Calif. gay history referendum faces uphill battle

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — At churches, shopping centers, schools, and local tea party meetings in California, fired-up volunteers have started gathering signatures for a ballot referendum that would repeal the nation’s first law requiring public schools to include prominent gay people and gay rights’ milestones in school lessons.

Organizers of the Stop SB48 campaign — Senate Bill 48 was the law approved by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in July — are telling would-be voters the new mandate would inappropriately expose young children to sex, infringe on parental rights and silence religion-based criticisms of homosexuality. Those are talking points successfully used by proponents of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in California.

But so far, Mormon and Catholic church leaders and conservative groups who spearheaded the Proposition 8 campaign have not joined the effort to qualify the gay history referendum for the June 2012 ballot, leaving less-experienced Christian conservatives to lead the charge without the organizational prowess and funding to hire paid signature gatherers.

Political operatives say they can’t recall any citizens’ initiative that made the state ballot without professional petition circulators in almost three decades.

“If someone wrote a million-dollar check, we would be guaranteed to get this on the ballot,” said Pacific Justice Institute President Brad Dacus, whose legal aid firm wrote the proposed measure and is co-sponsoring the signature-gathering effort. “That’s not the case at this point… We are counting on people in churches and communities and families making the extra effort to get it done.”

Supporters have until Oct. 12 to collect 504,760 signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure for the ballot. Conventional wisdom among political consultants is that it will be difficult to meet the requirement with such a short window and only volunteers.

Sacramento political consultant Wayne Johnson, whose firm has worked on more than a dozen ballot initiative campaigns, said that with the same-sex marriage ban tied up in the courts, a presidential election on the horizon and many Christian parents with children in private schools, conservative groups with the most cash and experience may sit out this fight.

“We are in a different environment and a different economy,” Johnson said. “How much of your resources and energy can be devoted to preserving the status quo?”

Still, no one is ready to write off the repeal attempt, especially if a donor steps up in the next few weeks to fund professional petitioners. If ever there was a measure that could galvanize the electorate, it’s one dealing with gay rights and school children.

“On an issue like this one, sometimes an abundance of passion, on both sides, can make up for a lack of money,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California and a former GOP campaign spokesman. “A well-organized and very emotionally committed grassroots base may be able to get this on the ballot even without significant funding.”

The new law takes effect Jan.1 but state education officials say it is unlikely to be fully implemented until at least the 2015-16 school year. It adds lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, as well as European Americans and people with disabilities to the lengthy list of social and ethnic groups whose “roles and contributions” California public schools must include in California and U.S. history lessons and teaching materials such as textbooks.

The law also prohibits any instructional materials that “reflect adversely” on gays or particular religions. Because of the state’s budget straits, the California Department of Education’s timeline for adopting new textbooks has been pushed back until 2015. The work of revising the history and social studies curriculum framework that determines what students learn and at what grades has been suspended until further notice.

Fears that kindergartners will be hearing about prominent gays in history are misplaced, said Sherry Skelly Griffith, governmental relations specialist for the Association of California School Administrators.

Currently, California students do not receive any significant social studies until they study state history in fourth grade. They begin learning about U.S. history in eighth grade, but do not study 20th Century social movements, the most logical place for gay history to receive a serious treatment, until they are juniors in high school.

Educators who devise the curriculum are unlikely to include the sexual orientation of historical figures unless it is relevant, Griffith said.

“Frankly, there isn’t time to get into people’s personal lives…” she said. “Your textbook needs to address broad-brush themes.”

The group organizing the petition drive is the Capitol Resource Institute, a nonprofit organization that has fought gay rights bills, including measures that recognized slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk’s birthday. Three years ago, the institute unsuccessfully attempted to qualify a referendum that would have overturned a law prohibiting discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation.

Founded in 1987 as an anti-abortion lobbying group by two wealthy Christian businessmen from Orange County, former California Senate Republican leader Rob Hurtt and banking heir Howard Ahmanson Jr., the group has also championed a bill that would have made it more difficult to obtain a divorce in California and opposed others that would have made spanking a crime and stiffened penalties for hate crimes

Its annual income in 2009, the last year for which information was available, was a little over $282,000.

Karen England, the institute’s executive director, said that along with the Pacific Justice Institute, several other staunchly conservative groups with long histories of activism have endorsed the repeal and are rallying their members. England said she is convinced that the group will succeed. “We are going to do what it takes to ensure victory to get the referendum on the ballot,” she said.

Equality California, the state’s largest gay rights group, has launched a web site to counteract the information being put out by the campaign.

Executive Director Roland Palencia said his group assumes the measure will be on the ballot, given the organizational muscle that evangelical churches demonstrated during the Proposition 8 campaign. Gay rights activists will try to portray the backers of the repeal as extremists who are out of step with most Californians.

“If it qualifies … we will put up a fight.” he said.

—  John Wright

House GOP caucus endorses Straus for speaker; LGBT community breathes sigh of relief

Although more conservative factions in the state had been calling for the ouster of Rep. Joe Straus as speaker of the Texas House, the House Republican Caucus today endorsed Straus — known as a moderate Republican — for the seat.

