“¡Sí, Se Puede! ¡Sí, Se Puede!” roared the crowd of 12,000 protesting passage of Proposition 8 outside Los Angeles City Hall on November 15. Their chants followed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s declaration, “In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God, Thou Shalt Not Discriminate!”
California’s LGBT community has risen up in anger following homophobic onslaughts before, most notably in 1991, when 50,000 people took to the streets of LA following Governor Pete Wilson’s veto of a simple job-equity bill. But this time is different; the right’s victory on Prop 8 seems suddenly out of step with the zeitgeist. This is the new Obama era of progressive patriotism, and the homophobes who outgunned the No on 8 campaign seem like a throwback. Jon Stewart, as he parried recently with Bill O’Reilly, named gay marriage as the next step on America’s long and jagged journey to justice. Could it be that gay marriage, widely blamed for John Kerry’s loss four years ago, is the next winning issue on this country’s agenda for change?
The Yes on 8 forces ran a brilliant campaign. Along with their usual lies to frighten people about children and religion, they beat us at our own game. The right built a strong multiracial religious coalition that reached African-American and Latino voters across the state, the majority of whom supported Prop 8.
I watched their coming victory with a sinking heart. Thirty years ago, I worked tirelessly against Prop 6 (the Briggs initiative to fire gay teachers), and in 1986 I was Southern California campaign coordinator for No on Prop 64 (the LaRouche initiative to quarantine people living with HIV/AIDS). But this year I poured my political passions into the Obama campaign, working 24/7 to get him elected president. I was based in the main LA office, then in Nevada, where I helped coordinate Latino and African-American volunteers doing voter-to-voter registration and GOTV. Our plan worked magnificently: the Silver State turned deep blue, by 12 percentage points. Working side by side with an amazing team–mostly women, mostly African-American and Latina–I caught the early warning signs on Prop 8. When Yes on 8 signs began sprouting up on her neighbors’ lawns in early October, one African-American Obama volunteer, Angie Rodriguez, asked me, “Where are the No on 8 folks? My neighborhood has been visited by the Yes people twice already.”
Perhaps more telling was when Mitchell Schwartz, Obama’s California director, asked me in mid-October, “Why aren’t Barack’s own words opposing Prop 8 plastered all over? This was the only proposition he took a stand on, and people need to know it!” When I passed the question on to a friend on No on 8’s executive committee, he explained that they had decided that Obama’s position was too confusing, because he opposes gay marriage but came out against Prop 8. But that critical decision to set aside Obama’s position (until the very end, after a campaign shake-up) allowed the Yes on 8 people to step into the void and put out deceptive fliers and robocalls saying Obama supported Prop 8. If No on 8 had acted early and forcefully, telling Obama’s true position, it could have made the difference.