Obstacles remain for a Prop 8 repeal

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The Bay Area Reporter
By Matt Baume

Should California challenge Proposition 8, the state’s same-sex marriage ban, at the ballot box in 2012?

In an effort to answer that question, Equality California is holding a series of town hall meetings around the state to share research and gauge public interest in such a campaign. But data presented at a May 19 meeting in San Francisco indicates that significant obstacles remain.

The forum was led by EQCA interim Executive Director Jim Carroll and marriage and coalition director Andrea Shorter; Asian and Pacific Islander Equality’s Tawal Panyacosit; and National Center for Lesbian Rights legal director Shannon Minter.

Minter began the meeting by reviewing the current federal legal challenge to Prop 8. A federal judge ruled the state constitutional amendment unconstitutional last August. That decision was appealed. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to decide the case, which is known as Perry v. Brown and is expected to ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additionally, the California Supreme Court has scheduled a September hearing to determine whether Prop 8′s proponents have standing to defend the anti-gay law, and Minter estimated that that court’s decision would come by the end of the year.

That decision could trigger any of several different legal timelines, with a resolution coming as early as 2012 or as late as 2014.

“If everything fell into place the right way, it would be 2012,” said Minter. “But I don’t think that’s too likely.”

In the meantime, EQCA, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Greenlining Institute, and former ambassador and philanthropist James Hormel funded new research on a 2012 repeal of Prop 8.

Pollster David Binder and his firm, David Binder Research, surveyed 900 likely voters, revealing a mix of advances and a need for further progress.

In 2009, a similar survey showed that 47 percent of voters would support repeal of Prop 8, 48 percent would oppose, and 5 percent were unsure.

In 2011, unsure voters doubled to 10 percent. Support for Prop 8′s repeal decreased from 47 to 45 percent, but opposition to repeal also decreased from 48 to 45 percent.

“My theory is that we saw undecideds grow because we’ve seen more discussion of the issue,” Binder explained. “The best part I see here is the reduction in people who are opposed. I look at the undecideds as people who are going to eventually come our way.”

Major progress has been made in communities of color, with African American support for Prop 8 decreasing from 60 percent in 2009 to 53 percent in 2011. Latino support of the ban went from 51 percent to 47 percent, while Asian support moved from 50 percent to 41 percent.

But the panelists were quick to emphasize faith over ethnicity as a predictor of voters’ positions.

“This is not about ethnicity. This is about religiosity,” said Binder. His research indicated that 68 percent of likely voters who worship once a week or more said that they support Prop 8. Among respondents who “hardly ever” worship, 85 percent support repeal.

A crucial finding of the research is that support for Prop 8′s repeal increases if ballot wording includes language to exempt religious institutions from solemnizing same-sex marriages if their beliefs are opposed. Such language duplicates already-existing law, but causes some voters who originally supported repeal to reverse their position.

If a campaign could retain those voters who “desert” the repeal effort, support for a measure that includes religious exemption language would increase to 58 percent, the research showed.

But mounting such a campaign would be expensive, labor-intensive, and unpredictable, particularly with the looming court case. In the Prop 8 fight three years ago, both sides raised a combined $83 million.

About fifty people attended last week’s meeting.

One person said they would be interested in hearing what the panelists learned from Prop 8′s passage in 2008.

“A lesson we’ve learned is doing outreach in a different way.” Shorter said. “We’re learning when you talk to folks [who are not on our side], we ask them about the Golden Rule. As simple as it sounds, for a lot people, that’s an ‘a ha’ moment.”

Carroll said the town halls are an effort to see how the community views a possible ballot campaign.

“It’s hard for anyone to know if they want to commit,” said Carroll. “We’re trying to get a sense if the community wants to move forward. Nobody’s going to want to fund a fractured movement.”