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Archives for Gay Marriage

Marriage By Any Other Name


Following last week’s decision on Proposition 8 by the California Supreme Court, proponents of marriage equality in the state rushed to lay the path to its undoing. The establishment gay rights groups are heading to the ballot box, with an initiative planned for 2010. Meanwhile a Hollywood-backed lawsuit with a marque legal team seeks to challenge the initiative on due process grounds in the Federal Courts.

For some reason, however, nobody is talking about going to the California State Legislature, which has twice voted to grant marriage equality. But that’s what the court decision demands. In its controversial ruling, the California Supreme Court created the possibility for a legislative remedy to the battle over same-sex marriage.

And despite the cheers coming from the proponents of Proposition 8 that the “protected marriage,” for Californians, they may have, in fact, planted the seeds of its destruction.

On Page 34 of their decision, the court tortuously states:

…”[b]ecause in common speech the term “right to marry” is most often used and understood to refer to an individual’s right to enter into the official relationship designated “marriage,” and in order to minimize potential confusion in the future, instead of referring to this aspect of the state constitutional rights of privacy and due process as “the constitutional right to marry,” hereafter in this opinion we shall refer to this constitutional right by the more general descriptive terminology used in the majority opinion in the Marriage Cases — namely, the constitutional right to establish, with the person of one’s choice, an officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage (or, more briefly, the constitutional right to establish an officially recognized family relationship with the person of one’s choice).”

Or for us non-lawyers, as a result of the Proposition 8 ruling, the “constitutional right to marry” in California, is now a “constitutional right to establish, with the person of one’s choice, an officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.”

If the Supreme Court were the Supreme Court of Fantasyland, not California, that would be all well and good. Unfortunately, in the Golden State, there exists no means to “establish, with the person of one’s choice, an officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.”

The court, in other words, created something which does not exist and the state legislature needs to remedy the disparity between what is offered statutorily to same-sex couples and marriage, whether they call it domestic partnerships – a legal status that does exist – or something else.

But even then, when it comes to basic privacy rights, if this new “not-marriage” is only offered to same-sex couples, it poses a legal and practical conundrum. For example, my car insurance company distinguishes between married couples and domestic partners, which they call “cohabitants” and just plain roommates, which must be listed as “friends”.

And even if married spouses and “cohabitants” were treated equally in terms of insurance rates and protections, should gay and lesbian people be required to divulge their sexual orientation every time they fill out such a form?

What if, instead, the California legislature established a new category of officially-recognized relationship which allows two consenting adults to, in the words of the most recent state Supreme Court decision “establish, with the person of one’s choice, an officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage,” and applied it equally to all couples – same-sex or opposite sex – beginning January 1, 2010?

The legislature could choose any term but “marriage” to describe this new kind of contract created by the courts, be it a familiar one like “matrimony” or get creative and invent one…call it “spousage”. Heck, they could probably even call it “merridge” and be constitutionally in the clear. If this new institution is available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples, the privacy issues raised by the courts would be addressed.

It may well happen. With a legislature and Governor that are firmly behind marriage equality, Proposition 8′s attempts to “protect” marriage, may well lead to its undoing in California. If the legislature does create “marriage” under a different name we will see just how much faith people people place in the statement that there is no difference between marriage and marriage-by-another-name.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:50 PM | Permalink

A Gay Marriage Coaltion That Can Win


The California Supreme Court has spoken, ruling that voters had the right to amend the state’s constitution and eliminate the fundamental constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples. And while the legal arguments over Proposition 8 are settled, the issue of gay marriage will by no means go away.

It is time to expand the coalition of allies in order to win in 2010, when California voters will likely be asked to restore marriage equality for all Californians, not just those who are heterosexual or happened to get married between June and November, 2008. Looking to the future, gay and lesbian Californians should say that today marks “the first day of the rest of my life,” and put the battle over Proposition 8 in the past, where it belongs.

