- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 13, 2009

A schism among California same-sex marriage advocates emerged Wednesday as two prominent groups split publicly over whether to place an initiative on the state ballot in 2010 or 2012.

Equality California, one of the state’s largest gay rights groups, announced that it would wait until 2012 to launch a campaign to overturn Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to say that marriage is between a man and a woman.

But Rick Jacobs, director of the Courage Campaign, said his organization would continue to push for the 2010 ballot, arguing that the movement should take advantage of the momentum behind such a measure.

“We’re staying on track,” said Mr. Jacobs, who chaired the California campaign for Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. “The polling data make it very clear that 2010 and 2012 are both pretty much statistically the same — they’re both tough years. So why wait?”

Equality California cited concerns over fundraising — some of the movement’s top donors asked for a break after the expensive campaign against Proposition 2008 and the recession — as well as political considerations.

The 2012 ballot would coincide with the presidential race, which would draw more young voters, a key part of the gay marriage coalition. At the same time, the two-year delay would give gay rights groups more time to change the hearts and minds of voters.

“Waiting indefinitely to return to the ballot is not an option, but we must be strategic in selecting the election that gives us the best opportunity to permanently secure the freedom to marry,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California.

The organization also released a report laying out a three-year strategy to repeal the ban on same-sex marriage, including a major education campaigned aimed at black and Hispanic voters. The minority vote was credited with providing the margin of victory for Proposition 8, which won with 52 percent of the vote.

Despite those arguments, Mr. Jacobs said a poll of his group’s 700,000 members showed them overwhelmingly in favor of a 2010 campaign. He said he called on members to contribute $100,000 to show that they were serious about the effort; instead, they raised more than $130,000.

The campaign would need to collect about 700,000 signatures by April to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. He said he would probably use volunteers instead of paid petition-gatherers.

Without the financial backing to pay for staff, however, such an effort is likely to fail, Mr. Kors said.

“It’s probably been 20 years since someone tried to get on the ballot with volunteers,” he said.

Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth, which opposes same-sex marriage, predicted such a measure would be defeated in 2010, given that polls show fewer than 50 percent of Californians support same-sex marriage.

As for the 2012 option, he said it also gives pro-traditional marriage advocates a chance to catch their breath and make inroads among the voting public.

“I think every gay marriage advocate thinks they’ll automatically make gains in two years, but you might see us make progress as well,” Mr. LaBarbera said.