Pam Spaulding

More post-Prop 8 blame game - but where do we go from here?

Filed By Pam Spaulding | March 08, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Alice Toklas, Barack Obama, Dan Savage, gay marriage, LGBT Democrats, marriage equality, Michael Petrelis, Prop 8, same-sex marriage

Fellow bloggers Michael Petrelis and Dan Savage have posts up blasting No on 8 for allegedly sitting on or failing to make use of a letter from then-prez candidate Barack Obama that outlined his support for federal recognition of same-sex couples and opposition to Prop 8 (and all ballot initiatives "protecting" marriage). It was read at the Toklas club's Pride Breakfast back in June. Calitics blogger Brian Leubitz was at the breakfast and took photos and published the letter back at the time...

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the opportunity to welcome everyone to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club's Pride Breakfast and to congratulate you on continuing a legacy of success, stretching back thirty-six years. As one of the oldest and most influential LGBT organizations in the country, you have continually rallied to support Democratic candidates and causes, and have fought tirelessly to secure equal rights and opportunities for LGBT Americans in California and throughout the country.

As the Democratic nominee for President, I am proud to join with and support the LGBT community in an effort to set our nation on a course that recognizes LGBT Americans with full equality under the law. That is why I support extending fully equal rights and benefits to same sex couples under both state and federal law. That is why I support repealing the Defense of Marriage Act and the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy, and the passage of laws to protect LGBT Americans from hate crimes and employment discrimination. And that is why I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.

For too long. issues of LGBT rights have been exploited by those seeking to divide us. It's time to move beyond polarization and live up to our founding promise of equality by treating all our citizens with dignity and respect. This is no less than a core issue about who we are as Democrats and as Americans.

Finally, I want to congratulate all of you who have shown your love for each other by getting married these last few weeks. My thanks again to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club for allowing me to be a part of today's celebration. I look forward to working with you in the coming months and years, and I wish you all continued success.


Barack Obama

Michael's headline ("Alice B. Toklas Killed Obama's Pro-Gay Letter,") is actually a bit misleading since his beef is with the No on 8 folks, not the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, though you get the drift of the headline when you read the post. His ire is directed toward one of the consulting firm that didn't take advantage of this Obama letter to counter the Yes on 8's deceptive campaign.

And what exactly was the reason why Steve Smith of DeweySquare, a Sacramento-based consulting firm affiliated with the Democratic Party, did nothing with Obama's words of support for gay couples?

The answer came from Smith at the February 26 town hall in San Francisco, and was reported on this week in the Bay Area Reporter:

Smith also acknowledged that the campaign should have used then-presidential candidate Barack Obama's stated opposition to Prop 8. Instead, little use was made of Obama's opposition in a letter last June to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, and right before Election Day the Yes on 8 campaign sent out a mailer featuring Obama's image and quotes that he is opposed to same-sex marriage. "That was a close call," Smith said. "Maybe we should have."

Smith said that people outside the Bay Area wouldn't know what the Alice Club was, but club Co-Chair Susan Christian spoke up and said that in fact, Obama's letter to the club been widely reported, including in the New York Times.

And that is pretty mind blowing. Why would anyone care about the recipient of the letter more than the content of Barack Obama's message?

Dan Savage's blows his stack as well, with:

One of the "No on 8" campaign's highly-paid consultants says now--now--that "maybe we should have" used the letter during the campaign, perhaps in an effort to reach out to African American voters, or black preachers.


But back to the initial visibility of the letter. It was a strong letter, and considering the Yes on 8 group's ability to capitalize on Obama's other, unfortunate statements about marriage being between a man and a woman, it's doubly painful to see what could have been done with the letter.

