Opponents of California’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, have started collecting the 807,615 signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot. It’ll be a slog—they have to have them all by May 14. Earlier this year, Equality California, the largest organization in the state fighting for same-sex marriage rights, declined to participate in the effort to gather signatures, citing the uncertainty of a win at the ballot box and the pending lawsuit against Prop. 8, which the Ninth Circuit is set to decide on soon. This leaves Love, Honor, Cherish (LHC)—another gay-rights organization—leading the way.
It’s difficult to guess whether LHC will succeed in its effort to put Prop. 8 to a vote. But it is woefully underprepared to launch an advocacy campaign that can outgun the opposition. LHC is pretty short on cash; whereas Equality California received $3.2 million in contributions in 2010, LHC says it has only $500,000. The results of a recent poll—in which 48 percent of Californians said they supported gay marriage, 43 percent opposed it, and 9 percent were unsure—might give gay-rights supporters hope. But public opinion was also on the side of gay-marriage advocates in 2008, when well-funded and organized gay-marriage opponents blindsided the poorly prepared opposition to pass Prop. 8. If LHC does succeed in getting a Prop. 8 repeal on the ballot, they’ll need to ramp up their fundraising efforts to avoid a repeat disappointment.
There is little chance the Supreme Court will rule on Prop. 8 before the election—the earliest it could take the case is late next year—but having the measure on the ballot will certainly put pressure on President Obama to weigh in and catapult social issues back into the spotlight. As a candidate, Obama disappointed many gay-rights supporters when he said that he believes marriage should be “between a man and a woman”—a position his base suspects is disingenuous and politically expedient. Since then, he nonetheless helped overturn “don’t ask, don’t tell,” stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court—a passive measure but one that nonetheless helps the cause—and made LGBT rights a signature focus of his foreign-policy agenda. Gay-rights supporters, however, are waiting for him to come out in favor of gay marriage; the president says his position is “evolving.” Given Obama’s cautious political approach, it is unlikely he’ll do so before November 2012. After that, he’s got little to lose.