Even if the court had overturned Proposition 8, gays and lesbians would have still face inequalities, mostly at the federal level. Gays and lesbians are not allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. Nor can gays and lesbians claim any of the nearly two thousand federal benefits of marriage – tax benefits among them – or receive housing or employment protections in many states. As couples move to, from or between states and even countries that honor gay and lesbian marriages, the rights and responsibilities that apply to the couples will remain unclear until settled under federal law.

This discrimination continues to exist and as the movement towards full equality progresses, gays and lesbians must remember to put their own interests first, despite the appeal of building a big tent of allied causes. Today, gay and lesbian activists must not assume that because they lean left all of their allies follow suit. Forcing a “progressive agenda” onto the movement for equality risks alienating volunteers, donors and potential allies.

During the ballot battle over Proposition 8, a rainbow coalition was cobbled together among people of faith, people of color, business leaders, Republicans and many others. But because of the diversity and frailty of the coalition, good opportunities to leverage allies to the cause were missed. The opposition to Prop 8 by conservative figures like Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and outspoken Affirmative Action opponent Ward Connerly was largely downplayed or ignored through most of the campaign, for fear that these spokespeople may alienate liberal members of the coalition, like labor and the NAACP.

Had opponents to Proposition 8 looked at the 30% support they had among Republican voters and increased it – instead of letting it slip to 18% by election day – there would have been no need for a Supreme Court ruling. In Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire, Republican legislators cast the deciding votes on whether marriage equality became the law. And in New York, it looks as though a handful of Republican Senators will decide whether gay and lesbian couples may marry.

But in looking at how the public campaign for same-sex marriage is being waged, It feels like some labor activists, having taken note of the new energy – and disorganization – in the gay rights movement, decided to co-opt that energy for its own cause. If gay and lesbian activists allow this to continue, it will be at their own peril.

Yet this is exactly what these public – and publicity-minded – activists risk doing. Rick Jacob’s Courage Campaign seized the anger of gay and lesbian activists over November’s vote in favor of the ban to push what they call a “new era for Progressive Politics in California.” Somehow, I fear, Jacobs is not trying to become the next Hiram Johnson.

The Stonewall 2.0 group, Equal Roots, used a Gay Pride week protest at the Long Beach Hyatt as a cover to protest the working conditions of housekeepers who were required to clean at least thirty rooms a day.

Even after Doug Manchester, a San Diego hotelier who donated $125,000 to get Proposition 8 on the ballot, sought to make peace with gay and lesbian activists, boycott organizer (and former tobacco lobbyist) Fred Karger refused to call off the boycott because the labor issues remained unaddressed.

Cleve Jones, who worked closely with Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black has effectively moved from being a gay rights activist and is now a union organizer for UNITE HERE, which represents, you guessed it, hotel workers.

Stonewall Democrats have teamed up with the AFL-CIO to form a campaign to support federal card-check legislation to take away worker privacy during union organizing campaigns.

As a supporter of marriage equality and full rights of citizenship for gays and lesbians, I could care less about whether my hotels’ housekeeping staffs are unionized. And, as a Republican, I am not alone in either position.

Aside from those who are or have family members who are gay or lesbian, the most likely Republicans to support gay and lesbian equality are those people who are Republicans because they are pro-business. They remember when the party stood for a strong economy, above all. It’s a tough sell to ask these pro-business Republicans to support a movement that is actively working against them – labor unions – but that is exactly the road that many gay and lesbian activists have taken in the wake of Proposition 8.

Now that the Proposition 8 and its fate has been decided, it is time for the gay rights movement to turn towards the future and put full equality for gays and lesbians at the forefront of the agenda, and build a broad coalition that includes all allies. Only then can supporters of marriage equality win in 2010.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:49 PM | Permalink

California’s Call to Convention


For the second time in four years, California voters have “sent a message” to Sacramento, rejecting budget reforms in the face of spiraling deficits. Yesterday, California voters killed all but one of a package of budget ballot measures designed to partially paper over the state’s growing deficits, just as they killed Governor Schwarzenegger’s attempt to “blow up the boxes” of state government back in 2005.