While No on 8 and its high-priced consultants haven't been an example of supreme competence, there actually was a lot of coverage given to the letter in the MSM and on blogs, including my own. It wasn't buried by any stretch of the imagination, commenters here even debated about how much visibility it did or didn't receive. Just a sampling of coverage:

All that said, concentrated MSM coverage of Obama's letter is not the same as using the content in specific ads/messaging to counter an anti-gay campaign, and that's where the anger is coming from re: No on 8. It's hard to understand what was going on in the minds of the folks who left this letter to collect dust as the fundie machine threw everything it had against the wall to ensure Prop 8 passed.

Given where we are now, with thousands of California marriages hanging in the legal balance, and marriage equality rolled back for the time being, we should learn from mistakes; what I'm reading from Michael and Dan is a frustration that the LGBT leadership in place doesn't learn. It wasn't Obama's fault that his letter wasn't used effectively. It was a gift and the ball was dropped by those in charge of representing our interests.

So, how do we address the failures of anti-Prop 8 efforts as a community? Griping and Monday morning quarterbacking has been going on for some time now, but what's next and who's in charge? I refuse to believe that we haven't the brain power or commitment to out organize the professional anti-gays. I think our problem is that we're not a cohesive community in so many ways, as we saw in the wake of Prop 8 -- race, class, and faith often get in the way of unity, whereas the homogeneity of conservative faith on these matters is a powerful unifying factor that bridged any and all demographics. We can do better than this.

Recent Entries Filed under Politics:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Bravo, Pam, for bringing us back to the question of what we do next. There's too much blame going around without constructive suggestions, as you say.

Your piece reminds me, too, of the current struggle within the Republican party to define itself and its leadership. I hope that as we look at their problems, we can find solutions to our own.

Thank you, Pam.

This is so frustrating. Dan Savage wakes up and suddenly everyone's running around screaming about old news.

For heaven's sake - the Obama letter and the No on Prop 8's failure to make good use of it has been part of every single post-election discussion I know of. For instance - I discussed it with campaign manager Steve Smith and Dr. Eric Lee, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference/LA on TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2008 - THREE WEEKS AFTER THE ELECTION - see here:

And as far as going forward - this, too, has been discussed over and over again - but not with any real conclusions. For instance - here's my post - Unanswered Questions - Deconstructing the
Equality Summit -

wherein I asked three simple questions:

1. Who will head the next campaign?
2. Will we have the campaign we want or the campaign we need and how will that be determined?
3. Who chooses the messages and what will they be?

If the California Supreme Court upholds Prop 8 (and leaves the existing same sex marriages intact, very awkward legally because it creates two-tiers within the gay community) - then it looks like we may well try to have a ballot initiative in 2010.

But I can tell you - from conversations I've had with people who raise funds and people who give funding - it won't be easy because these people don't know or trust the "grassroots" folks (and which group of grassroots might that be?) who are saying that no one involved in the No on Prop 8 campaign is welcome - despite the fact they raised $40 million, moved the needle on marriage equality considerably and almost won - forgetting that NO marriage equality campaign has ever succeeded.

I understand the anger and the hurt. I feel it, too. But we've got to get it together and figure this out. We keep yelling that there is a fire and we're mesmerized by the flames instead of trying to put the damn thing out together.

And I'll throw in another question - will anyone but us care about "gay marriage" in this economy? How do we speak to that?

Anyway - thanks, Pam for your points.

I've commented quite a bit on this post over at PHB (most likely too much) so I'll try to summarize here.

There are conflicting reports out there about whether or not it would be prudent to act now or wait...until when I can't exactly tell, but I presume a better day (whatever that is) organize a repeal effort.

A few post-hearing reviews from news sources can be found here:

Yes, there is a positive way to look at the results from election day in regard to 8. The problem remains, though, that there was some really poor organizing going on at No on 8 and we will never really know for sure what effect that lack of direction (a constantly changing executive committee that left the campaign in the hands of 6 consultants - 2 of which were gay - that never met each other) had on the campaign. It had an effect nonetheless.

If we follow the strategy of striking while the iron is hot and working on a repeal now, we may have to rely upon EQCA again. They are already in place. Other emerging groups could be more effective and open to learning from the mistakes but are they in a position to act quickly?

