Our friend Ned Flaherty has written a 7-part investigative series on what’s going on with marriage equality in Florida, and has graciously allowed us to repost it here. Below is part 5. You can find all 7 parts of the series at the New Civil Rights Movement.
Part 5 of 7: Haters Wait With Bated Breath
Republican political operatives are about to give anti-LGBT hate groups just what they crave: a lopsided defeat for gay rights in the deepest South. NCRM’s 7-part investigative series reveals how progress toward marriage equality in other states is threatened by current events in Florida.
By the 1 February deadline shown on its Web site, EMFL either will succeed at putting the marriage question on Florida’s ballot, or else will fail to put it on the ballot. All indications are that EMFL will fail. If the November claim of only 200,000 signatures is accurate, then the remaining 800,000 signatures can’t be collected by the deadline, because there are only three remaining part-time, unpaid district co-chairs who still show working e-mail addresses (no co-chairs show any phone numbers), and each of those three people would have to collect 266,667 more signatures.
That unachievable goal has anti-LGBT hate groups salivating. As soon as the 1 February deadline is missed, they can start bragging that they just defeated another marriage equality campaign, without lifting a finger.
For LGBT activists, though, staying off the Florida ballot is far safer than getting on it. If marriage equality appears on either a 2014 or a 2016 ballot, anti-LGBT hate groups nationwide will unleash their usual dragons, fueled and funded by Mormon churchgoers, Catholic bishops, evangelical Dominionists, and NOM’s tiny handful of wealthy, secret donors. Those groups flooded over $40 million into California’s Proposition 8 battle only 6 years ago, and they’re just itching to repeat themselves. Florida would make a great showcase for an encore performance.
Meanwhile, EMFL filed Florida campaign finance reports showing that it has collected none of the $6 million that it promised to raise. To make matters worse, $6 million is probably inadequate. Brito sells campaign services, marked up to give herself a profit, so her estimated budget is probably too small to: (a) change cultural attitudes, (b) saturate Florida’s ten media markets, and (c) fight wealthy Mormon and Catholic bishops (whose funds for oppressing LGBT people appear relatively unlimited).
In 2008, although the LGBT community raised $4.3 million to fight Florida’s constitutional marriage ban, anti-equality forces raised only $1.6 million, and yet they won by a 24% landslide. In Oregon, where the population is about one-fifth of Florida’s, campaign leaders have budgeted $10-12 million, and in Georgia, with half the population of Florida, Georgia
Equality leaders also expect to spend $10 million. All these data point to two realities for EMFL: changing cultural attitudes is the critical goal, and EMFL’s $6 million budget is too small to achieve that goal.
Six years ago, Floridians voted, 62% to 38%, against equality. To reverse that to at least 60% to 40% favoring equality (the minimum needed to pass), any campaign would have to focus resources on changing votes. Among Florida’s 16 million potential voters, the most labor-intensive are the 7 million who are all over age 50, mostly Republican, and who stridently want to keep the current marriage ban. Collecting signatures is pointless unless EMFL also persuades nearly 2 million citizens to switch their vote from anti-equality to pro-equality.
Asked how those voters will get converted, OAI spokesman and EMFL Sponsor Joe Hunter says he doesn’t think it’s necessary to change cultural attitudes, and EMFL doesn’t plan to work on that. “It is close enough. We don’t have to change a whole bunch of minds. There are enough people in Florida who are sympathetic to marriage equality to pass it; the challenge is making sure they go vote,” he said. When asked how OAI and EMFL can be so sure of victory, Hunter replied, “We have done our own polling, and the conclusion is it is not a slam dunk, but we’re certainly in a position to get there.”
Neither OAI nor EMFL is willing to release any of their private poll results, and when asked which public polls convinced OAI to sponsor EMFL, Hunter could not immediately identify any.
Three days later, he did point to three surveys from a newspaper, a university, and a surveyor, but none of those polls suggested that at least 60% of the voters would agree to alter the state constitution. In October 2012, when the Washington Post asked 1,107 adult registered Florida voters whether same-gender couples should be able to marry, 54% said yes, 33% said no, and 13% had no opinion. In December 2012, when Quinnipiac University asked 1,261 registered Florida voters the same question, only 43% said yes, and every age group 30 and older fell far short of the critical 60% minimum. In August 2013, when St. Pete Polls asked 3,034 registered Florida voters (demographically balanced by district, party, race, and age) the same question, only 46% said yes, 47% said no, 7% were unsure, and no age group had the required 60% minimum.
Vanessa Brito says she earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from Florida International University, a curriculum which should have taught her about the need to persuade critical demographic groups. Apparently it didn’t. Rather than concentrate on the anti-equality voters, she is focusing instead on Libertarians, moderate Republicans, and the least important group of all: younger voters, “the people in their 30s, the voters in their 30s” as she told the Miami Herald last June. The signatures of 30-somethings might put equal marriage on the ballot and win that battle, but ignoring their 7 million Republican parents and grandparents will also defeat equality at the polls, and thus lose the whole war.
In this populous, media-centric state, that’s a defeat which conservatives will crow about for years — and which will help raise more anti-LGBT cash — to the detriment of marriage rights everywhere else.
If EMFL gets the marriage equality question onto any ballot, Floridians — not to mention the rest of the nation — will then suffer through another bitter, vicious campaign in which billboards and broadcasts call LGBT people defective, deviant, depraved, and demonically possessed. While that campaign rages in this southernmost state, teenagers who are LGBT or who have same-gender parents are likely to be brutalized, and children from all age groups will be victims of the prejudice for which America’s deep-south theocrats are so famous.
Either way, EMFL now is poised to hand the anti-LGBT forces exactly what they want: a wide victory, in an election year, in a big state. That victory will come either via EMFL’s failure to collect enough petition signatures, or else via a Proposition-8-style media battle — in which opponents relentlessly advertise that LGBT individuals, couples, and their children don’t even deserve basic human rights — followed by a defeat at the polls.
Tomorrow in this investigative series: Part 6 of 7: Promising the Impossible
Ned Flaherty is an LGBT activist currently focused on civil marriage equality, and previously on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. He writes from Boston, Massachusetts, where America’s first same-gender civil marriages began in 2004. He suffered a childhood exposure to Roman Catholic pomp and circumstance, but the spell never took, and he recovered.
Here’s the list of the 7-part series:
Part 1 – LGBT Groups Oppose Equal Marriage Campaign
Part 2 – Leaders Retreat
Part 3 – Counts for Workers, Signatures, and Dollars
Part 4 – Party Plans
Part 5 – Haters Wait With Bated Breath
Part 6 – Promising the Impossible
Part 7 – Prognosis