Most states have their own struggles for gay marriage, whether in the long term like Illinois or near term like Maine, where a referendum is coming up almost immediately. But it is California that seems to have seized an outsized portion of the attention.
For one thing, California is by far the largest state. For another both the legislature and the state Supreme Court have voted in favor of gay marriage. But last year voters rejected gay marriage by a vote of 52 to 48 percent.
Now the question roiling California activists is whether to return to the voters to try to have the ban reversed in 2010 or in 2012. Equality California, the group that managed the 2008 effort to preserve gay marriage argues for 2012. But an apparently large group of "grass-roots and net-roots" activists calling themselves the Courage Campaign are pushing for a revote right away-in 2010.
It is difficult to take Equality California very seriously these days. They ran an exclusionary, top-down campaign, hired high-paid consultants, made several strategic misjudgments, spent $40 million dollars-and lost. Not an impressive showing. So why should we believe them now?
On the other hand, what is the Courage Campaign offering? Enthusiasm, to be sure, and a good portion of righteous indignation. But not much else. Consider what they don't offer.
Money. Will the well-off donors who made large contributions to the 2008 struggle want to repeat the process just two years later? Are they not likely to be suffering from "donor fatigue"? Rick Jacobs, Courage Campaign founder, bragged to The New York Times that they had raised $75,000 in just one day.
Fine. Do that for 460 days and you have the amount of money that Equality California spent to lose. If donors can say to Equality California, "No more money for losers," they could say to the Courage Campaign, "No money for people with no track record at all."
A Strategic Plan. If the strategy of Equality California was flawed, where is an alternative strategy by the Courage Campaign? Where is their plan to persuade cultural conservatives, religious voters and ethnic minorities to support gay marriage, to clear up the (alleged) doubts and uncertainties many mddle-of-the-road voters felt about gay marriage, to somehow lure more pro-gay voters to the polls?
Polling Data. The advocates for a 2010 vote have no polling data to suggest that the outcome would be any different from 2008. They should want polling data showing substantial gains in public support for gay marriage among likely voters before they advocate another referendum. Given the tendency of some people to lie to pollsters and purport to have a more gay-supportive or laissez-faire attitude toward gay marriage than they actually do, advocates should want to see polling data showing at least 56 or 57 percent support.
The conclusion forces itself forward that neither 2010 nor 2012 is a really good bet. What California gay marriage advocates should give us is a number-a level of support for gay marriage that would let us know that a referendum finally has an excellent chance of passage. Up to now, support for gay marriage has been growing at a rate of roughly one-half to one percent a year.
In the meantime, to hasten that result, they could work in various ways on changing people's minds about gay marriage. But no one has shown us any plans to do that. Until either side offers that, it is hard to take them seriously.