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Christian Right Scored on Prop 8 with Ethnic Voters

New America Media, Commentary, Surina Khan Posted: Dec 28, 2008

Editors Note: The supporters of Proposition 8 in California used churches and outreach to communities of color to pass the anti same-sex marriage ballot measure. With Prop 8, they finally built a base of support in communities of color in a state that is already minority-majority writes NAM contributor Surina Khan. Khan is vice president of programs for the Womens Foundation of California. She is a former research analyst with Political Research Associates and a member of the editorial board of the Public Eye. A longer version of this piece appeared on PublicEye.org, the website of Political Research Associates.

The fate of Proposition 8 has moved back to the court. But even California Attorney General Jerry Browns sudden decision not to defend it in court will not change one basic fact. The Christian right out-organized the No on 8 Campaign.

Proposition 8 passed by four percentage points. An analysis of how the right succeeded in their efforts reveals a campaign of misinformation and unlikely alliances that took years of planning, dating back to at least the mid-1990s. It also reveals a shrewd, media-savvy, well-funded and well-organized grassroots movement that understood Californias complex geographic and political landscape. The Yes on 8 campaign effectively reached Californias diverse racial and ethnic communities with materials translated into at least 14 different languages including Spanish, Hmong, Vietnamese, Chinese, Filipino, Samoan, Punjabi, Farsi, Russian, and Polish.

Frank Schubert, the campaign manager for Yes on 8, said they hoped to form the largest grassroots campaign in California history.

It included a range of Christian right organizations including Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America, and the Family Research Council, along with Elsa Broekhuizen, the mother of Erik Prince, founder of the controversial private military firm, Blackwater, and Home Savings of America heir Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr. who has said his goal is total integration of Biblical law into our lives.

It also brought together the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Catholic Church. In an internal memo dating back to 1997, the LDS proposed a coalition with the Catholic Church in order to stem what they saw as the rising tide of gay marriage in Hawaii and California. They stated that a referendum, while expensive, should be the only route, not anti-gay marriage legislation. It advocated for an alliance with the Catholic Church because the public image of the Catholic Church is higher than [that of] our Church."

But the Yes on 8 Campaign understood that winning in California required campaigning in both urban and rural areas of the state as well as doing outreach to youth. The campaign effectively used media technologies and far-reaching social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. A Facebook group promoting Prop 8 has more than 60,000 members. The Yes on 8 Web site made it simple for anyone to copy a sidebar or graphic to be displayed on Web sites and other locations. Some gay bloggers were surprised and many appalled that their sites featured this sidebar.

But it wasnt just virtual. Throughout the summer, Yes on 8 had more than 100,000 volunteers knocking on doors in every zip code in the state, which gave them an enormous grassroots advantage. The campaign claims to have visited 70 percent of all California households in person, and contacted another 15 percent by phone.

They also went to small towns and big cities across the state. In October, the campaign organized a bus tour that began in Sacramento and ended in San Diego. Rally stops during the tour included Chico, Oakland, Salinas, Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield, Lancaster, Los Angeles, Montclair, Indio, El Centro, Camarillo and Fullerton. With the exception of Oakland and Los Angeles, a majority of voters in these regions supported the proposition.

Nearly every single television station in San Diego covered the end of the bus tour, and along the way the campaign was successful in generating media stories. In addition to these stories, the campaign had a well-developed strategy of buying media ads in a range of ethnic media outlets. Early on in their efforts, the Yes on 8 Campaign purchased ad space in Chinese, African-American, Spanish, and Korean media. In addition to purchasing these ethnic media advertisements, they held massive rallies for Christians in communities of color.

Yes on 8 placed advertisements on Latino television and radio statewide with prominent Latino spokespeople and religious leaders voicing support for the proposition. In the African-American community, the campaign was successful in building alliances with pastors who used their sermons to galvanize their congregations to support the proposition. The Asian community also was well-represented with advertisements in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and South Asian media markets.

For years, the California Christian right apparatus, long hampered by nativism and racism, had been unable to make inroads into communities of colora demographic necessity in a state that is more than 50 percent people of color and growing. With Prop 8, they finally took hold in building a base of support in communities of color. This base, as well as the organizing they did in rural, mostly white communities, will be important for the Christian right as they move forward to advance a broader agenda.

The Christian right in California made a strategic shift in sharpening its family values focus on sexuality and marriage. This shift is likely to be effective for the long term political objectives of the right, which include an assault on the legal protections against discrimination for LGBT people. The broader agenda that the Christian right will continue to pursue will promote Christian nationalism, an ideology that seeks to use laws and regulations to promote fundamentalist Christian values on the nation. This is an agenda that seeks to eliminate the constitutional wall separating church and state.

The rights success with Prop 8 leaves marriage equality efforts with much to learn and hope for. The youth vote is one reason to be hopeful. Sixty-one percent of voters younger than 30 opposed Prop 8. For future efforts, LGBT advocates and organizers will have to undo the false assumption that most people of color voted for Prop 8, particularly when many youth of color did not. While its true that the right was successful in organizing in communities of color, it is not accurate to say that people of color are the reason that Prop 8 passed. The rights success with the passage of Prop 8 should instead be a call to the LGBT movement to build alliances across issues and constituencies.

Related Articles:

Gay Marriage Ban Activates Young Queers of Color

My Gay Problem, Your Black Problem

Prop 8 Opponents Seek Supreme Court Hearing

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