Lessons of the Prop 8 Referendum


The LGBT community’s marches and demonstrations since the passage of Proposition 8—now spreading across the nation—can overturn Prop 8 and clear the way for lesbian/gay marriage to be recognized in more states across the nation. The California Supreme Court upheld the legality of gay marriage in May 2008 and will do so again if we continue our mass mobilizations and increase the power of our actions by calling on young Latina/o, immigrant, and black youth to join us in building an integrated mass movement aimed at winning equality and dignity for all of California’s oppressed minorities.

Our society is changing. Prejudice and discrimination, the hallmarks of the last period of conservative Republican rule, are being replaced by a new period of hope and progress. Our mass independent mobilizations for LGBT equality can open a new period of civil rights struggles to strike down every vestige of the new Jim Crow which have oppressed all our communities and kept us too divided. Our struggle to overturn Prop 8 makes clear that the movement which elected President-elect Barack Obama will not rest until dignity, equality and respect are extended to every sector of our society.

The method of mass mobilization and of proudly asserting our dignity and equality is the key to overturning Proposition 8 and making this fight a catalyst for a new, aroused mass movement for LGBT equality. By continuing to build this movement, we can win the full equality and freedom in our lives that we yearn for and know is within reach.

The leadership of this new movement has not come from the establishment, well-moneyed LGBT organizations; it has been grassroots, organized by LGBT youth and activists who recognize that with bolder leadership we could have and should have defeated Prop 8. Our new emerging leaders are the boldest, angriest, most optimistic leaders of the LGBT community.

LGBT, Young and Old, Latina/o, Black, Native American, Asian, Arab, and White, Immigrants With and Without Papers—We Are America!

We have learned the most important lesson of the last campaign; Americans can overcome longstanding prejudices but only if they are challenged to do so. If Barack Obama had simply appeased white racism, approached the challenge of being elected America’s first black president by trying to pretend he was white or by actively distancing himself from the black community, he would have lost. If the campaign to defeat Prop 8 had proudly declared our right to equality and had run television ads showing that LGBT couples, especially black and Latina/o LGBT couples and families, love, have the same aspirations as every other American, and are an integral part of the fabric of every community in California, we would have moved people who should have voted against Prop 8 to do so.

President-elect Obama was right to believe in the deep desire of Americans to live less atomized and fearful lives and to choose for progress. The leaders of the campaign to defeat Prop 8 should have acted on the same premise. Discrimination, fear, and prejudice have only been overcome in our nation when the oppressed have boldly asserted our equality. Pretending that anti-gay bigotry is rational and that the key to defeating it is to make rational arguments abstracted from the question of LGBT oppression, was bound to fail. Instead of trying to convince conservative white voters to put aside their bigotry, had we focused on educating the millions of new young, Latina/o and black first-time voters on the issues at stake, we could have won.

Mobilize Latina/o and Black Students and Youth to Join the Marches & Demonstrations!

Our allies are the other discriminated-against and oppressed majority-minority communities of California, not cynical, privileged Republican or so-called independent, moderate conservatives, gay or straight, who have accepted pandering to the religious right to their and our great detriment. Racism within the LGBT community is our Achilles heel. To win this fight, we must break with any leadership which openly or tacitly subscribes to the theory that our struggle for equality can be advanced without our taking on questions of racism and anti-immigrant bigotry. Unity of the oppressed is the only basis for victory.

The key to overturning Prop 8 now lies in not repeating the same mistakes and listening to the wrong advice of those who led the first phase of this campaign. We can win if we reach out to Latina/o, black and immigrant youth and students who have tremendous social power, who have shown in the struggle for civil/ immigrant rights an unparalleled capacity to fight and lead their whole communities, and who, in their majority, support LGBT equality and the related, great human struggle for sexual freedom.

We Can Win: Mass Mobilizations Are Key To Victory—Rally at the Court Hearings!

Our immediate task is to convince conservative judges that the conservative course of action is to reiterate that LGBT couples cannot be discriminated against and must be given equal treatment under the law. Mobilizing the largest, most powerful, and most militant sectors of California is the best way to persuade those judges to do the right thing. It is clear from President-elect Obama’s and Governor Schwarzenegger’s opposition to Prop 8 that the politicians understand that outlawing gay marriage is unviable, but they are looking to the courts to act rather than acting themselves. In the 1950s, the victories of the mass actions of the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King came in the form of court decisions. Getting the politicians to act and winning national reforms like the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act came only after the civil rights movement became a powerful national movement with broad support. We can achieve that level of power quickly if we can unite and build mass actions with the new civil rights and immigrant rights movements and if we can keep the movement which propelled Senator Obama to the presidency mobilized and fighting with us.

The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) pledges to do everything in our power to build the struggle to defeat Prop 8. We pledge to tirelessly unite the new civil rights movement, the movement for immigrant rights, the movement for lesbian/gay liberation, and the movement to elect Barack Obama into a single integrated, youth-led, mass, militant movement capable of winning equality, dignity, civil rights, and human freedom for all.

Our years of fighting anti-affirmative action ballot initiatives have taught us how to fight and how to win. In summary, we’ve learned (1) we must stop ballot initiatives before they get on the ballot—the majority has no right to take away the civil rights of a minority, (2) ignore focus groups and all conventional wisdom, (3) know that most broad, multi-organizational coalitions created to defeat a ballot initiative are not fighting to win and will almost always put the electoral interests of the Democratic Party before the principles that we are fighting for, and (4) civil rights laws are always determined by what we do in the streets, not by judicial interpretation of current or past legal rulings. For a full analysis of the lessons we must learn from the struggle to defeat Prop 8, and to learn more about BAMN’s work to defend affirmative action, integration, and immigrant rights, including how we beat Ward Connerly’s anti-affirmative-action ballot proposition inArizona this year, see our website

Build the New Civil Rights Movement!

BAMN is a fully-integrated organization with a large number of black, Latina/o, and Asian young lesbians and gay men in the leadership of our organization. We invite all progressive organizations that are part of the struggle to defeat Proposition 8 to affiliate with BAMN and individuals determined to become leaders of the new civil rights movement to join BAMN. Together, we can win.

originally published by BAMN fall 2008

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