Prop 8: Political Hot Potato

The California State Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on the political hot potato that is Prop 8. The amendment, which narrowly passed on the November ballot, defines marriage in California as being between one man and one woman – thereby ending marriage rights for same-sex couples that had been enacted earlier in 2008.

The inside baseball here is somewhat complicated and – as is always the way with same-sex marriage, politically charged. Ken Starr, a darling of the far right who is most widely known for his role in the Clinton investigations of the 1990’s, has taken up the charge for the defense of the measure, which has been widely funded by religious interest groups.

On the other side of the debate, a coalition of gay and civil rights groups led by Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights is arguing that the amendment represents a substantial change to the state constitution, and therefore did not go through the correct legal process for ratification – namely, being approved by two-thirds majority of the state legislature before being put to voters. (The legislature, by the way, would not have approved the measure as it actually sent a marriage equality bill to the Governor’s desk the year before last. Ironically, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill and said the issue was best left to the courts).

Justices during questioning today seemed hesitant to overturn the will of the voters, though a ruling in the case will come sometime in the next 90 days. Regardless of the court’s decision, conventional wisdom around Prop 8 increasingly indicates that it is simply a matter of time before the measure is repealed all together.

Support for marriage equality continues to grow steadily, particularly as young people who tend to be much more supportive of equality come of age. For instance, a poll conducted by Public Religion Research showed that a majority of youth under 35, regardless of denomination, support some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, including 61% of young Catholics and 70% of white Mainline Protestants supporting either civil unions or marriage. The lesson here is that this is not your father’s fight for marriage equality – and if we haven’t already reached a tipping point in the debate over marriage equality, it is most certainly coming up fast on the horizon.

Beyond the growing support in public polling, Prop 8 and it’s aftermath seem to have awoken the supporters of marriage equality both in California, and across the nation. Actor Sean Penn may have said it best in his Oscar acceptance speech for his portrayal of the fallen gay-rights activist Harvey Milk, “I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support.

written by Mark Shields