Back to News & Commentary

Worried About Marriage in California

Matt Coles,
Former Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Equality
Share This Page
September 19, 2008

Frankly, I’m worried about Proposition 8 on the November California ballot. That’s the initiative that would end marriage for same-sex couples.

There are reasons to feel good. The latest California Field Poll shows us ahead by a very respectable 55 percent to their 38 percent. But when you look beneath the surface, the situation is a little more complex. All of the in depth research appears to show: 1) we have a solid 40 to 42 percent; 2) they have a solid 38 to 40 percent; 3) we’re both chasing the remaining 16 to 20 percent. That remaining 16 to20 percent is made up of voters who are deeply conflicted; they don’t like marriage for same-sex couples, but they also don’t like the idea of voting to take someone’s rights away.

What the Field Poll and some other polls like it suggest is that we are getting most of those conflicted voters right now. But it doesn’t tell us that we’ve completely convinced them — just that at the moment they are resolving the conflict our way. That may well reflect the fact that almost all of the news coverage so far has been positive, and the other side hasn’t even begun to hit yet on television.

But they are going to start hitting soon. We made a great television ad buy early on. But they have now bought a week ahead of us. More ominously, they’re now out-fundraising us significantly. They’ve taken in over $16 million compared to our $11 million (and they only pulled ahead after Labor Day). And the stuff is pouring in, mostly in $1,000, $2,500 and $5,000 chunks, mostly driven by the Mormon church .

The kinds of gifts the Mormons are bringing in are just not coming in on our side . We’ve already raised more than has ever been raised on a progressive issue campaign in California. But the forces of intolerance see this as the Waterloo of the “culture war.” And they are backing up what they say with money.

If they keep outdoing us on money, they’ll get up on television first, they will saturate, and they may well redefine the issue for those conflicted voters. If they do, our lead will evaporate. And our chances of winning will become remote.

We can still win this, but our community has got to start supporting the effort in a big way now, or we are done for. Please, give as generously as you can. Here’s a link where you can do so .

I don’t have to tell you how important it is that we defeat Prop. 8. With marriage secure in California, we will be poised to win marriage in critical states like New Jersey and New York in a year or two. We could have the fight for equality more or less finished in less than a generation. But if we lose the largest and most economically important state in the nation, and if we lose because the voters reject marriage, winning will be at least an additional generation away.

Want to learn more about how to fight for relationship recognition and other LGBT rights in your hometown, county, or state? Visit the ACLU LGBT Project’s online toolkit, Get Busy, Get Equal!

Learn More About the Issues on This Page