One thing is for sure - Geoff Kors does not inspire confidence. He is robotic and dispassionate. There were two post 8 events I attended - one involving racial/religious issues the other a town hall meeting. He didn't show up at the race round table. He barely said anything at the town hall. I don't understand how a man with so little charisma managed to become the head of a campaign that requires at least some personality or verve. Kate Kendall said she will never be in charge of a campaign like this again.

I'd like to see Molly McKay become a leader/spokeswoman for a repeal. She is confident and passionate and gorgeous. She has been involved for many years personally in the marriage war. Otherwise it sure would be nice to see some color in a leadership position.

As part of one of the 18,000 couples married in CA I do not want the court to keep our marriage if they uphold 8. I am no better or more deserving than any other same sex couple that was robbed of equal protection by the bigoted Californians that voted in support of something that gives them nothing but a feeling of superiority.

If the court preserves our marriage, we are planning on filing for divorce. California can shove this license right up their idiot asses. Besides, Ive always wanted to know what it was like to be a divorcee like so many xtian heterosexuals already are. Divorce will give me even MORE in common with them.

I'd love to be part of a divorce tea party and join other married couples for bra/license burning demonstration after the decision is announced.

I am also one of the 18,000 couples legally married in California and will stay married. If only to make a point to Rick Warren and ilk, that the fabric of society will not rupture, heterosexual marriages will not collapse, and elementary school students will not suddenly become gay because 18,000 of us are married.

I understand that theory, Charles, but this is the second time we have been married and we have been a couple for over 9 years. There is no way to tell that we are married to the obstinate thumbsucking masses that roam California.

Should we walk around with the marriage license and tell all of the supremacists "Hey - check us out - we are one of the 18,000 couples are married or not we still haven't tried to fuck your ass!"

I'd rather be divorced than one of them...without the rest of us.

David in Houston | March 9, 2009 10:13 AM

I agree with Charles. We're also one of the 18,000 that were married in California. The last thing we should be doing is giving the Yes on 8 people what they want. These marriages will be a constant thorn in their side. Every day we stay married their argument gets weaker. By the time 2010 rolls around they won't have any ammo to use against us (and they know it).

Aside from that, when we we're married we both took our vows seriously, just like any other couple. I have no intention of treating my marriage like a disposable tissue (or Britany Spears). We were given the right to marry and until that's taken away, we have no intention of giving up that right.

Well, funny you ask that here, for me to answer when I already did to your blogsite, entitled:OPINION: PROP 8 - A TIME TO REFLECT; ARE WE DOING OURSELVES JUSTICE? You seemed quite uninterested in what I thought about what is needed. With so many dimensions one thing stands clear: WE ARE GETTING NOWHERE WITH STATE BY STATE FIGHTS, AND IT IS TIME TO LOOK AT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WHAT IS GOING TO BECOME A STATES RIGHTS VS. FEDERAL INTERVENTION/LEGILATION OF OUR RIGHTS. The cases in MASS. are asking for the federal government to defer what constitutes marriage to individual states and wants the federal government to accept the individual sates definition; Ken Starr also alluded that PROP 8 initiatiive is legal because ther are no federal legal protections currently, as well as a host of other adoption, parents rights cases that hinge onj state definitions and not federal law. It is clear. WE NEED TO DIRECT THE FIGHT TO WASHINGTON. FROM PURSUING CASES TO THE SUPREME COURT, SUING UNDER SEPERATE, BUT EQUAL STATUTES, THREATENING OBAMA WITH NO MONEY, AND NO VOTES. AND SAME FOR ALL MEMBERS OF CONGRESS. And, state and major orgganizations need to coordinate, and merge, and start real grassroot initiatives like challenging everything from LGBTQ educational models in HEALTH/SEX ED, to STRAIGHT/GAY ALLIANCES, to challenging state laws that don't offer equal protections. In short, quit being fundraising organizations, political fundraising machines, and start pushing policies, and laws from the bottom up. Not raising money and spending it from the top, down.

