voting stickerThis past week, I trekked down to Norwalk for early voting. I hadn’t originally planned to, but I kept envisioning getting hit by a car on my way to the polls, and watching the returns from a hospital room with two broken legs, despondent that I missed my chance at exercising my democratic right, and exorcising a democratic wrong.

It will shock exactly no one that I voted for Obama. Twenty months ago, I attended an early fundraiser for his campaign, and left with guarded optimism. “Wouldn’t it be great if..?” was how I spoke of his candidacy, trying to imagine a president who would inspire rather than infuriate. At every step, I tried to temper my hopes and brace for disappointment. But I was constantly surprised by the intelligence behind the eloquence, and the consistency of message and tone he maintained over a ridiculously long trial. It was a great pleasure to ink the dot beside his name.

While the presidential campaign has been going on since the Pleistocene, the more recent and urgent issue in California is Proposition 8, a ballot measure that would take away my marriage by amending the California constitution. I’ve written about it before, particularly in Off-Topic, and have had a virtual yard sign on the sidebar for months.

On Saturday, I sent a long email to friends and colleagues making sure they understood how urgent it was that this ballot issue be defeated. While only Californians can vote on this proposition, the impact will no doubt be felt nationally and beyond. So in that spirit, I’m reprinting my letter here. I know that a huge portion of the readership lives outside the state — and nearly a quarter of readers are overseas — but if it helps a few voters understand what’s at stake, that’s something.

We’re ten days away from the election.

Which seems as impossible as it is welcome. Can you even remember a time when the news wasn’t dominated by election coverage? What did we talk about? What did we do? I look forward to rediscovering it all on November 5th.

In all the non-stop coverage of the candidates and their foibles, a tremendously dangerous ballot initiative has gotten much less attention than it deserves:

Proposition 8 would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.

Mike and I got married on June 28th. We want to remain married on November 5th. And without your help, we won’t.

Obviously, the fact that you’re a friend and/or colleague means that I think you’re a genius superstar with the heart of a paladin. You know Proposition 8 is wrong. But in daily life, you’re encountering dozens of people who might not get it, and worse, might not have a genius superstar to help them see why they need to Vote No on 8.

So consider this a cheat sheet for those conversations. And an appeal from me to please, please have these conversations, as awkward as they may be. Both sides are expecting this to be extremely close, so it really may come down to how your brother’s girlfriend votes. Yes, this is a long email, but it’s meant to be as much as reference as a rant. Feel free to copy-and-paste, rewrite-and-repurpose anything you see in it if it helps persuade the people in your life to Vote No on 8.

First off: Vote No on 8.

I shudder to think that some well-meaning voters will say to themselves, “Hey, I support gay marriage!” and mark “Yes.” It will happen. That’s why you have train yourself to think “No.” It can help to rephrase the proposition thusly: “Should religious conservatives rewrite the California constitution?” No. They should not.

You have to Vote No on 8. You have to ink that dot.

Many voters only vote the top of the ticket — for president. In a normal election, I wouldn’t care. But for the ballot initiative to pass, they only need to cross the 50% margin of votes cast on that issue. It’s not 50% of ballots — it’s 50% of the votes on that topic. So unless you actually mark the dot or punch the chad for No on 8, it’s as if you didn’t vote at all.

For people who’ve seen the other side’s ads

Vote No on 8, because it has nothing to do with education

Did you see that ad with the little girl talking to her mom about what they taught her about marriage in school? Total fabrication and fear-mongering. Do you remember being taught anything about marriage in school? I remember eating paste and learning my multiplication tables. But that’s the story they’re trying to sell. Fortunately, the state superintendent of schools and every teacher’s group you can think of came out very strongly against this inflammatory untruth.

If the backers of this proposition were worried about education, they should have sponsored a ballot initiative about education, rather than trying to strip away rights from thousands of California families.