Now, it seems the only way to fix the state’s problems may be through a Constitutional Convention. And depending on the actions of the State Supreme Court in the next few weeks, Schwarzeneger and the business community may pick up an unlikely ally: The usually liberal gay and lesbian community.

Over the years, a series of constitutional amendments, and a the boom-and-bust cycle of the economy has made California practically ungovernable.

In 1978, voters passed Proposition 13, which limited the amount of annual increases in property tax assessments, thereby limiting the growth in property tax revenues received by state and local governments. Later that year, they also passed Proposition 8, which allowed for property owners to lower their maximum assessed values during real estate busts, like the cycle California is currently in.

But the pendulum swung back the other way a decade later, when voters, concerned that school funding was limited by these measures, passed Proposition 98. Prop 98 sets a minimum spending level for K-14 education. In 1988-89, it was 39 percent of state revenues. But Prop 98 also said that the dollar amount of funding shall never decrease AND that half of any new tax revenues be added to the Prop 98 minimums, in addition to adjustments made for enrollment growth.

Since 1998, California has seen boom and bust and boom over again. When the Internet bubble grew, state revenues expanded exponentially under Governor Gray Davis. When the bubble burst, so did capital gains revenues paid in the state – but Prop 98 mandates remained. The budget went so far out of balance that voters recalled Governor Davis.

Davis’ replacement, Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to initiate spending caps and budget reforms at the bottom of the budget crisis upon taking office, only to be rejected. Instead, the state budget “balanced” itself on the housing boom. As we well know, that went bust, and California’s budget with it.

That’s the fifty-cent version of how we got into the mess; but how does California get out of it?

Some budget “reformers” say that all California needs to do is lower the super-majority needed to pass a state budget and raise taxes to fifty percent from the two-thirds vote required today. The move is popular among California Democrats because the Republican Party, with 31 percent registration, is nearly regulated to permanent minority status in California.

Fixing California’s governance problems will require much more. Among the reforms needed, both the politically popular Proposition 13 and Proposition 98 need to be reconsidered – in tandem – so that state revenues and spending are not going on auto-pilot in different directions. And the roles of California’s four branches of government – the executive, legislative judiciary and electorate – should be reconsidered.

That is why the business-oriented Bay Area Council has called for a Constitutional Convention. They are finding allies across the political spectrum from Governor Schwarzenegger to the liberal editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times.

And these reformers may have another unlikely ally, depending on the outcome of litigation over last year’s Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment to eliminate the right to marry for same-sex couples. Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, wants a Constitutional Convention to also consider reinforcing protections for minorities and removing the discrimination added by voters last November: “If there is a constitutional convention, prohibiting discrimination against minorities, including marriage for same-sex couples, must be included in a broad package of reforms,” Kors has said.

A Constitutional Convention would be messy. The selection of delegates will have candidates running from all sorts of positions -limiting taxes, protecting special interest spending, restoring marriage rights, or taking away constitutional protections from minorities. There is no guarantee that the result of a Constitutional Convention would be any better than what we have today. But as former Los Angeles King Wayne Gretzky says, “you miss a hundred percent of the shots never take,” and California cannot afford to miss a chance on goal.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:48 PM | Permalink

California Republicans Should Fear Prop 8


Last fall, the theocratic wing of the California Republican Party took solace in a narrow victory on Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment eliminating the right to marry for same-sex couples. They cobbled together a coalition with just enough Latino, African-American and older voters to write the law into the constitution. But as minorities, the groups that passed Proposition 8 – including California Republicans – should hope that the law is struck down.

At some point between now and June 1, the California Supreme Court will render its decision on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. While the decision will impact whether the right to marry is restored to all Californians, it will have little to do about gay marriage as an issue. Instead, the court will be weighing a broader constitutional question: Who is the ultimate arbiter of fundamental freedoms in California?

“Rights are in the power of the people,” argued Proposition 8 defendant Kenneth Starr, claiming that rights may be granted or taken away by simple majority votes, regardless of their status in the Constitution.

