Power to the People, Not the PACS
‘Inspired’ grassroots groups are responsible for marriage equality in California
by Nancy Ford
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
This often-repeated, often-Facebook-posted quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead is perhaps never truer than when it is applied to the battle over marriage equality in California.
The long and winding road to California marriage equality bears repeating here: in 2000, Proposition 22 passed, prohibiting the state from performing same-sex marriages or recognizing those performed in other states. Five tumultuous years later, a San Francisco superior court judge struck down the state’s laws banning same-sex marriage, decrying the law’s “separate but equal” concept. In 2006, a state appeals court overruled that judge and upheld the ban on same-sex marriage, writing that voters and lawmakers, not courts, should decide the issue.
It was a joyous day in May 2008 when that ruling was overturned by California’s highest state court, and 18,000 same-sex couples tied their respective knots. Only six months later, yet another anti-equality measure appeared on the state ballot: Proposition 8, aka the California Marriage Protection Act, re-established the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and passed with 52 percent of the popular vote. Then, in August 2010, a federal judge declared Prop 8 unconstitutional. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, declaring California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
Tired? Confused? Furious? Imagine how those 18,000 queer Californians felt when told time and time again that their relationships weren’t valid like those of their opposite-sex neighbors.
Inspired: The Voices against Prop 8 tells the story of those tired, frustrated, yet highly motivated LGBT Californians who refused to take no for an answer. Many who had never before considered themselves activists, armed sometimes with little more than a cell phone, naively organized grassroots groups to take to the streets, canvass their neighbors, form coalitions, and fight the 43-million-dollar budget of their oppressors the only way they knew how: with their passion. These forty-to-fifty grassroots organizations, with names like “Equal Roots,” “Restore Equality Now,” “Latino Equality Alliance,” “Equal Action,” “Love Honor Cherish,” and “Unite the Fight,” did something the high-profile, big-money LGBT PACS and think tanks, with their slick ads and high-dollar budgets, couldn’t do: they won.
Later this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court decides the fate of marriage equality on a federal level, these Californians’ local victory will taste even sweeter.
Charles Gage directs. 2012. Garden Thieves Pictures (gardenthieves.com).