Each year California residents are bombarded with initiatives on the November ballot. The 700,000 signatures needed to put an initiative on the ballot are fairly easy to come by in the nation’s third largest state. Indian gaming and parental notification laws for abortions are usually on the ballot every other year and are often soundly defeated by California residents.
Unfortunately, gay marriage has not been treated as kindly. In 2000, Proposition 22 passed with a 60% yes vote by California residents, banning gay marriages performed in other states from being recognized in California. In the following years the California legislature passed a law allowing gay marriage three separate times, each being vetoed by the governor. Now California is facing another attack on BGLT rights. For the past few months the religious right has been gathering signatures to take Proposition 22 a step further and change the state constitution to forever ban gay marriage in California.
In recent years states all over the country have passed constitutional bans on gay marriage. California is by far the most liberal of them all, yet as was seen in 2000, when put to a vote gay marriage does not hold up.
This is why Equality for All began a campaign to stop the initiative from even making the ballot. For the past three months, Equality for All staff and hundreds of volunteers have taken to the streets to stop the initiative. Paid signature gatherers (PSG’s) funded by the religious right stand in front of stores and gather signatures as customers enter and exit. The PSG’s have six different petitions and are paid between $1-2 for each signature giving them an extra incentive to collect signatures for all of the initiatives. The majority of the PSG’s are poor and some are addicted to drugs. Most do not have an invested interest in the “Limits on Marriage” initiative.
Last week I worked with Equality for All. I stood in front of grocery stores, Targets and Walmarts and asked people to not sign the “Limits on Marriage” petition. Sometimes I stood in front of PSG’s and warned people not to sign any of the petitions. Other times when there were no PSG’s I asked for a pledge of support that they would not sign the petition if approached.
It was not easy work. Blocking PSG’s from gathering signatures was hard for me. I didn’t want people to sign the “Limits on Marriage” petition but I also did not want to block people from signing other petitions even though there had seen cases of signatures being copied from one petition to another.
As a Unitarian Universalist it was important for me to make sure that the group was reminded that the “opposition” felt just as strongly for this issue as we did. They may have different views that we do not agree with, but they are still people and they should be respected. I learned during this time that it is easy to forget this, especially when some of the opposition called us names or said homophobic comments. “The inherent worth and dignity of every person” and “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations” were the most important principles for me to remember. I was talking to a lot of people over the week and received a wide variety of responses to my question “Do you support the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples?” (The term BGLT while inclusive was not used since it is not widely known) Responses ranged from “Of course!” to people running away with a look of shock and disgust. No matter what I ended my conversation with the person with “Thank you! Have a great day!”
Petitions are due at the end of the month. We are hoping that they will have not gathered enough signatures but if they do that they miss the November ballot deadline and our put on the June 2010 ballot instead. This would give us two years to raise money and mobilize California to support marriage equality.
Even though it has been a tough battle and regardless of the outcome, it will continue to be, I have great faith and hope for the American people and for California. One day I approached two older women at a grocery store. I asked if they were supportive of marriage equality and one went running inside. The other stopped and took my pledge sheet. As she signed she said “I am a conservative Christian..” and then she looked directly at me and said “but this is wrong. My step sister is a lesbian and she is the most loving and caring person I know. She should have the same rights as everyone else.” I couldn’t help smiling for the rest of the day. It’s an uphill battle, but we will move forward and achieve equality.