If the court overturns Proposition 8, it will be because, historically, the role of the state’s courts is to protect the constitution freedoms of California from the over-reaching arms of the other branches of government – the executive, the legislature and the electorate. On the other hand, if the court upholds Proposition 8, it will abdicate its authority to the so-called “will” of the people to decide questions of civil rights by moving that power out of the courts and to the ballot box. As their numbers shrink, California Republicans should be worried if Proposition is upheld. The Grand Old Party’s membership is a minority of California voters – and its falling.

Republican registration efforts in California have gone bone-chillingly cold. Registered Republicans number but 31 percent of the state’s electorate. According to political guru Allan Hoffenblum, these precipitous drops are happening statewide, even in Republican districts. “Back in 2001, when the redistricting mapmakers gerrymandered the 80 Assembly districts in an attempt to keep the status quo of 50 safe Democratic districts and 30 safe Republican seats, five of the assembly districts had solid Republican majorities and an additional five had a GOP registration of between 48 – 50 percent. Today, it’s zero majority districts and only two with GOP registration over 48 percent.”

As more immigrants are naturalized, the California Republican Party’s anti-immigration posturing will only alienate these new voters and shrink the Republican registration numbers further.

Compare Republican registration at 30% to the 5% of California voters who identified themselves as gay or lesbian in 2008, and you see that California Conservatives are as much at risk of being the target of a ballot initiative as any other minority group in the state.

While it is unlikely that voters would try to target straight white Christian men – also known as what is left in the California GOP – for any ballot initiative, the values and freedoms that Republicans hold dear could easily come under attack if the court upholds Proposition 8. It is not far-fetched to think that the powerful California Teachers’ Unions might pass a constitutional amendment forbidding home-schooling. Nor is it a stretch to see the majority of Californians voting for such a ban. And while it might seem ludicrous to propose a “Traffic Mitigation and Freeway Safety Amendment” which would, for instance, ban Asian women from driving, that measure, too, under Starr’s theory, be constitutional as long as the measure were approved by a majority of voters.

This is anarchy. When rights are subject to the whims of the voters – as suggested by the backers of Proposition 8 – no right is secure. As a rapidly-shrinking minority, this should scare California’s Republicans.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 4:47 PM | Permalink

The Marriage-Industrial Complex


While California’s State Government is on the brink of going the way of Bear Stearns, the so-called leaders of the Golden State’s gay and lesbian community spent Tuesday in Sacramento lobbying legislators. Their goal? Passage of two non-binding resolutions asking the state to overturn Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment approved last fall eliminating the right for same-sex couples to marry.

There was apparently no other legislative priority for this group, a fine demonstration of the recently minted marriage-industrial complex – which sustains these organizations’ fundraising and supports the livelihoods of their employees.

Equality California, the group that brought you the passage of Proposition 8 despite its best deliberate efforts to the contrary, needs marriage rights for same-sex couples to remain in doubt, otherwise there would be little reason for the organization to exist. The same goes for opponents of marriage equality as well.

A lobby day like the one hosted by Equality California can always be subject to the risks of outside events but the group’s agenda this week showed a tin ear, not just for the dire financial situation that California currently faces, but to the needs of the community they claim to represent.

There is never a good reason to delay equal rights for any Americans but the California Legislature has a lot on its hands these days–a $40 billion budget deficit, sinking credit ratings, furloughs and layoffs and a partisan stalemate, to name a few.

Meaning that unless something generates revenue or reduces costs, the state’s legislators don’t want to hear about it. And although Proposition 8 will cost California governments tens of millions of dollars in revenue if not overturned by the courts, nothing the legislature can do about that will help reduce an immediate budget gap nearing the tens of billions of dollars.

And regardless of what the legislature does, the gay marriage issue is in the courts. The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the validity of Proposition 8 on March 5 and render a decision within 90 days. Whatever happens next, Sacramento won’t have much to say about it.

If the Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of Proposition 8, supporters of marriage equality will have to marshal their forces to qualify, and pass a new initiative to overturn it. Should the justices decide that Proposition 8 is invalid, there are threats of recall from the proponents of the measure.