Vote No on 8, which has nothing to do with taxes or religious freedom

One of their early ads implied that churches would lose their tax-exempt status if they refused to perform same-sex marriages. Think about that for a moment. Are Catholic churches required to perform Jewish weddings? Would you go to a Mormon temple for a Indian wedding? No. You would not. Churches have always and will always be do choose who they wish to marry, thanks to the First Amendment. (You know, that one before the awesome “right to bear arms” one.)

Believe it or not, this seems to be the major force behind Mormon involvement in Proposition 8. This afternoon, we encountered some Yes on 8 supporters waving signs near the Americana at Brand shopping megaplex. (And let me tell you, it’s weird to encounter people actively protesting your existence.) With Amy on my arm, I went up and spoke with them, asking what would happen if Prop 8 passed. “We wouldn’t be forced to marry gay people in our temple.” I asked them what would happen to me if Prop 8 passed, and they were stumped. “We’re not against two guys getting married,” one explained. “We just want to be able to keep our temple sacred.” They really, truly believe that without Prop 8, a lawsuit will force them to violate their religious tenets. They don’t trust the separation of church and state, so, ironically, they are undermining it even further.

From yesterday’s Salt Lake Tribune: “This time, LDS leaders have tapped every resource, including the church’s built-in phone trees, e-mail lists and members’ willingness to volunteer and donate money. Many California members consider it a directive from God and have pressured others to participate. Some leaders and members see it as a test of faith and loyalty.” It explains the zeal, at least.

Don’t take this as Mormon-bashing; research shows that the majority of the money supporting Proposition 8 comes from members. I grew up with a lot of Mormon friends, and found them singularly terrific. Even the people I spoke with today were nice as could be, considering the signs they were holding. But they clearly put themselves and their church first. When asked whether what they were doing was fair to me and my family, they could only shrug.

“Activist judges” are the new “terrorists.” Vote No on 8.

You’ve seen ads arguing that the Supreme Court ignored the will of the people by ignoring Prop 22, which was passed in 2000 with the exact same wording. But consider that nearly every major civil rights issue in our history has come as a court decision. In fact, it was the California Supreme Court that overturned the ban on inter-racial marriage, almost twenty years before Loving v. Virginia. Few reasonable Americans would argue that blacks, Latinos and women should have waited patiently until the majority of voters felt comfortable giving them rights.

Also, expect an ad about “small businesses.”

That’s one of their “Six Consequences If Proposition 8 Fails” that I haven’t seen in ad form yet. Same-sex marriage is supposed to hurt Joe the Plumber somehow. Wait for it.

For people who like endorsements

Obama says Vote No on 8.

“I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution.” Same with Biden: “If I lived in California, I’d clearly vote against Prop. 8.”

The Democratic Party says Vote No on 8.

In fact, the Democratic-led California legislature twice voted for equality in marriage rights.

Even Governor Schwarzenegger says Vote No on 8.

And this is the guy who wouldn’t sign those marriage bills when they landed on his desk. Twice.

A lot of Republicans also say Vote No on 8.

In fact, the guy in charge of No on 8 is a Republican. Fairness is a family value. Dude, even Dick Cheney gets it: “Freedom in this country ought to mean freedom for everyone.” (He has a lesbian daughter, who is supporting No on 8.) The judges who ruled that same-sex couples need to be allowed to marry. Mostly Republicans, appointed by Republicans.

Almost every major California newspaper says Vote No on 8.

The L.A. Times says it is “a drastic step to strip people of rights.” La OpiniĆ³n calls Prop 8 “an unnecessary initiative.” The San Diego Union Tribune writes that Prop 8 “offends many Californians’ sense of fairness.”

Apple, AT&T and Google say Vote No on 8.

Sergey Brin of Google: “However, while there are many objections to this proposition — further government encroachment on personal lives, ambiguously written text — it is the chilling and discriminatory effect of the proposition on many of our employees that brings Google to publicly oppose Proposition 8. While we respect the strongly-held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 — we should not eliminate anyone’s fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love.”

