Equality California’s executive director Geoff Kors has a long and distinguished record of service to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. At EQCA, Geoff directs EQCA’s legislative efforts which have given LGBT Californians the most comprehensive civil rights protections in the nation. Under Geoff's leadership, EQCA has passed more LGBT rights legislation than any other organization of its kind in the country. During his tenure, California became the first state in the nation to pass marriage legislation for same-sex couples. Geoff also oversees EQCA's Political Action Committee activities and educational work with the EQCA Institute, including the Let California Ring campaign.
The post below also appears on EQCA's blog, California Ripple Effect.
I’m coming down quickly from the nervous anxiety of another election night where voter initiatives affecting the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were on the ballot. I waited on the edge of my seat last night as the promising numbers for Washington State started rolling in and the good news about the win in Kalamazoo came. Then the news about Maine hit me like a ton of bricks. One year after the sharp disappointment about Prop 8’s passage here in California, voters in Maine denied marriage to loving same-sex couples in their state. The Maine campaign put up an incredible fight, and I feel proud of their work. Still, the loss is painful.
We’ve come a long way in ten years. Just a decade ago in 1999, same-sex couples in California weren’t recognized in any way by the State. The next year, we just barely won passage of the nation’s first statewide recognition of same-sex couples. But under this law, domestic partners had virtually no rights. Since then, we’ve strengthened domestic partnerships several times until they have almost all the state rights that are provided to married couples, we’ve passed marriage bills twice through the legislature, and we’ve won marriage in the courts. Governor Schwarzenegger’s vetoes of both marriage bills were devastating, and Proposition 8’s passage is a constant reminder that there is more work to do. Today, one year after the day Prop 8 passed, as we read the headlines on the loss in Maine, that reality is as strong as ever.
As a movement, we learn from our losses just as we learn from our wins. In 2000, voters passed a marriage ban in California -– the Knight Initiative -– by over 23 percent. In 2004, voters passed anti-marriage measures in more than a dozen states. Our side came closest to a win in Oregon, but even there we lost by 14 percentage points. Then, last year, we closed the gap to just 4 percent here in California. Not a win, but major forward movement. From each of these fights, we have learned that we must be ready to respond to our opposition’s lies and attacks, tell the stories of same-sex couples and their families, have a strong presence on the ground through a field campaign that is to scale for the state, fundraise early and out-raise our opponents, and engage communities of color and faith and other allies as key partners. These are lessons we are already putting to work in California so that we can prevail at the ballot box here in 2012, the best opportunity for a win in the next few years.
Those numbers give me hope. But I’m even more inspired by these numbers:
• Volunteers in California rallied for the rights of same-sex couples more than 3000 miles away. EQCA field organizers and volunteers made over 60,000 calls to Maine. Nine of our field staff and our field director traveled to Maine, with the organizers raising money to help pay for their travel expenses, to work on the ground with the campaign staffers there. Thousands of calls were also made to Washington.
• Contributions rolled in from all over the country early to help Maine win. Equality California and its members gave generously to the Maine campaign.
• More than 8000 Mainers signed up to volunteer with the campaign –- a massive volunteer force for a state of Maine’s size –- a state with about the same population as San Diego.
• People across the nation are already planning to hit the streets. I expect to see numbers in the thousands as we rally to let the world know that we will not be silent as our rights are taken away.
Across the nation, LGBT people have heeded the call to action like never before. The grassroots movement is the strongest it has ever been, and everyday people have realized the amazing impact they make when they get involved.
We can’t –- we won’t –- stop now. We can and will secure the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, in California and across the nation. In California now, we are going door-to-door in neighborhoods where the majority voted yes on Prop 8. We are reaching out through the media and releasing new ads that tell the stories of same-sex couples and their loved ones. We are working in coalition with family organizations, organizations working in communities of color and faith, and other allies, to reach out in communities across the state. Day by day, we are getting closer to the support we will need to restore marriage equality.
As I wait for the final results to come down from Washington State, I’m thinking ahead to future election nights. Not too far in the future, there will be an election night where we are waiting for results from California to hit the news. I know those results will be a cause for celebration. We will restore the freedom to marry in California, and across the country.