Rather than lobbying legislators, who seem beholden to their own parties’ special interests to begin with, it would seem that the resources of both sides of the marriage-industrial complex would be best spent talking to regular Californians, the voters who – depending on how the court rules – will decide to either overturn the courts’ decision or throw the justices out.

Either way, groups like Equality California have declared with their agenda that marriage equality is the Armageddon of gay rights battles in California. But after that battle is won, will the state really need a multi-million dollar organization to lobby Sacramento to create a Harvey Milk Day?

With More than $80 million spent to persuade California voters on how to vote on Proposition 8, the question of marriage equality is very lucrative, which is why no decision by the Supreme Court will be definitive. The need to sustain a marriage-industrial complex of political consultants, their vendors and non-profit activist groups will keep the “leaders” on both sides of this issue employed for years to come, if only to find a justification for their six-figure paychecks.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:15 AM | Permalink

Judicial Review Gone Wrong


In both the first and final ads for the Yes on 8 campaign – supporting a Constitutional Amendment to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California – proponents argued that the people, not San Francisco-based judges, should be the final arbiters of the matter.

Today, in a stroke of irony, the Yes on 8 campaign lawyers are asking the California Supreme Court to decide the referendum’s fate, after prevailing by a narrow margin on November 4th. And it doesn’t sound as though the battle between the courts and the voters will end on the day that the California Supreme Court makes its ruling.

More surprising, given the threats to recall any judges who disagree on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, it’s clear the religious right would rather undo decades of work to build a conservative judiciary than allow two loving people to get married.

At issue before the courts is a fundamental Constitutional question: Who has the power to determine the rights of a minority? Is that for the courts to decide or for the voters? And did Proposition 8 attempt to over-rule the courts or change the state’s constitution. The legal tests to determine it success rest on this very specific point of law.

Proposition 8 seems discreet, adding just fourteen words to the California constitution and dealing with just one subject. But a question about the intent of the amendment – and it’s actual legal status – remains unresolved. Does Proposition 8 take away a power from the Courts and give it to the electorate? If it did, well, we have a interesting set of circumstances.

On statutory questions, the courts clearly are the final arbiters. That was made clear in several decisions including the overturning of Proposition 187, the 1994 initiative which denied state benefits to illegal immigrants, and Proposition 22, the 2000 initiative statute to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. On the issue of protecting minority rights, the people of the state of California can – and do – make those decisions. And the courts can undo them.

That decision as to where Proposition 8 legally stands now rests in the hands of the California Supreme Court. Unlike federal courts, these judges are subject to election and the specter of a recall vote if the people disagree with their actions. Proposition 8′s proponents already tried to blackmail businesses who opposed their constitutional amendment, and now they’re trying to blackmail the State’s highest court, which is despicable.

Proponents of Proposition 8 are already threatening a recall of any judge who votes to overturn the measure. California Republican Party Vice Chairman Jon Fleishman argues that “proponents of Proposition 8 do have a “nuclear option” in their arsenal. That option is the recall or non-reconfirmation of members of the California Supreme Court, if they refuse to uphold Proposition 8. It has happened before, and the issue was the California death penalty.”

While claiming that, “The court should have a chance to do the right thing,” Proposition 8 attorney Andrew Pugno also threatens that, “no one would be able to stop,” a recall vote on the judges.

Republicans should be wary of taking the nuclear option out against Republican judges who were appointed by Republican Governors.

Should any member of the California Supreme Court be removed from the bench now or in 2010, their successor will be appointed by centrist Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, or even worse, a newly-elected Governor Jerry Brown, Antonio Villaraigosa or Gavin Newsom and face confirmation by a hyper-partisan, Democratic-controlled State Senate. Years of work to give the state a responsible conservative judiciary will be wasted.

So I ask my fellow Republicans: Is gay marriage worth giving up decades of struggle to control the State courts? Even if these judges lost their jobs, do you think a Schwarzenegger- or Brown-appointed replacement would overturn their decision?

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 9:45 AM | Permalink

Please, Joe, Don’t Go to WeHo


After the presidential race, the most closely-watched election in America is Proposition 8, the California Constitutional Amendment which would eliminate the right to marry for same-sex couples. For the gay and lesbian community, the lap-dogs of the Democratic Party for decades, the debate over how to direct its limited resources is about to come to a head.

