Yesterday, directly before the deadline for submission of briefs in the Supreme Court hearing of the Prop 8 appeal, the President’s administration filed a brief urging the court to uphold the lower court’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. Not all gay activists are happy about this and one such group is GetEqual, a so-called grass-roots network of folks trying to be relevant in the quickly changing world of LGBTQ acceptance. In a statement, GetEqual said:

GetEQUAL Congratulates President Obama for Supporting Marriage Equality in California, But Remains Disappointed By Decision to Leave Millions of LGBT People Vulnerable

Washington, DC — GetEQUAL — a national civil rights organization fighting for full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans — issued the following statement in response to the Obama Administration’s submission of an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on California’s Proposition 8 case:

GetEQUAL congratulates President Obama for submitting an amicus brief asking for the Supreme Court of the United States to deem Proposition 8 in California unconstitutional. However, by arguing to the court that Proposition 8 does not violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Obama Administration has limited the scope of this brief — leaving millions of LGBT Americans unprotected against similar ballot measures or discriminatory laws.

GetEqual just doesn’t get it, if you ask me. They need to get a clue on their way to Getting Equal. It isn’t that they are wrong in theory. Yes, everyone deserves to be protected from discrimination. But few with any experience in reality, would expect creating public policy by one Supreme Court decision to the plausible step to that end.

Two Marriage Cases

The single most important same-sex marriage case before SCOTUS is a the case that could overturn DOMA, and end Federal discrimination against legally married same-sex couples across the country. Once DOMA falls, the path to full equality will speed up. DOMA is a Federal law, something that the Federal Government has jurisdiction over. But of course, GetEqual issues no press release about the government’s brief in the DOMA case.

It isn’t known how the Supreme Court will rule on the Prop 8 case, but the very decisions that are before the course in this case can only lead to a limited decision. It was even somewhat surprising that the Court chose to take the case, given the limited impact of a ruling. It is the case itself, which limits the breadth of the decision, not the arguments made in the President’s brief, but don’t look to GetEqual to get those facts straight (pun intended). In fact there is reason to really worry given Justices like Scalia on the bench. And the President’s brief is just one of many submitted. It is not useful to pick each brief apart, but rather to look at how the whole of the briefs help support a case for overturning Prop 8.

Marriage regulation and policy has in general, always been relegated to the States, and expecting the President to abandon that basic principle is not merely asking for him to evolve, but asking for him to turn his back, and the country’s proverbial back on our democracy. A better strategy to protect others, is to have Prop 8 soundly struck down establishing case law that makes any new similar laws impossible.

GetEqual would do wise to consider the history surrounding a Woman’s Right to Choose. You could claim that a single court case settled the issue of abortion, but in reality, every year we watch an erosion of Women’s Rights, and the battle is no less volatile today than ever before. For real protection and Equality of Gay, Lesbian, Bi, and Trans persons, a similar trajectory will not suffice. It is not enough. A better strategy involves won court cases coupled with ongoing, growing support within our culture for Equality.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying we should sit quietly and await full equality. We should not! But we also shouldn’t criticize actions which can’t make the difference in the long run, or even the short term.   Let me be clear, that the President’s brief didn’t revolve around the 14th amendment won’t make the difference in the outcome of this case, and criticizing the President accomplishes nothing except an attempt to make GetEqual seem relevant.

A more reasoned analysis of the President’s position has been offered by Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan has a better grasp on the strategic importance of the President’s position as well as the real impediments to full equality.

The president says rather more dispassionately what I believe. I believe the right to marry is vested in the very Declaration of Independence, and that gay people have as deep a right to it as straights as it is currently composed. But I don’t want that view to be forced, rushed or coerced into action by the Supreme Court, especially when America, and so many states are moving so fast toward equality anyway. Why not keep the judicial decisions limited so as to make the political victories more profound? If there was no way a tiny minority could win the democratic argument, it would be one thing. But in a matter of a decade or so, we have persuaded over half the country and a huge majority of the next generation. Why would I want to give the religious right the satisfaction of saying it was forced on people by unelected judges? Why not get the results of a Roe v Wade without a Roe vs Wade?

Roe v Wade, as I stated above is an extremely important model to consider precisely because of the way the religious opposition to each issue is so similar. We are in a period of great change and the fundamentalist religious machine which includes the Roman Catholic Church, is fighting with all its might to keep power. Eventually it will lose, but in the mean time we must consider how we keep all of our rights fully, rather than have a possible court victory and then watch our rights diminished bit by bit.

Sullivan’s post however, focuses on a different point, what it called the “eight state solution,” and it deserves consideration. We, and I use that term in the broadest means possible, need LGBTQ Equality to happen as seamlessly and easily as possible. The repeal of DADT, and the incorporation of gays and lesbians in the military is a good example. While groups like GetEqual complained that the military ban was wrong and many worried that the Armed Forces were taking too long to consider lifting the ban, in the end, the entire strategy proved successful. GetEqual was no real help on that issue, as their strategy of complaining just isn’t that useful when action is already in the works for change.


  1. Okay, I’m just seeing this which says a lot about what I’m doing these days as far as activism goes (and that’s on purpose) . I like reading your work Mr. Waters and I was also very much involved wit h GE in the early years. To suggest that their work is “empty rhetoric ” is simply ill informed on your part.

    I was also around in the days of ACT-UP and the amazing work that they did , GE was on a much smaller scale but they did have an awful lot to do with the repeal of DADT, I know, I was boots on the ground with GE and my USMC Vet. Husband. I don’t think your insane actually far from it, however this type of post is what is keeping the modern LGBT movement absolutely complacent and that’s the last thing we need.

