The Courage Campaign announced Aug. 1 that it has teamed up with Equality California and other organizations in an attempt to stop a ballot referendum on the new California law that requires schools to teach LGBT people's history.
Courage said it will run a "decline-to-sign" campaign with EQCA, the California Federation of Teachers, the California Nurses Association, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, and the University of California Academic Student Employees Union.
The goal is to prevent anti-gay forces from collecting 504,760 signatures from registered California voters by Oct. 12, which would qualify the proposed repeal referendum for next June's statewide ballot.
"First our opponents wanted to ban love, so they invented Prop 8," said Courage Chair Rick Jacobs. "Now, they want to use the same fear tactics to prevent California high school students from learning history. They want to gloss over the fact that important people in history like Walt Whitman, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Bayard Rustin, Billie Jean King, Leonard Bernstein, James Baldwin, Willa Cather, Harvey Milk and even J. Edgar Hoover were gay."
Jacobs said that as during the Prop 8 campaign, opponents will use "fear and prejudice to scare the voters."
"If the folks who oppose ( the teaching law ) have their way, they'll put a referendum on the ballot to overturn allowing real history to be told," he said.
The new law, which also is known as Senate Bill 48, takes effect in January. Current California law requires schools to teach about the history of Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans and members of other ethnic and cultural groups. SB 48 added LGBT people and people with disabilities to the list.
On Aug. 5, Equality California announced it has launched an SB 48 hotline and created "truth squads" to interrupt signature-gatheringboth on the LGBT referendum and other, unnamed anti-"progressive" campaigns.
"We need your eyes and ears on the ground today," said EQCA Executive Director Roland Palencia. "If you spot anti-LGBT, anti-progressive signature gatherers, report them immediately by calling the toll-free 'Decline to Sign Hotline' at 1-877-440-9585. We'll immediately dispatch a trained 'truth squad' to make sure potential petition signers know the truth about these initiatives including the referendum on the FAIR Education Act."
Meanwhile, Lambda Legal's legal director, Jon Davidson, said Aug. 1 that if the repeal referendum passes, it might be found unconstitutional.
That's because in 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws cannot single out gay people for disfavored treatment. ( See tinyurl.com/romer-v. )
"If the referendum qualifies for the ballot, and were it to receive more 'no' than 'yes' votes, not only would SB 48 not become law, but no measure that is essentially the same as it could be adopted in the future," Davidson said. "In this way, the referendum could be characterized as quite similar to the measure that the U.S. Supreme Court held unconstitutional in Romer v. Evans. That measure repealed existing sexual orientation anti-discrimination protections for lesbians, gay men and bisexuals and prevented their passage in the future for that group and that group alone, which is what more no votes than yes on the referendum would do when it comes to having a fair and inclusive curriculum. Moreover, there no doubt would be significant evidence of anti-LGBT sentiment motivating those behind the referendum, which would bolster any challenge to it."
Prop 8, passed by California voters in 2008, amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, which had been legal in California for 4 1/2 months. The amendment was later struck down as unconstitutional by a federal judge but has remained in effect during an ongoing, multifront appeals process.
On Sept. 6, the California Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the question of whether the people who appealed the strikedown had a legal right to appeal. The California Supreme Court was invited to offer an opinion on the matter by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to help the 9th Circuit decide the question.
The appeal was filed by the people who had put Prop 8 on the ballot. They appealed after California's governor, attorney general and other officials refused to defend Prop 8.
If ballot-measure proponents are found by the 9th Circuit to have no right to appeal when their initiatives are struck down, then the lower court's ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional will take effect, and same-sex couples will be able to marry again in California.
If the appeal is allowed, the 9th Circuit will proceed to consider whether the federal District Court strikedown was correct. In that scenario, regardless of the outcome, the case likely would advance to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could uphold Prop 8, strike it down in a way that applies only to California, or strike it down in a way that legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide.
Meanwhile, California LGBT leaders are mulling over the possibility of collecting signatures to force California voters to reconsider Prop 8 in the 2012 general election. No consensus has emerged and no decision has been made on whether to ask voters to repeal the amendment.
A side issue also remains unresolved in the court case. The Prop 8 proponents have sought to have the ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional thrown out because the federal judge who issued it is gay and in a same-sex relationship. In the proponents' view, now-retired Judge Vaughn Walker could have had a conflict of interest if, when he issued the ruling, he also had a desire to marry his same-sex partner.
Walker's successor as chief judge at the federal District Court in San Francisco, James Ware, rejected that notion on June 14, and the Prop 8 proponents have appealed his decision to the 9th Circuit.
Assistance: Bill Kelley