A few weeks ago, it became clear that for the first time, Proposition 8 had a genuine chance of passing in November when we learned the measure’s proponents had raised $25 million to the opponents’ $15 million. But that same day, the Barack Obama for President Campaign announced a $5000-per-plate fundraiser with Joe Biden in the heart of West Hollywood. It’s set for this week.

Immediately conversation at the debate-watching parties switched from conversation about the dullest presidential debate in memory to a new, hotter topic: What should be more important to gay Americans, electing Democrat Obama or defeating Proposition 8?

I, for one, was shocked to even hear there was a debate. The Religious Right, and especially the Mormon church, decided long ago that buying the election in California and defeating Prop. 8 was more important than sending John McCain and Sarah Palin to the White House. They’ve put their money where their mouths are.

But in gay enclaves like West Hollywood, the answer for many gay and lesbian Americans isn’t so clear. The reaction to Biden’s visit has fallen into two camps: those who argue that Obama will do more good for gay and lesbian equality if he is elected, and those who want to say, “Please, Joe, Don’t Go!”

By scheduling a big-ticket fundraiser in the heart of the Golden State just week’s before the election, the Obama campaign has turned the debate over civil rights for gays and lesbians into a zero-sum game. Should the $5,000 contributions be going out-of-state to elect Barack Obama? Or should they be going to buy television ads to protect the freedom to marry?

Sending Biden to West Hollywood in the heat of the battle over Proposition 8 is either a tone deaf decision or a stroke of genius. Either way, it’s a signal that Democrats thoroughly understand the political aspirations of America’s gay and lesbian community – and are going to take full and complete advantage of their long-time supporters.

In her debate with Biden, Republican Governor Sarah Palin adopted Barack Obama’s position of supporting hospital visitation rights. Contrast that to Biden’s saying he was opposed to marriage equality for same-sex couples, and that he believed that domestic partnerships can be constitutionally equal. By contrast, those like me who oppose Proposition 8 and are working actively to defeat it, are making the argument that marriage does matter – socially and in the eyes of the law.

The choice for gay and lesbian Californians should be clear. Do they want to remain full citizens of California with full equality under the law, or would they prefer to elect a Democrat to the White House who promises little more than what some communities have been offering for more than two decades, the right to “register” their partnerships at city hall?

To anyone thinking of writing that $5,000 check without doubling or tripling the amount to stand up for their own rights first, I have one comment: “Say it Ain’t So!”

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 5:00 AM | Permalink

The RuPaul Effect


Can California being seeing a repeat of electoral history with this year’s ballot measure on same-sex marriage?

Back in 1982, when Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was running for governor, California voters told pollsters that they intended to vote for the African American candidate, but on election day, they pulled their levers for his opponent, George Duekmejian. With the chance to vote for Barack Obama the “Bradley Effect” is back on the political radar.

This year, we may well see the “Ru Paul effect.” She’s the drag queen everyone loves from a distance but might not want as a next door neighbor.

Campaign consultants, including myself, on both sides of California’s Proposition 8 – the initiative which would eliminate the right to marry for same-sex couples – are facing a similar gap between how people say they’ll vote and what they’ll actually do on election day.

Following the release of last week’s Field Poll, which showed Proposition 8 losing by seventeen points, Yes on 8 campaign manager Frank Shubert spun the results this way, “Recent polls published by California media outlets claim that Proposition 8, restoring marriage in California as between a man and a woman, is trailing among voters. These polls, including the Field Poll released this week, suffer from the same historic problem that other polls on this subject around the country have had: they do not accurately reflect the true support for traditional marriage.”

According to Shubert, the Field Poll mistakenly underestimated support for Proposition 22 – the last state measure to “define” marriage – by nine percent. And he hints at something like Bradley in his reasoning: “I can’t say for sure why polls almost always understate support for traditional marriage, but I believe it is because the media portrays same-sex marriage as being politically correct,” Schubert said.