For logical people

Vote No on 8, or you’ll be seeing a lot more of these ridiculous initiatives

The exact process that got this on the ballot could be used to do anything. Anything. You could ban green kites. You could tax Irish people. You could name a cat as Emperor. Because of California’s unfortunate tradition of voter initiatives, any ridiculous thing you can imagine can and will show up on the ballot unless we Vote No on 8.

Vote No on 8, because a majority shouldn’t be able to deny minority rights

A constitution is designed to protect citizens from their mob instincts by setting the rules for how government is going to work. Fundamental to that idea is that the rules should apply equally to everyone. Except in California, where you can permanently change the constitution with just 50% of the vote. This shouldn’t even be up for a vote. So Vote No on 8.

Vote No on 8, because “domestic partnership” is not the same thing

You’ll hear, “Couldn’t they just settle for civil unions?” Or, “California already has domestic partnership.” So let me set you straight on these terms. They’re meant to be comfortable replacements for the word “marriage.” But they’re not the same thing. If they were, Bristol Palin would be getting civil unioned. The word marriage matters. If it didn’t, they wouldn’t have spent $40 million putting this ballot issue together.

The other fundamental problem is that separate-but-equal has never worked out that well, historically or now. For example, before we got married, Mike and I were domestic partners. It’s supposed to give us all the same rights as marriage, but in practice, it’s basically roommates with hospital visitation privileges. Companies can happily ignore our joint status. Mike and I get challenged on the paternity of our daughter. It sucks. So what’s meant to be a parallel system inevitably becomes a second-class system.

For emotional people

What would you do if the government tried to take your marriage away?

The Yes side seems to cheerfully ignore that we’re not talking about a hypothetical right to get married. Eleven thousand couples have gotten legally married in California since the court’s decision come down. What happens to those people? What happens to John and Mike? There’s no clear answer. If that sounds scary, it is. So Vote No on 8.

When have Americans ever taken a right away?

Could you have voted to keep inter-racial couples from getting married? Probably not. The history of America, and California in particular, is towards personal freedom and responsibility. Indeed, if you ask most people, even most religious conservatives, they think same-sex couples will be free to marry in the future. So why not now? Vote No on 8.

Other things to consider

The polls are kind of useless…

The pollsters honestly admit they have no way of getting an accurate fix on how people are going to vote on this issue. Every day, you see a new one, and the numbers vary by 20% based on how the question is asked. So in some polls, No on 8 is up by double digits. In others, we’re down by the same amount.

…but their fear-based ads are working

Since you can’t measure an exact figure, it’s more helpful to look at trends in the polling. And the supporters of Prop 8 made a lot of headway when they started airing their TV and radio ads. No on 8 has new ads that have leveled it out, but it’s clear that there’s a big pool of swayable voters who could go either way.

Young women and church-going minorities especially important audiences

There are people who will absolutely vote for Prop 8, and folks who will absolutely Vote No on Prop 8. But there’s a squishy middle ground which includes a lot of voters who are traditionally Democratic but may be uncomfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage. Rather than challenge their feelings and beliefs, make sure to appeal to their sense of fairness and justice. Help them understand it as a form of discrimination, and listen to hear any talking points from the Yes side, which are pretty easy to address.

The ask

  • Obviously, please Vote No on 8.

  • This week, please talk to at least eight California friends about the election. Even if they are planning to Vote No on 8, please double-check that they actually understand how urgent it is. One of Mike’s friends has refused to vote in California for 20 years, but registered six weeks ago specifically to Vote No on 8.

  • Email this — or better, your version of it — to folks you think will find it helpful.

As friends, a lot of you have already donated to the cause at But if any part of this email has made you nervous or angry, please donate more. Unfortunately, this has come down to a money race for TV ads, and they keep pulling ahead.


— John