In the immediate wake of Prop 8's victory in California, much of the conversation in the blogosphere was dominated by anger – real and perceived – by some gay activists toward African Americans, acrimony grounded in eventually refuted claims that black voters provided the margin of victory. While Prop 8 opponents were understandably frustrated, the way some lashed out at African Americans was counterproductive at best. Although the Right is still trying hard to drive a wedge between blacks and gay rights activists, the broader conversation has mostly moved on.
This weekend's historic grassroots protests against Prop 8, organized via Join the Impact, have people thinking about the future again. And that's where our focus belongs. Prop 8's supporters have the past on their side, but we have the future. My advice to the marriage ban supporters is to savor their victories now because they're going to find out what it's like to be on the wrong side of history.
Even in defeat we can see the signs of victories to come. According to a CNN exit poll, 61% of voters aged 18-29 opposed Prop 8, while 61% of 65 and older voters backed it. That tells you where we're headed, especially if you compare those results to 2000, when according to an LA Times exit poll 18-29 year old voters supported the anti-gay Proposition 22 by a margin of 58-42. The final vote tallies tell a similar story. Prop 22 passed in 2000 with 61% of the 7.5 million votes cast, but Prop 8 passed with just 52% of the 12 million votes cast. Prop 8 was also defeated across a much broader area of the state than Prop 22 (results by county for Prop 22 & Prop 8).
As I see it, the biggest story about Prop 8 is the California electorate's strong shift in favor of marriage equality in just a matter of years. A majority of white voters backed Prop 22 but opposed Prop 8. We'll be able to say the same thing about African Americans and Hispanics in the future if we commit ourselves now to doing the necessary outreach, education, and relationship-building activism – something our opponents have been doing for years.
The Religious Right is the real obstacle to equality. They bankrolled Prop 8 and led an aggressive and misleading campaign that convinced many voters that voting 'yes' on Prop 8 was a vote to protect their religious freedom and their children. There are millions of voters, of all races and ethnicities, many of whom are religious, who might vote today to support a marriage ban, but only because they've heard the lies spread by opponents of equality, and haven't had the opportunity to have a real conversation about the impact of discrimination on same-sex couples and their families.
We may have history and momentum on our side, but as we saw on November 4, progress is not inevitable, especially when the Right is willing to do and say anything to prevent it. It's time to learn our lessons, revise our strategies, and commit ourselves to strategic, respectful outreach to those Americans who need to hear from us.
Kathryn Kolbert is president of People For the American Way