“Supporters of traditional marriage don’t want pollsters to consider them intolerant, so they mask their true feelings on the issue. The result is that support for traditional marriage rises considerably when voters cast their ballots in the privacy of the voter booth. It is my opinion that the same thing will happen in California when voters cast ballots on Proposition 8.”

Shubert’s point is that Californians inherently believe that no person should be treated differently under the law, so they will tell pollsters that they’re against Proposition 8, when they really are leaning towards voting for it. He may be onto something.

Just five years ago, California held a recall election where a famous action-film star was on the ballot. Human polling vastly underestimated the support for the actor, now Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. By eliminating the human element, however, some robo-polling was able to get the numbers right long before the October election. People, it seems, were embarrassed to admit that they supported a movie star – especially one with a colorful, over-the-top body builder’s past – to be their next governor.

It wasn’t the first time that human pollsters were tricked by the psychology of an election. After all, Ru Paul’s pronouncements – Work it! – are great on the runway but, well, not universally appropriate or appealing. So, it’s not unrealistic for Shubert and the crowd who wishes to re-define marriage in California, to rely on the hope that people are at their core indecent and would lie about it to a stranger.

For the No on 8 Campaign, opponents must reinforce people’s inherent belief that, regardless of how they feel about marriage equality, it’s wrong to treat people differently under the law – a message which is at the core of their new ad campaign.

But if poll after poll after poll keep returning the same result, maybe people need to start trusting their veracity.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 10:07 AM | Permalink

A Vote For Real Change


Last week, I proudly joined a number of current and former Republican Party officials in Los Angeles to condemn an L.A. county GOP event promoting California’s Proposition 8 – the measure which would eliminate the right to marry for same-sex couples.

Now, the role of the local political party plays California is to help elect its members to office. Which is why another, less heralded ballot measure, Proposition 11, is much more important – now and for decades to come. Proposition 11 is on California’s ballot this fall but it’s not just a California issues, as a look at a number of large states’ (Texas) voting districts demonstrates. The ways in which legislative districts across the country are drawn is a wonky – but important issue – for anyone interested in politics.

Here in Los Angeles, County Republican Chairman Linda Boyd defended the “Town Hall Forum” on Proposition 8 as a good way to elect more Republicans by energizing the volunteer base. But even if Boyd is correct, in the long-term she’s dead wrong. Not only will Proposition 8 eliminate constitutional rights for many loyal Republicans, but if the party wanted to elect more Republicans, it should focus instead on passing Proposition 11, the ballot measure designed to end gerrymandering by creating a fairer process for drawing voting districts.

Although the California Legislature and the U.S. Congress are less popular than President George Bush in California – a Herculean feat – almost no member of either body is seriously worried about losing his or her job eight weeks from now. Under the current scheme – which some say was a cynical deal by the legislature and the state’s Congressional delegations – exactly zero legislative and only a few Congressional seats have changed parties. I can’t think of a better testament to the broken system California has for drawing its legislative boundaries.

State legislators draw the lines for the seats they will sit in every ten years and those incumbents draw lines creating election districts that don’t foster real competition. Only in one case of gross malfeasance by an incumbent Congressman have we seen a seat in Congress change hands

So California elections – our primaries, really – have become a race to the ideological extremes. Democrats must only compete for the votes of Democrats and Republicans must only compete for the votes of other Republicans within the boundaries incumbents have drawn for their own and their parties’ benefit. November victories are decided not by a vote of the people, but by a vote of 120 politicians when who drew the assembly district boundaries nearly a decade ago. Party activists – the folks who really turn out for primaries – seal these agreement every Spring.

There is no incentive for any politician in Sacramento to reach across the aisle, because the risk of a primary challenge to a perceived “maverick” is greater than the risk of losing in November. And there is no substantive political discourse in Sacramento because no one needs to satisfy any but he hardest of hard core party loyalist. Which is why – and this is just this year’s example – there is was state budget for nearly three months.

If the Republican Party’s mission is to elect more Republicans, then it’s Proposition 11, not Proposition 8, which matters most. If approved by the voters, Proposition 11 will take the power to draw political boundaries out of the hands of politicians.

