The politics of Prop. 8

Too bad Proposition 8 won’t go away this year. Every day that gay and lesbian couples cannot marry is another day of discrimination against homosexuals, denying them the basic right to form families with equal stature to that of any other family. That said, we never thought 2010 was the best time for a new vote on Proposition 8. It’s too soon after the original, divisive election, and we worried about the potential for a costly, well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful effort.

For this reason, we’re not all that disappointed that a petition drive failed to get enough signatures to put a repeal of the measure on the November ballot. The gay rights movement has a lot of work to do before it can prevail over the ban on same-sex marriage -- more than can be accomplished in a matter of months. The Proposition 8 campaign was particularly well funded on both sides, and the No on 8 forces shouldn’t wait to begin lining up contributors. Major donors opposing the measure indicated last year that they wanted to wait for the 2012 ballot. Corporate leaders who deplore the marriage ban are willing to give generously to defeat it, but they are not a source of limitless funds. Savvy business types, they expect a reasonable chance of seeing results for their money.

But even big contributions won’t help without a smarter strategy. The campaign for Proposition 8 relied in large part on misleading scare tactics, but it also was more effectively devised and targeted than the opposition campaign, which ran a series of uninspiring ads and had a disorganized central office.

Time is against Proposition 8. Polls show a slow but steady increase in support forsame-sex marriage. In a November survey, a year after Proposition 8 passed with 52% of the vote, a slight majority of California voters supported the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed -- though even supporters said they did not want to revisit the issue as early as 2010. More than two-thirds of young voters supported same-sex marriage; reaching out to them over the next two years is key to overturning the ban.

If being fair and right were the only requirements for victory, Proposition 8 never would have passed in the first place. Waiting two years to end it isn’t ideal, but it’s better than not ending it at all.