Prop. 8 bans gay marriage, contradicts calls for change
By Julia Pergolini
On June 16, 2008 dozens of people gathered on the Beverly Hills Courthouse steps to witness history in the making: The first legalized gay marriage in the state of California. Protestors hovered, holding banners and yelling hateful and discriminatory slurs. But the guests, most of whom wept tears of joy, paid no mind. Equality was granted, and that’s all that mattered.
The couple who originally sued L.A. county for equal marriage rights, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, were wed at the very place they tried to tie the knot every year since 2001.
“We had chosen the courthouse because it was Ground Zero in the case that eventually won lesbians and gay men not just the right to marry, but all of the legal protections of marriage in the state of California,” said Tyler in her June 22 Huffington Post blog post.
“It was there that we had announced our lawsuit.”
But as soon as the California Supreme Court made the decision to legalize same-sex marriage, a constitutional amendment was drafted, known as Proposition 8, which was placed on Nov. 4 ballots. If passed, it would limit marriage to one man and one woman, although there still has been no official decision as to whether it would null those marriages that already existed.
This all started on Feb. 12, 2008. That’s when Robin Tyler filed suit against Los Angeles County for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. With the help of her lawyer, Gloria Allred, and her partner Diane Olson by her side, she eventually convinced the Supreme Court of California that the ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. On May 15, gay marriage was officially legalized, and the couple wed a month later.
“The court actually ruled that the right to marry is a fundamental civil right, which cannot be denied to lesbian and gay couples,” said Tyler in her blog. “The ruling opened up the existing institution of marriage; it did not create a new and separate institution called same-sex or gay marriage.”
For four months, gay and lesbian couples sprinted to city and town courthouses, eager to practice the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts for the first time. There is no federal law that protects homosexuals from blatant discrimination, so the cheers that resounded up and down city streets were not just the roars of victory, but also the cries of unity, justice and long-awaited equality. And in one ballot vote on Nov. 4, in one long day of counting and recounting all across California, it came to a crashing halt.
By a 52-48 percent vote, Prop. 8 had passed. Total spending on both sides reached an incredible $74 million, making it the most expensive social issues campaign in U.S. history and the most expensive campaign this year, excluding the presidential race.
California had gone months with gay marriage in effect. No one was harmed, people weren’t magically stripped of their morality and the world certainly did not end. So why do people care so much about retracting these basic civil rights from their mind-their-own-business neighbor?
The “Yes on 8” group ran a flawless campaign. They had an effective media strategy that made people look at the situation from a variety of angles–acknowledging the broader issues like family values and children’s possible new “sex education.” They remained very sure of themselves, their values, their morals and most importantly, their religion.
The “No” campaign had just as much money pouring in, with large donations from the Hollywood community, The Human Rights Campaign, and even companies like Apple. The Internet became a main vehicle for both sides to voice their opinions, in what basically became a battle of the PSAs.
The “No” campaign also got a lot of attention on major blogs, like Perez Hilton, but their message was getting lost in the shuffle of both liberals and Generation Y-ers, who have a much different take on sexuality than Generation X or baby boomers. This was reflected in the overall results. Those ages 18-29 voted 66 percent “No” and 34 percent “Yes;” ages 30-64 were 50-50; and senior citizens carried 57 percent of the “Yes” vote. Also, college graduates opposed Prop. 8 by a 57 to 43 percent margin, and those without a degree favored it 53-47.
The “Yes” campaign had the support of the Mormon community, and it was their definitive leadership that “No” lacked.
The percentage of black people who also sided with the Mormons was 70 percent–a number that the “No” campaign never expected and one that changed the predicted results dramatically.
Many people have criticized the “No” campaigns efforts, saying their organizers hung on Obama’s coattails and felt safe that they would take most, if not all, of his votes.
Perhaps relying on this factor and all the celebrity endorsements they had, the “No” campaign played things a little too safe. They basically assumed everyone who voted for Obama would also vote against the proposition.
On the other side, newspapers ran stories of very modest Mormon families who poured half of their life savings into the cause. In a San Diego stadium, thousands gathered for an all-day prayer service in support of the ban. Some had traveled across the country to be there.
Melissa Fultz is one of those people who passionately supported the “Yes on 8” campaign. A recent graduate of Brigham Young University and a life-long, active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she feels that religion has everything to do with marriage.
“As a Christian and a member of the LDS Church, I know that marriage is ordained by God,” she says. “The family–the most basic and fundamental unit of society–was first started on this earth by the marriage and consequent children of Adam and Eve… Its roots are in religion, not law.”
This is where the views on marriage divide between the two groups, but it was crucial in the voting process. Out of a total vote of 52 to 48, those who went to church weekly voted 83 percent “Yes” and 17 percent opposed; occasional church goers voted 40 to 60 and those who never go to church voted 14-86 percent.
Without getting too involved in the evolution debate, those on the “No” campaign would argue that marriage has absolutely very little to do with religion – and rightly so.
It is government, not religion, that makes marriage legal and binding. This is why you can choose to have a religious ceremony in a traditional white dress and ornate Church, or a simple barefoot wedding in the woods with just a couple of friends.
It is U.S. civil law, which is why the left has fired back, calling this a basic civil rights infringement.
Best-selling author and civil rights activist, Patricia Nell Warren in her recent article for the Bilerico Project, “Where Is That ‘Traditional Marriage’ They Keep Talking About?” fine tunes this point in a variety of ways.
There is no such thing as traditional marriage, she argues.
“What these religions are protecting is their beliefs and teachings about matrimony, which vary from religion to religion,” she says. Protecting these customs is important, but they are not the law of the land.
“In other words,” she continues, “conservative religionists are putting enormous energy into protecting a legal institution that isn’t even theirs to protect.” This is why these thousands of gay couples have flocked to city halls all over California.
But for religionists like Melissa Fultz, faith comes first, and her faith teaches that gender roles and responsibilities are eternal and unquestionable. And that way of thought prevailed in this vote.
Since Nov. 4, protestors have taken to the streets all across the nation, staging sit-ins and rallies. “Prop. 8–The Musical,”which was written by Marc Shaiman, the Tony-winning composer of Hairspray and features Margaret Cho, Neil Patrick Harris, and Jack Black as Jesus, instantly became a popular viral video on FunnyOrDie.com.
Nonetheless, the Los Angeles community has made it clear that the fight is not over on this issue.
“No one likes losing, I don’t like losing,” Tyler said. “But I never knew that in losing, we started Stonewall II. We started on the streets, and we’re back on the streets.”
Stonewall refers to the riots that took place in New York City, reacting to a police raid which took place at Stonewall Inn, which is considered the start of the modern gay rights movement. It was the first time gays and lesbians ever really fought back against the persecution of homosexuals.
Three lawsuits have been filed with the Supreme Court of California, saying that under the equal protection law in the state’s Constitution, a majority of voters are not allowed to revoke equal rights intended for everyone. A majority cannot deny the rights of a minority.
Julia Pergolini is a senior English major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.