With fairer, more competitive districts, both Democrats and Republicans will have to compete for the hearts and minds of the voters – real voters with real issues on their minds and – perish the thought- an interest in issues, not party loyalty. That can only be a good thing for the voters, and ultimately California.

Standing up for the voters’ right to choose their elected officials may not win any seats in November 2008 and it doesn’t give the party’s conservative base any quick-and-dirty talking points. But Proposition 11 will give Republicans a chance to make their case to voters in November 2018, November 2028 and beyond. And that, my friends, should be the mission of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 5:00 AM | Permalink

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Propose


The motto of the United States Marine Corps is simple and profound: “Semper Fidelis“, Latin for “always faithful.” And, as any Marine can tell you, there is no such thing as being a “former” member of the corp. “Once a Marine,” goes the saying, “always a Marine.”

But the government these men and women serve does not always live up to the promise of loyalty it asks its members to make. That’s a sleeping problem for the thousands of gay and lesbians who have served our nation honorably in the Marines, or any branch of the Armed Services. At any time, a recent veteran could risk losing his or her health, education or other benefits, even after years of service and their spouses will never be treated equally under the law.

Even after the California Supreme Court’s historic decision granting marriage equality, not all Californians have the right to marry – and those who don’t are the ones who deserve the right most. With a nervy nonchalance, in it’s Q&A on Gay Marriage, the Los Angeles Times states that, “Marrying or attempting to marry a person of the same sex is grounds for dismissal from the service.”

That just seems just plain wrong particularly since the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policies let many gays in the military serve with honor and distinction. But the awkward compromise of the Clinton era doesn’t just apply to those on active duty. According to the Service Members Legal Defense Network, an organization that fights for equal rights for gays in the military, the injustice of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell extends far beyond one’s enlistment. It covers veterans of all wars and of all ages.

Regardless of when they served, gay and lesbian veterans and their spouses are denied equal treatment in life and death. Although my grandfather violated military laws by joining the Army before he was eighteen, the enthusiastic soldier lays buried in the cemetery at Fort Sam Houston. Next to him lay my grandmother, who never served a day in her life but was entitled to be buried next to her husband as a dutiful – and legally recognized – spouse. Such a privilege would not be afforded to a gay draftee from World War II or Vietnam.

It is even worse for the men and women who are just now returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. While nearly three thousand service members have been dismissed under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since the beginning of the Global War on Terror, tens of thousands more have left the service after their first enlistment. Although they survived in the closet for years and finished their active duty honorably, as they return to civilian life, they must still keep the closet door shut, or risk being discharged and imperiling their veterans’ benefits. Soldiers, sailors or marines who are no longer on active duty are subject to the provisions of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. So are veteran members of the National Guard, Reserves or Individual Ready Reserves even after they have left active duty and are allegedly living civilian lifestyles. For all these men and women, that means no statements regarding their sexual orientation, nor sodomy, nor hugging, nor hand-holding…and most certainly no marriage!

The burden on these veteran reservists is already great enough. After putting their lives on the line to defend our freedom in combat, they are returned to civilian life with a years-long noose around their neck: the threat that, one day, they may very likely get called back to duty.

For some, this burden can result in a near paralysis, where the uncertainty of their future keeps them from making any commitments beyond the time that they know they have for certain in civilian life. And for our gay and lesbian veterans, the military is telling them that they must go it alone. Anyone who says they support the troops should find this contradiction morally repugnant.

According to SLDN, not only is gay marriage out of the question, but so are accepting domestic partnership health care benefits, joining a group like the Log Cabin Republicans, or being added to a partner’s USAA policy (or vice versa), if the law is strictly followed. And these are rules governing civilians in strictly civilian settings.

For gay and lesbian veterans, the unfortunate reality is that, until “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed, they must hope that the ones they love, and those that love them, are more abiding by the spirit of Semper Fi than the government they’ve so loyally served.

Posted by Scott Olin Schmidt at 8:43 AM | Permalink

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