Tuesday, December 23, 2008

If you read ONE article on Prop 8, make it this one

I've been silent about the Prop 8 debacle because I had nothing to add, but today I read a piece that is so good I have to recommend it to everyone. Surina Khan, who was once the ED of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, has written an article on how the right got Prop 8 passed. It appears on the website of Political Research Associates, whose research on the right is must reading for anyone working for progressive social change.

The organizing efforts she describes were amazing, rivaling the organizing that got Barack Obama elected. In fact, the Yes on Prop 8 folks implemented the same strategy on election day that I was involved in as part of the Hampton, VA Obama organizing effort. Pre-election day, 100,000 Prop 8 supporters identified voters who were with them. On election day, they made sure those voters turned out; five workers in every precinct contacted those who had not yet voted to get them to the polls. (In Hampton, the woman I stayed with received 5 phone calls from Obama volunteers -- this because she had not cast her vote before 1:30 pm, when volunteers at the precincts delivered to volunteers on the phones the names of those who had voted so that those who hadn't could be contacted.)

Surina Kahn's article does more than describe the superior organizing work of the right wing leaders who developed the Yes on 8 strategy. She says:

it’s important to recognize that the Christian Right’s opposition to same-sex marriage is only one part of a broader pro- (heterosexual) marriage, “family values” agenda that includes abstinence-only sex education, stringent divorce laws, coercive marriage promotion policies directed toward women on welfare, and attacks on reproductive freedom.

She criticizes marriage equality as a stand alone issue and urges a broad coalition effort to strengthen diverse households and families. Among the issues she names are economic security, immigration status, incarceration, and health benefit for non-married family members.

Too often, when the marriage equality movement talks about coalition building, what it means is getting organizations with other primary missions to support marriage for same-sex couples. That is not real coalition building. Real coalition building is getting groups to work together on common concerns, recognizing the ways they rise and fall together. In the early days of the gay rights movement, we did this. The coalition that fought the attempt of the right to capture the 1979 White House Conference on Families included gay rights groups, feminist groups, reproductive rights groups, and about fifty moderate and liberal mainstream organizations. (I discuss this in my book, but for all the details you'll have to go to get an out-of-print book (try your library) -- Creating Change: Sexuality, Public Policy, and Civil Rights, edited by John D'Emilio, William Turner, and Urvashi Vaid, and read the chapter by Thomas J. Burrows, who was there through it all.)

Surina Khan was one of the drafters of the Beyond Marriage statement. She's a wise woman and this is a wise piece.

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