I am against going federal with this. Here is the reason why:

Every @#$%^&* Republican brings up states rights when they do not like any Federal law. They can have it both ways if you go federal. I disagree with their stance on states rights as otherwise we still have segregation here in the US in some states. Please do not get me started on States rights vs Federal. You can argue forever with these people and not get anywhere, especially with a controversial item like this.

The U.S. Constitution says a lot of things about states rights. I am thinking that the constitution may not have been ratified if they had not stuck states rights into it.

Having said that there is no easy answer other than to go state by state law. On the bad side the black people would probably not have the same rights today if they had gone state by state. Going federal you may end up with certain states being anti gay and throwing it in everybody's face with some anti gay slogan and even maybe a flag (like the confederate one). It took over 100 years for the Supreme Court to rule on that issue alone.

Do not think that given the conservative leaning of the current Supreme Court you will get *ANYTHING*. George B. really screwed us with the Supreme Court nominations (and he knew it make no mistake). In my opinion it will take 50+ years to get it corrected. Do *NOT* expect any help from them.

State by state is the only way this will happen. Only when there is a clear majority of states that have neutral gay laws will there be any chance of federal laws in this matter.

This is a reality we will have to live with so get out your leather shoe's and start working on getting all the states to recognize gay marriage. The right is still using (successfully I might add the Constitutions mentioning "right to bare arms" for their continued feel that they need guns).

Just hope you post my first reponse.

I think our problem is that we're not a cohesive community in so many ways, as we saw in the wake of Prop 8 -- race, class, and faith often get in the way of unity, whereas the homogeneity of conservative faith on these matters is a powerful unifying factor that bridged any and all demographics. We can do better than this.

Where they have a unifying theology, we have competing interests. Their literal scriptural imperatives are met by our largely inscrutable academic theory.

I'm not convinced that we can ever construct a unified cultural narrative that suits or positively conveys the totality of the LGBTQ experience. At least not one with a persuasive force on par with that of the conservative/fundamentalist faith narrative.

Part of our problem may be our one size fits all system of advocacy organizations. By way of example, my advocacy needs in this arena are not all that expansive - don't discriminate, let me marry if I wish, then leave me alone. Others have more complex or demanding needs.

I think we all need the freedom to speak plainly about our needs without fear of derision. We can then align with those of similar circumstance then agree to cooperate when possible. Of course for any of this to work our organizations have to be more committed to transparency and democratic processes.

I think what is happening here is that there are too many cooks in the kitchen. We have many brilliant minds in our community no doubt, and that makes some LGBTs rely on others to do it. I think we all take for granted that there are others out there doing the hard work in our community such as working with our youth, educating the public and more.

You know, the people who have been working on the No on 8 campaign have been working tirelessly, and I think we should give them a break. Another note about our community, some of us can be very opinionated and many have learned how to snap back at injustice as instinct, even towards our own.

However, a difference in the Yes on 8 campaign - they do what the people in charge say to do and the people in charge are the ones with money. Many are churches or non-profits, and have a community attitude. I think many LGBTs have had to learn to stand on their own.

We just need to learn to be grateful for the No on 8 campaign - that they exist in the first place - and pool more of our money together to fund not only No on 8 but other campaigns as well. We all have to stick together for this thing to work out. PS great article. ;o)

I don't think anyone is calling into question whether they have worked hard, or not. much of the discussion I have seen and read, and heard from many is if they are working hard, but simply using the wrong tools to get the job done. And, more, if it is in the right venues, in the right context, and if the overall gameplan is in securing FULL CIVIL RIGHTS. And, this part really begs the question: WHOSE INTERESTS ARE WE SERVING? QUOTE:"However, a difference in the Yes on 8 campaign - they do what the people in charge say to do and the people in charge are the ones with money." Many anger at such a premise, and acquiescence.THEN: "We just need to learn to be grateful for the No on 8 campaign - that they exist in the first place - and pool more of our money together to fund not only No on 8 but other campaigns as well. We all have to stick together for this thing to work out." YOU MEAN JUST SIT BACK AND BE QUIET? And, stick together how? By accepting the staus quo? Even if we believe that the whole strategy is wrong? I submit to you this question: Is the flip-side of snapping back at injustices, percieved or real, accepting something we see as faulty, and can not believe in?? I do not mean to enflame, nor to come off vitriolic, I am just seeking to understand.

