Voters Have Spoken
Supporters of same-sex marriage challenge Prop. 8.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Now that Proposition 8 has passed, opponents of the gay marriage ban are trying to figure out what went wrong, and what to do next.
Prop. 8 opponents, led by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Equality California, filed a legal challenge with the state Supreme Court on Nov. 5 in an attempt to block the ban. The petitioners argue that by stripping one group of a fundamental right, Prop. 8 undermines the state Constitution’s commitment to equality. That’s why it is not a constitutional amendment, they say, but a revision– which requires two-thirds legislative approval before going to popular vote.
Pacific Grove civil rights attorney Michelle Welsh says the question of gay marriage should never have been on the ballot. “That is the definition of fundamental rights– the rights that we do not vote on,” she says. “The majority has no business depriving the minority of those rights.”
The proposition’s backers defend the initiative process, citing the ballot vote approving a gay marriage ban in 2000. “This is the second time that California voters have acted to define marriage as between a man and a woman,” said Andrew Pugno, attorney for Prop. 8 website www.ProtectMarriage.com, in a written statement. “It is time that the opponents of traditional marriage respect the voters’ decision.”
But gay rights activists aren’t giving up. In Salinas on Nov. 10, about 50 Prop. 8 opponents rallied on the Courthouse steps. The protest was part of a statewide backlash against Prop. 8, including demonstrations of about 2,500 people in Sacramento and 10,000 in San Diego.
Officials– including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger– indicate that the roughly 18,000 same-sex marriages performed between May and November will remain valid.
Meanwhile, gay marriage supporters are trying to figure out why Prop. 8 passed. One popular theory is that Californians of color who supported Barack Obama also voted for the initiative.
But that doesn’t stack up in Monterey County, where voters rejected the proposition, 52 percent to 48 percent– exactly opposite the statewide results. Fifty-two percent of the county’s population is Latino, compared with 36 percent statewide.
Locally, Latinos were among the core organizers of both the No on 8 and Yes on 8 campaigns. While the proposition’s supporters worked with churches, their opponents reached out to Latino families in Spanish. Phone bank volunteer Rosa Santa Cruz said she told voters her family came to the U.S. for freedom, a freedom that Prop. 8 restricts.
Churches are another player. Catholic and Mormon congregations strongly backed Prop. 8, while some Episcopal and Unitarian churches opposed it.
The No on 8 campaign has been criticized for running mostly abstract ads denouncing discrimination but seldom mentioning same-sex marriage. The Yes on 8 commercials were more specific, claiming that if the proposition fails, kids will be taught homosexuality in schools.
Welsh predicts that the California Supreme Court will ultimately strike down the gay marriage ban, as it rejected the ban on interracial marriage in 1948. The rest of the nation eventually followed, despite public opinion: A 1958 Gallup poll showed 94 percent of Americans opposed interracial marriage.
If that sounds like the old days, consider this: on Election Day 2008, 52 percent of Florida voters rejected a ballot measure that would have removed language in the state Constitution prohibiting Asian immigrants from owning land.
“That is an illustration of why we can’t put fundamental rights to a vote,” Welsh says. “There are people who would vote for all sorts of horrendous things.”