    Try seeing it from a different view. As for prop 8, and I am Californian a 2010 ballot measure would have wrapped that up but our community for the most part was too busy eating “e” and dancing on the speakers to care . And Equality California and Courage Campaign saw a great opportunity to make a fast buck and they did.

    • Michael,

      Thanks for adding your comment, but I think you have not understood what I said. I never said that the work of GetEqual is empty rhetoric. I think, and have written before that direct action is extremely important and I’m glad a group like GE does it. But a press release isn’t direct action, and I do believe a press release is empty rhetoric. Like too many activists, you seem to take what is said in an all or nothing way, and personally, instead of actually reading what I write.

      As for your comment about Prop 8 and 2010, I think there are plenty of PhD dissertations which will be written on California and the Prop 8 journey from 2008 onward. I don’t suggest I have any more thorough view of it all than anyone else, and probably less than many. AND, I utterly agree that the efforts following 2008 with the large groups as well as the HRC demonstrate the NEED for direct action groups. But let me say this really loud: A PRESS RELEASE CRITICIZING THE PRESIDENT ISN’T DIRECT ACTION.

      Check out this post for a further explanation of my points:

      I have said positive things about Get Equal, and negative things. Same about GLAAD and other groups. In my experience, no one welcomes negative comments about something they feel strongly about, but that doesn’t make my points wrong.

      BTW, I was around during Act Up too. Get Equal is NO Act Up. I expect there is much great work Get Equal can do, but press release criticizing the President, isn’t IMHO a part of that.

  2. You are insane. How can you attack GetEQUAL like that. Go donate to HRC or something.. Let the real warriors for Queer Justice do the work.. Or get out of the way !.

    • Thanks for the comment, although I wish you would have explained why you disagree with the points I raise. Must be easier to just call me insane. That is much easier that participating in real dialogue.

      “Real Warriors” is a real funny comment. In the case of Marriage Equality, that would be the lawyers Olsen and Boise, and not GetEqual.

      And, hey, I’m not in your way at all. Just save your delusions for the blind cheerleaders. Some of us expect more than empty rhetoric.

      • While, you cheer lead for “marriage quality” I’ll talk about how LGB and T have an interesting amount of Income Inequality, workplace protections, housing.. as what sane people call them “Rights”.. ? Or to you get your talking points from James O’Keeffe and breidbart ? Silly Man.

      • Eddie, You still seem unable to talk to the points I made as I criticized GetEqual SPECIFICALLY about a Press Release that revolved entirely around Marriage Equality. The personal attacks are really useless and it is part of why “activists” like you are so unsuccessful.

        As for income inequality, and especially Trans issues, take a few minutes to read my blog, and you will find I write extensively about Trans issues and have been critical of many Marriage supporters precisely because gaining support for marriage still leaves many many of the LGBTQ community out. In other words, you are just trying to attack me.

        I have written a lot about the real need for Direct Action, and have said positive things about GetEqual. A press release, isn’t a Direct Action. I hope GetEqual returns to Direct Action, where it can do good.

      • We will, In due time =).. Keep fighting although we disagree somewhat.

      • Eddie, REAL change comes when people can disagree without having to resort to personal attacks. You need a reality check as to what you are actually accomplishing.

    • And PS, I’ve written very negatively about HRC too. It is so foolish to think people fall into one camp of activism or another. Foolish really.

  3. Thanks Robert, but your comment, in my opinion, just illustrates even clearer how GetEqual doesn’t get it.

    1) I do not “quote GetEqual’s main point” but I do speak directly to it here: “Let me be clear, that the President’s brief didn’t revolve around the 14th amendment won’t make the difference in the outcome of this case, and criticizing the President accomplishes nothing except an attempt to make GetEqual seem relevant.”

    2) We are not talking about legislative action here. We are talking about a case before the Supreme Court, where the entire decision is all about if the lower court ruled correctly or incorrectly. It does not- in fact, in can not have anything to do with Lesbian and Gay couples in the “rest of the states.” This limitation has nothing to do with the President’s brief, and has everything to do with what the Supreme Court does and how it functions.

    But GetEqual, is treating this as if it were about “Marriage Equality” in general, and Prop 8 wasn’t and isn’t.

    3) The fact that the Prop 8 decision is before SCOTUS demonstrates that strategies DIFFERENT THAN GETEQUAL’S have been more successful at moving the issue of same-sex marriage forward.

    GETEQUAL accomplishes little if anything, in my opinion, when it comes to this issue. GETEQUAL could do really great work, if it stuck to passing an Inclusive ENDA. THAT is a place where we need the type of work GetEqual does. Too bad they don’t focus where they are needed most.

    • MichaelDiviesti says:

      “seem relevant”, this turn of phrase is laughable and clearly shows your bias against the only nationwide grassroots organization that is engaging in full on direct action (both on a state level and on a national level). I would say that’s pretty darn relevant and we need more of it.

      “so-called grass-roots”… again, showing your bias and ignorance to the facts… a dictionary would do you wonders here because GetEQUAL is, indeed, a grassroots organization.

      The wonderful thing about GetEQUAL is if you, personally, have a problem with the way things are organized, you have the opportunity to change that by taking part in organizing, rather than playing the Monday morning quarterback. Rather than writing about history, why not take a part in it?

  4. This author doesn’t quote the main point in GetEQUAL’s statement or explain why the 14th amendment argument is so important. The administration’s brief only supports “the eight state solution,” only supporting full marriage equality in certain states that currently offer benefits of marriage for same-sex couples, but without the name. This leaves out LGBTQ people in the rest of the states without marriage equality.

    Read GetEQUAL’s full statement here:

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