Thank you Pam for this post. We've all had enough time to lick our wounds and it's very much time to ask "what next?"

IMNSHO, trying to repeal Prop 8 in 2010 is a big mistake. Californians need to start organizing today for a repeal effort in 2012. If there's one thing to take away from this last election, it's that the LGBT community (and our supporters) are NOT organized and that a lot of work needs to go into that. If the community chooses to launch a repeal effort for 2010, every ounce of effort is going to be directed at gathering the hundreds of thousands of signatures necessary and raising money. Then, once it's qualified, the community will be in the exact same position we were last time: money raised, initiative on the ballot, and only a few months to get organized.

Instead, spend the next two years doing the kind of on-the-ground organizing work that will win a repeal in 2012. Reach out to allied groups. Go to union meetings. Visit supportive churches. Hold house parties and community forums for the straight community. Go door-to-door identifying supporters (especially outside the cities). Gather names, numbers and e-mails of the people you'll need to rely on to get this done in 2012. Then, when that work is done, get the repeal initiative on the ballot with the support of an overwhelming army of allies who will restore fairness in CA in a blow out.

Finally, what does Michael Petrelis do besides complain about how everyone doing anything in LGBT activism is doing it wrong? I mean, there's always room to critique and learn, but his indictments of everyone are just grating at this point.

As a petitioner in the case that was heard
on March 5,and as a plaintiff in the marriage case,I would like to urge everyone to
go to
and sign up,
Because the first place we need to go from here is
back to the streets. Enough candle light vigils.

It is time we redirect our anger from the
No on 8 campaign-to a court system that is
going to uphold Prop 8 because of one word-
not amendment-not revision-
but-reelection. -Robin Tyler

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | March 9, 2009 6:07 PM

First - Obama's objection to Prop 8 was tactical and minor, that's it's a constitutional amendment. That allows him to go on saying that he opposes same sex marriage, which he does loudly and often. That's why his 'gawd's in the mix' was such a bombshell. Hillary Clinton has the same strategy as does Biden, who voted for DOMA.

Second, if Obama supported same sex marriage, and he doesn’t, he could have easily linked his campaign with No on 8 and renounced “gawds in the mix". But he didn't.
Third, Obama used to support same sex marriage but it cost him an election and he switched to being a bigot. One of his most successful strategies was to break up the Rovian bigot coalition and win part of it to his campaign. You all know the results of that strategy; his frequents sallies into the beds of bigots like Donnie McClurkin and Warren, his calculated outreach to bigots in cult based supporter groups nationwide, his decision to excise GLBT from Dem platform and then his “gawd’s in the mix” that ended any hope of winning against 8. Then he issued a timid letter opposing 8 on purely tactical grounds, because it’s a state constitutional amendment.

Fourth, I haven’t heard of any Obama campaign ads against Prop 8, which I think is a deciding question.

Finally, tThis will soon be become the basis for some dissertation or major research project and we'll find out the make and model of the bus that ran over us. It'll be an Obamamobile.

What's next is to get out of the last closet, the political closet. Or get used to getting run over.

We also need to pay attention to gay marriage bans in states other than California. Florida's Amendment 2 also passed during the 2008 election, for many of the same reasons that Prop. 8 passed. Arizona also had an amendment pass.

Gay people in California are pretty damn lucky compared to those in most other states. I understand that the word "marriage" matters a lot to couples that became licensed in California prior to Prop. 8's passage; however, because of the state's domestic partnership laws, gay Californians have legal rights that many of us in other states can't even imagine.