Rep. Joe Straus

That news comes as something of a relief for LGBT advocates who had feared that someone further to the right would be chosen as speaker and given the chance to control the legislative agenda. Back in November, Reps. Warren Chisum of Pampa and Ken Paxton of McKinney both announced they were running for speaker. Chisum has long been known as one of the most anti-gay members of the House, routinely introducing and/or supporting bills on such topics as preventing LGBT people from becoming foster or adoptive parents. Chisum also was the primary author of the constitutional amendment passed in 2005 to ban same-sex marriage in Texas. Paxton was a co-author of the amendment and also voted in favor of banning LGBT foster and adoptive parents.

Among those fighting the hardest to defeat Straus’ bid for another term as speaker were leaders of the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum, who had warned lawmakers the group would base half its score for legislators on who they supported for speaker. Others who have been outspoken in opposing Straus are Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford, Heritage Alliance President Richard Ford and Texas Eagle Forum founder Cathie Adams.

And in December, The Texas Observer reported that John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, said he was campaigning against Straus — who is Jewish and attends a synagogue that supports LGBT rights — because, “I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office.” Cook also accused Straus of being pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

The Houston Chronicle reported today that 70 of the 100 lawmakers attending the House Republican Caucus meeting today voted to back Straus for speaker. The Chronicle report noted that the caucus vote is non-binding but “virtually guarantees Straus’ re-election Tuesday when the Texas Legislature opens a new session.”

—  admin

SREC member wants to oust Speaker Joe Straus because he’s Jewish, doesn’t hate gays enough

Speaker Joe Straus

We’ve already told you about the anti-gay forces that have undoubtedly been working behind the scenes in the race for speaker of the Texas House, but now it looks like they may be starting to emerge publicly. The Texas Observer posted a story Friday in which John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, explained his opposition to Speaker Joe Straus. Cook’s biggest problem with Straus, apparently, is that he’s Jewish: “I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office,” Cook says. But Cook also accuses Straus of being pro-choice and pro-gay rights:

His opposition to Straus, he said, was rooted largely in his belief that the current Speaker is both pro-choice and pro-gay rights. “He’s a pro choice person basically,” Cook said. (Earlier in his career, Straus did vote against banning gay couples from serving as foster parents and against a ban on late-term abortions, but Kyleen Wright, president of Texans for Life, has been one of his biggest supporters.) Cook called the Republicans who worked with Democrats to elect Straus “turncoat RINOs.” (Republicans in Name Only.)

As the legislative session draws closer, it’ll be interesting to see whether the so-called tea party folks who oppose Straus start to escalate their attacks based on his 2005 vote against the gay foster parenting ban. Particularly since Straus has said he voted against the ban because it would have cost the state a lot of money and gone against his libertarian principles. From a January 2009 interview in which Texas Monthly asked Straus about the vote:

STRAUS: …  I’m not supportive of adoption by homosexual couples, but the whole issue of government with a fiscal note attached and government employees investigating people’s private lives caused me a great deal of heartburn. I remember looking at the expenditure of taxpayer money for that and it was a lot. And it required what? Going into people’s homes? Watching the way people dress or the way they talk? I have some pretty strong libertarian leanings, and sometimes that causes a conflict. What gave me confidence to hit the button I hit was that I was very certain that Barry Goldwater would have done the same thing.

—  John Wright

Thousands rally against gay marriage in Calif.

JUDY LIN  |  Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Thousands of Christian conservatives spent 12 hours Saturday, Sept. 4 praying and fasting in front of the state Capitol at a gathering organizers described as spiritual repentance “when there is no hope for a nation.”

The daylong religious event titled, “TheCall to Conscience,” was led by Lou Engle as well as other pastors and speakers to protest gay marriage, pornography and abortion. Many of those attending slapped red “Life” stickers over their shirts and set up blankets and folding chairs facing a large stage with banners that read: “Only One Hope God.”

People close to the front of the stage held up their hands when called to prayer. They jumped and danced to musical performances between sermons. The gathering filled the west lawn of the state Capitol and hundreds of people spilled into the next block, but the rest of Capitol Mall’s five-block-long lawn went unused despite large screens and barricades set up for the occasion.

Offering stations were set up throughout the area.

Ken and Antoinette Rodrigues, who described themselves as born-again Christians, drove in from Fremont to attend Saturday’s rally after their daughter-in-law saw it over the Internet.

“It’s a little more blunt than I anticipated, not that I’m opposed to that, but the things they are speaking, it’s bold, very bold,” said Antoinette Rodrigues, 48. “But I feel that it’s very appropriate and timely.”

Engle said it was the 17th fast hosted by TheCall in 10 years. Previous events have been held in New York, Boston and Nashville, Tenn., as well as in other parts of California such as Pasadena and San Francisco. It follows a similar prayer march and rally to a Houston abortion clinic back in January.

The Sacramento event, Engle said, helped to highlight immoral laws being passed out of the Capitol and called on traditional marriage to be restored.

“If marriage is going to be upheld between a man and a woman, which we believe is the best for families and children and society, then right now, it seems we need divine intervention,” Engle said in an interview between appearances on stage. “That’s part of the reason we’re coming here, to pray, but also to take a stand and be a prophetic voice to stand for truth.”

Last month Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker struck down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. The measure approved by 52 percent of California voters in November 2008 amended the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex unions five months after the state Supreme Court legalized them.

The state has until Sept. 11 to challenge Walker’s ruling. Both Attorney General Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have said they don’t plan an appeal.

Telephone calls to Equality California weren’t immediately returned Saturday.

—  John Wright