Activists Gather Signatures to Put Gay Marriage on November Ballot
By Dennis McMillan
The Los Angeles-based activist group, Love Honor Cherish, is gathering signatures for a measure that would undo Proposition 8, which removed legal marriage for gays. LHC and their coalitions have until May 14, 2012 to collect the 807,615 voter signatures required to qualify their initiative for the November 2012 ballot.
Love Honor Cherish (LHC) was formed in May 2008 and is dedicated solely to the repeal of Prop 8 at the next general election. They raised $500,000 for the “No on 8” campaign and also mounted their own outreach and media efforts, with a strong focus on speaking the truth about marriage and developing a new generation of leadership on this issue.
Eric Harrison, interim executive director of LHC, has spent two decades of nonprofit experience. He moved to San Francisco and eventually joined Equality California as its development director in 2009. Recently, Harrison left Equality California to take the reigns as interim executive director of LHC. He says it will be an uphill battle, but he is ready, and he thinks California is ready. “I’m inspired by people who are able to see light through adversity,” Harrison says. “I believe in equality, and I think that marriage equality is a giant stepping stone in that pursuit.”
Harrison says conversation is the key to winning the hearts and minds of those who oppose LGBTQ rights. “Geoff Kors [former executive director of EQCA] taught me this, and it’s in the spirit of Harvey Milk,” Harrison exhorts, “It’s about connecting to what we have in common and not what we don’t. You don’t demand commonality, you expose it.”
Exposing common ground is top at the list for Love Honor Cherish. The organization empowers members to use their own talents and skills to advance the freedom to marry, he says. “After Prop 8 passed, we began working immediately to secure its repeal by means of a new ballot proposition because we recognized that we lost Prop 8 by a very small margin; that we could win California if we did the work needed; and that the court system – although the courts should rule in our favor – works very slowly and there’s no guarantee of success.” While Harrison thinks a judicial restoration of the right to marry in California would be great, a referendum would be better as “it would forever debunk the claim that the majority of people will not vote for marriage equality. This is one of the major arguments that our opponents make in courts and legislatures against us,” he points out. “We’ve progressed so much since 2008, and I believe that Californians will make it right.”
“Federal domestic partnerships sound great in theory, but at the end of the day (and the opposition would say this), it’s not marriage, and thus not equal,” he says. “Marriage equality is important to me because it’s a rite of passage that my brother and sister have that I do not. My father is a retired, Southern Baptist minister, so I grew up seeing a lot of marriages and also living in shame.”
With less than a year until the election, Love Honor Cherish has its work cut out for it. “Although we are confident that we can gather a significant number of signatures through our dedicated volunteers, we really need people to step forward and write major checks to ensure that we qualify an initiative and make history,” he says. “If we don’t, it may be years before loving gay and lesbian couples can marry in California.”
It is more important than ever, as Equality California struggles with the resignation of longtime leader Geoff Kors and the quick departure of his replacement, Roland Palencia. Former GLAAD executive director Joan Garry has stepped in as interim head of EQCA as they search for a new leader. “Marriage equality simply cannot wait as Equality California rebuilds,” Harrison emphasizes. “There is a void in leadership, and that is why Love Honor Cherish took the bold step in hiring me as its first full-time staffer.”