Equality California
Returning to the Ballot – 2010 vs. 2012
May 26, 2009


TO: EQCA Members
FR:  Geoff Kors and Marc Solomon, Equality California
RE:  Our Thinking About Next Steps

This memo lays out our thinking and approach to restoring marriage equality in California

Returning to the Ballot – 2010 vs. 2012

We listened very carefully to the thousands of you who responded to our membership survey. You provided passionate arguments for both 2010 and 2012, as well as detailed comments about why you prefer one election to another. We read every one of them. In the end, you voted in favor of 2010 by a margin of 69 percent to 24 percent, with 7 percent unsure.

We agree with you. Under the right conditions (which we explain below), we support returning to the ballot in November 2010 for the following reasons (which many of you expressed):  

1. Momentum. Never before have either of us experienced a situation where there are so many volunteers who are willing to knock on doors, speak to voters, and take ownership over moving voters to marriage equality. With field organizers on the ground guiding their efforts, we can ensure there will be literally hundreds of thousands of conversations at people’s doors. In our view, this work could be significantly reduced if we wait until 2012. If the election were not to take place for three-plus years, we believe we would have a difficult time maintaining the momentum and engaging those who are ready to sprint to a finish line. The momentum and determination factor may sound soft, but in our experience, it is this work that, more than anything else, will move voters our way. Its importance should not be underestimated.

2. Top of the ticket. All of the leading Democratic contenders for governor and other statewide offices in 2010 strongly support overturning Prop 8. In 2012, we likely will not have a strong supporter of marriage equality heading the ticket of either party. 

3. Vying for attention—LGBT national funding priorities. In November 2010, ours would likely be the only major LGBT initiative on the ballot. In 2012, that likely will not be the case.   Being on the ballot in different years from other states should greatly increase the funds we can raise. Additionally, in 2012, the LGBT community will once again be counted on to financially support the Obama campaign. This of course is not an issue in 2010. 

4. Vying for attention in California. In 2012, the entire legislature will be redistricted by an independent commission resulting in what will likely be the most expensive and contested election for legislative seats in over a decade. As a result, money and volunteers will be more difficult to come by. In addition, in 2010, we could draw from the many Obama volunteers in California who traveled to Nevada and elsewhere last year and who we think we could enlist to work to restore marriage equality. 

5. National movement. In addition to the wins to date in New England and Iowa, there’s a strong possibility of prevailing in New York and New Jersey in 2009. These victories will—we believe—translate into increased acceptance and support for marriage equality in California by November 2010.  

6. Waiting has costs. In the time between 2010 and 2012, a number of Californians will forever lose the chance to marry the person they love or witness their son or daughter get married, while others will have to wait in a state of limbo to see if they will be able to marry. We should not wait any longer than we have to. 

Arguments for 2012

There are strong arguments for 2012, including:

    • The economy is projected to be in a better place in 2011-2012 than it is now. As a result, fundraising will likely be considerably easier.  
    • We can assume that some percentage of additional people will come our way during that extra time period as a result of both national trends and a change in the voting population (as those now 15 will be able to vote in 2012, but not 2010, and some people 65 or older will no longer be in the voting pool). 
    • There will be two additional years to do the hard work of engaging and persuading voters. In an electorate that, according to public polls, is pretty evenly divided, the additional time would be helpful. 

In the end, a 2010 election will likely be very close. From our vantage point, the deciding factors to return to the ballot in 2010 rather than 2012 include the energy and momentum and the political landscape in California. The potential for unprecedented grassroots mobilization from the LGBT and allied communities, backed by leading state-wide candidates for office, will translate into an arsenal of tens of thousands of volunteers, who if properly stewarded, will talk to hundreds of thousands of voters in target counties, and in communities and neighborhoods where analysis shows there’s the most likelihood of movement. 

From Potential to Reality

While we believe conditions are such that there’s real potential for victory in 2010, without a powerful and comprehensive campaign plan and well-designed campaign structure that is supported and owned by us all (donors, grassroots, LGBT groups—both new and established, organized labor, etc.), we believe we will fall short and lose.  We want to be clear: Equality California will actively participate in creating this plan and structure; however, the campaign to win back marriage belongs to all of us and will not be designed or run by any one organization.  Moreover, while introducing ballot language is simple, winning an affirmative referendum on marriage equality in California is difficult and very expensive. The California Secretary of State recommends introducing ballot language by September 25 for a November 2010 referendum. As a result, our community and its allies have the opportunity to use the next few months to do the following:

  • Get agreement around a date. We will actively participate in discussions with our many coalition partners and community members to get agreement around when and how to go back to the ballot. 
  • Gain concurrence around one campaign structure that accomplishes the following:
    • Engenders the confidence of the community, broadly-defined, and its many components.
    • Balances the need for broad and inclusive representation with the need to act decisively and quickly. 
  • Develop a comprehensive campaign plan that charts a path to victory, with detailed benchmarks along the way. The plan must, in our view, include:
    • A field plan that fully engages the grassroots, with a relentless focus on quantifiable voter contact and persuasion. 
    • A detailed and specific fundraising plan with buy-in from individuals and organizations that will contribute and raise significant funds.
    • A communications/media plan that utilizes lessons learned from wins and losses around the country; and that fully anticipates our opponents’ attacks. 
    • Specific plans for persuasion in key communities of color (African-American,  Asian-Pacific Islander, Latino) and the faith community, with a focus, from Day One, on supporting and enhancing the capacity of LGBT people of color and faith organizations to do the work. 

Whether our community goes back to the ballot in 2010 or later, Equality California is committed—in partnership with our local, state-wide and national partners—to doing the persuasion work to move Californians towards marriage equality. Under the leadership of EQCA Field Director Amy Mello, we have launched a robust field effort designed to put to work the tens of thousands of people motivated by the Prop 8 loss. Working in partnership with many other organizations, they are relentlessly focused on having multiple discussions with moveable Californians in the parts of the state where most of the Yes on 8 votes came from: LA County; Orange County; San Diego County; the Inland Empire; the Central Valley; Sacramento. We are carefully tracking progress, and will be able, during the next few months, to assess people’s willingness to do the on-the-ground work; as well as voters’ openness to moving our way. 

We Need You

We need your active and sustained leadership and engagement to implement a winning program for California. Quite simply, we cannot do it without you. The passage of Prop 8 cast a pall over the LGBT and allied community not just in California, but throughout the country. And it will take a coordinated, powerful effort of us all to send Prop 8 to the dustbin of history where it belongs. 

The lay of the land in California is complex, with dozens of new organizations joining the many established organizations in the battle for equality. And it is also exciting, filled with energy and thousands of new activists who are playing critical leadership roles and who will be our movement’s leaders for years to come. We need you to jump into the fray and work with us—by participating in grassroots canvasses, by telling your story, by contributing what you can and by engaging your family, friends and neighbors. In short, we need you to make this campaign your campaign.    

Thank you for all you do for equality.