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First Monday: The Moment Has Arrived — The Fight For Fundamental Freedom In California

[Today’s First Monday discussion, in partnership with Alliance For Justice, addresses the recent decision in CA’s Supreme Court to allow same sex couples to marry. For more on the 4-3 decision, see this from the ACLU. We welcome Seth Kilbourn, formerly of the HRC, and now with Equality For All, to discuss grassroots work on this issue — and how everyday citizens can make their voices heard on legal issues important to them. As with all guest chats, stay on topic, be polite, and take any off-topic discussion to the prior thread. Thanks! — CHS]

”In light of the fundamental nature of the substantive rights embodied in the right to marry — and their central importance to an individual’s opportunity to live a happy, meaningful, and satisfying life as a full member of society — the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all individuals and couples, without regard to their sexual orientation.”

– California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George

"As we have said before, any accommodation of the homosexual agenda is a ‘give an inch, take a mile’ proposal and will be used to accomplish their ultimate goal, which is not just same-sex ‘marriage,’ but the destruction of the institution of marriage."

– The Patriot Post

Those two quotes say it all. While we celebrate the landmark decision by the California Supreme Court allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, those who oppose the Court’s powerful acknowledgment of the dignity of our love and relationships are determined to deny us the fundamental freedom, fairness and equality we have worked so hard to achieve. They have already submitted what appear to be enough signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would recognize only marriages between a man and a woman.

The moment has arrived. The battle is on.

We didn’t arrive at this moment by accident. Legal, political and grassroots organizations along with countless individual community, faith and civic leaders have been working together for years in California. We have educated millions of people all across the state and in the last ten years passed more legislation protecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community than any other state in the country.

Because we had such a strong coalition with incredible grassroots strength, we were able to pass bills to allow same-sex couples to marry in not one, but two successive legislative sessions. Because of the “echo chamber” that we’ve created in California on the issue of marriage, a September 2006 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) (PDF) showed that roughly as many Californians support the right to marry for gay and lesbian couples as oppose it. A Field Poll this month shows even more progress (PDF).

But we cannot sit back and assume Californians will vote our way in November. Those who oppose any kind of legal recognition for LGBT people are in apoplexy, determined to deny us the fundamental freedoms that every other American enjoys. They know the significance of California and the impact a loss for them could have across the country.

Just as we have worked together to move forward, so too will we work together to defend what we’ve achieved.

Equality For All is a large and diverse coalition of civil rights, faith, choice, labor and community of color organizations working to defeat this ballot initiative. It is a coalition born from years of working together to achieve common goals. It officially formed as a campaign in 2005 when we thought we’d face a ballot initiative in 2006. Our opponents failed to qualify anything then, in part because Equality For All was clearly organized, raising money and ready for a fight. They weren’t.

But now they are back. and the National Coalition for Marriage are well funded and well organized. They have vowed to put $10 to $15 million or more into this campaign, and we need to match them at least dollar for dollar if we have any chance of winning. As with so much in politics, the campaign with the most money usually wins. We can’t afford to let that happen—not now, not in California.

And as with any campaign, we will need a grassroots army to make phone calls to voters, walk precincts, have conversations with their friends and families, and get into email debates with people they know who are on the fence. Many of our friends and family don’t know that the freedom to marry we just won is already under threat. Talk with them; tell them why the freedom to marry is important to you. We know that individual conversations about this issue are what change hearts and minds. And please let them know about Equality For All and encourage them to volunteer.

The results of the California campaign will have a dramatic impact on the trajectory towards equal rights for LGBT people not just in California, but across the country. Defeating this constitutional amendment in California will significantly help increase national political and public support for ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. A loss in California will dramatically slow, if not halt, progress toward full equality for LGBT Americans, and it will give anti-gay activists significant momentum to attack existing victories on domestic partnerships, civil unions, adoption and school safety.

We can win this campaign if we all dig deep and contribute what we can, whether we live in California or not. This has to be a national effort. As we have demonstrated time and time again in California: working together we can ensure fundamental freedom, fairness, and equality for all.

Click here to join Equality For All.  And for more legal facts and information, check out the issues pages at the Alliance For Justice website.

(YouTube — News footage from Sacramento the day of the court decision.)

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Seth Kilbourn

Seth Kilbourn