Marriage backers have much to do before returning to ballot, Kendell says
by Cynthia Laird
If same-sex marriage proponents return to the ballot in 2010 to try to repeal Proposition 8 and lose again, the damage done to the larger LGBT community would be "devastating," a key No on Prop 8 member told the Bay Area Reporter this week.
In a wide-ranging interview Monday, March 30, Kate Kendell, a member of the No on Prop 8 executive committee, reiterated what she said at February's San Francisco town hall meeting: she will not take on a leadership role in any future ballot fight. But Kendell, who is executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, was clear that the community must step up on a number of fronts if a second ballot fight is to be waged.
And she suggested, based on what happened during the Prop 8 fight, that 2010 is too early to launch a repeal effort.
Any ballot fight would come only if the California Supreme Court upholds Prop 8. Kendell bluntly said last week in Dallas at a meeting of an LGBT chamber of commerce that, "We're going to lose," according to a front page story in the Dallas Voice.
While noting that Dallas Voice news editor John Wright "caught me in a more pessimistic moment," she acknowledged what virtually every other legal analyst has said since the justices heard oral arguments last month: the court likely will uphold Prop 8.
"Clearly, watching the oral arguments I felt my heart sink," Kendell said.
"Given that I hoped and believed we could defeat Prop 8 at the ballot, I'm playing this very close to my chest and not getting my hopes up," she said, adding that for the court to uphold Prop 8 would "require a torturous ruling" on the part of the justices, who last year issued a landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage in California.
Prop 8 eliminated that right.
Little change in public opinion
In terms of work that needs to be done, areas Kendell identified are: public education, rural outreach, faith outreach, and outreach to communities of color by LGBTs of color. All of those cost money and require an infrastructure to be in place, she noted.
"We don't have the depth of resources to execute all of those need areas. To do that, to run a grassroots, viral [campaign] in 18 months is a multimillion-dollar proposition," Kendell said, referring to a timeline for a possible 2010 ballot measure.
While many new activists have become engaged since the passage of Prop 8, and many new groups have formed, two recent statewide polls show voters are almost exactly where they were on same-sex marriage as during last year's campaign: about 48 percent support same-sex marriage and 47 percent oppose it. Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, said those numbers haven't changed much since last November.
Proposition 8 passed 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent, a difference of 4.6 percentage points.
Kendell said she would subtract 5 percentage points from supporters of same-sex marriage in the recent surveys.
"People lie," she said. "We're at 42 percent or 43 percent. We could claw our way to 48 percent but we never get past 48 percent."
The question, she said, is "How to get to 50 percent plus one."
Already, two ballot measures have been cleared by the secretary of state's office for signature gathering. One would take the state out of the marriage business entirely, replacing the word "marriage" with the term "domestic partner." The two young straight men behind that effort have said that they are aiming for the June 2010 ballot.
The second measure would repeal Prop 8. Its backers, a new group called Yes on Equality, are not yet gathering signatures and are unsure whether to aim for 2010 or 2012.
Both initiatives need nearly 700,000 valid signatures by August 17.
Kendell was unsure about those efforts.
"The 64 million dollar question is when do we go back. No doubt if we lose in court, the only relief is to repeal Prop 8 at the ballot," Kendell said. "Few people are more anxious that happen than me, but having gone through the draining, rigorous Prop 8 campaign I have a better inkling of what it is going to take and in this economy, I worry that we still do not see enough of actual public education conversations that have to happen. We just haven't had enough time."
"That's not going to happen in the hurricane of a campaign," Kendell added.
Kendell said that about 350,000 voters need to change sides in the same-sex marriage fight. But those people "are everywhere" in the state, she said.
"They could be your neighbors or live 300 miles away," Kendell said. "We need an almost precinct by precinct pre-campaign campaign that puts same-sex couples and families on their doorstep, in their papers, and in their church bulletins dozens of times."
There's also the matter of the cost of another statewide campaign.
"And, the sheer amount of money the community would need to invest, yet again, is staggering," she added.
The No on 8 campaign raised about $43.3 million last year. The Yes on 8 side raised slightly less, $39.9 million.
"If [repeal] is on the ballot in 2010 and we lose again, my sense is, as a non-expert, it would be devastating," Kendell said.
What to do?
Kendell said that she has had many people say to her, "What's the plan?" She said there are no easy answers.
"The reason a blueprint is not easily emerging is because the community is so disparate and does not coalesce around any key leader – and I love that," she said. "It's not an easy question to answer. Almost anything you come up with: public education, rural outreach, faith outreach, communities of color outreach cost money, need infrastructure, and require a plan."
LGBT organizations are woefully underfunded compared to anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family, which has an annual budget of $141 million. By contrast, the country's largest LGBT organization, the Human Rights Campaign, has an annual budget of $41.4 million, according to a recent Washington Blade survey of the top gay groups. Kendell's NCLR has a budget of $4.8 million. The Blade survey also listed salaries for the executives of those organizations.
"I make a great salary," Kendell said of her $175,000 base pay, "but we as a movement have a very pale infrastructure."
LGBT organizations have never had as much money, and only about 10 percent – or more like 7 percent – of LGBT people support any LGBT organization, she said.
"That disparity has to be alleviated, but not from the folks barely making ends meet, but by well-off LGBT folks," Kendell said.
"Our ability to pass creates complacency," Kendell added, referring to how some LGBT people are not out and go about their lives without contributing to gay organizations or being active in the community.
Some bright signs Kendell sees are grassroots activists such as Robin McGehee in Fresno. She is organizing "Meet in the Middle," a rally for national LGBT equality that is scheduled for the Saturday after the court's ruling in downtown Fresno, the midpoint of the state. Another new activist is Kip Williams of One Struggle, One Fight, which just wrapped up its march for equality from Berkeley to Sacramento. Those are "terrific efforts," Kendell said.
"That is exactly the leadership and energy we need," she noted. "We need a deep bench of that and we need it in every community."
Kendell also pointed to Equality California's recent decision to hire former Mass Equality executive director Marc Solomon to be its marriage director. Solomon, who is based in Los Angeles, started work this week.
"That's the kind of step that is right, but Marc's not enough. We need Marc plus 50 organizers and they need 20 local folks to deploy," she said.