Calif. marriage defeat feeds gay infighting

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California’s gay-rights movement has been beset by infighting and finger-pointing since the defeat of gay marriage at the ballot box, with some activists questioning the campaign’s mild tactics, including the decision not to show same-sex couples in ads.

The movement’s leaders “were very timid. They were too soft,” said Robin Tyler, a lesbian comic who created a series of celebrity public service announcements with the slogan “Stop the Hate, No on 8? that were rejected because they were deemed too negative. “We were lightweights on our side.”

Proposition 8, a measure to stop gay marriage in California, passed with 52 percent of the vote last week in a painful defeat for gay rights activists. The ban overrode a California Supreme Court ruling last spring that allowed 18,000 same-sex couples to tie the knot over the past four months.

Some gays are complaining that their leaders failed to organize a visible and vigorous defense of same-sex marriage. In particular, they say the movement failed to counter a series of hard-hitting ads warning that the ban on gay marriage was needed to prevent children from learning about gay relationships in school.

Leaders of the campaign in favor of gay marriage say they made a strategic decision not to highlight gay newlyweds or same-sex couples with children in their ads for fear of alienating undecided heterosexual voters.

The movement’s first commercial, aired in late September, starred a couple with an adult lesbian daughter. Later ads included a fictional woman with a lesbian niece, California’s public schools chief, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein saying, “No matter how you feel about marriage, vote against discrimination.”

Geoff Kors, executive director of the gay rights group Equality California, defended the choice of advertisements.

“Lesbian and gay people were everywhere in this campaign – as spokespeople, on YouTube, our Web site. For the television advertising, the best messengers were the messengers that were used,” he said.

But Michael Petrelis, a veteran AIDS activist in San Francisco, said the absence of gay couples in the media campaign was a fatal error.

“We were seen more as a liability,” Petrelis said. “When you have that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder there was little community buy-in.”

The criticisms extend to beyond how the campaign was run to how people are responding to the ban’s passage.

In the past few days, demonstrators have hit the streets in California, sometimes clashing with police and snarling traffic. They have rallied outside Mormon temples to protest the church’s major role in banning gay marriage.

Plans have been made for a demonstration outside a Mormon church in New York City on Wednesday, and outside city halls in every state on Saturday.

Some gay rights leaders have encouraged the heated gatherings, while others worry they could backfire and offend churchgoers and others.

Evan Wolfson, executive director of New York-based Freedom to Marry, raised no objection to the protests but said it is important that they be carried out peacefully.

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

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