The California voters passed Prop 8 by 52 to 48 percent. It was a costly campaign on both sides—the pro-forces spent $35.8 million and the LGBT activists $37.6 million—and the fallout is still being felt. Some gay activists are arguing that the national LGBT groups did not do enough work and made a series of mistakes that led to the proposition passing, including relying on too many expensive ads featuring heterosexual celebrities. Other activists, and especially reporters, pointed to the African American vote. According to CNN exit polls, 70 percent of African American voters supported the Proposition—not that much of a surprise since Black churches, for the most part, supported the proposition. But to understand this number we also have to take into consideration that these were probably older voters, since voters of all races, ethnicities, and incomes under the age of 35 were against Prop 8.
The situation was also complicated by the fact that the New York Times and other news outlets suggested that the large turnout for Obama mobilized an African American constituency that did not regularly vote and whose liberal views on a number of issues did not include support for same-sex marriage. In the last days of the campaign the group Protect-Marriage.com distributed flyers with a photograph of Barack Obama quoting him as being against same-sex marriage, which was true. But Obama had also stated that he was against state-wide referendums to decide the issue and was specifically against Prop 8. This was further complicated by the fact that organizing by national and local LGBT groups did not include special or extensive outreach to African American voters, a serious flaw in the mostly-white LGBT national movement groups.
The bottom line is that from the very beginning of the same-sex marriage movement there have been a series of organizing blunders that have brought us to this crossroads. The movement has never felt that it needed to do much outreach to wider populations about same-sex marriage. They relied on judicial and legislative rules to make same-sex marriage a reality. As a result, these state-wide referendums passed very easily. Another blunder was the constant recitation that the fight for same-sex marriage was exactly like the fight for interracial marriage that was won by Loving v. Virginia—an essentially false comparison that must have been difficult for many African Americans to hear and was not useful in trying to present the question of same-sex marriage (a moral issue for many people) in a civil rights context. But this points to an even larger problem: that the overwhelmingly white LGBT rights movement has never really attempted to form coalitions with groups that may have been willing to be supportive.
For years a popular slogan and banner at gay pride rally and parades was "Gay Straight/Black White/Same Struggle/Same Fight." A nice piece of rhetoric that does not take into consideration the hard work of discussing differences and coalition building. Since the mid-1970s, the more mainstream gay rights movements have rejected the wide vision of coalition building that had been articulated by the Gay Liberation movement. That decision has been the cause of many missed opportunities in the last decades.
Perhaps the main lesson is that it is perfectly possible for many people to articulate a liberal politics (and vote for Obama) and hold various opinions on a number of topics—the presumption that a vote for Obama meant a vote for same-sex marriage was simply not true. The culture wars are still with us and the incredible energy that propelled Obama to the White House is as prone to the idiosyncrasies of a wide range of personal, moral, ethical, and cultural sentiments and claims as any other moment in history. The fighting and recriminations about Prop 8 are going to continue for some time, but until the LGBT movement can begin to understand the complexities of real coalition building and what that may actually mean, we will be stuck in the same series of cycles.
Michael Bronski is a journalist, cultural critic, and political commentator. He has been a visiting professor in Women's and Gender Studies and Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College since 1999.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.