On Election Day, in the middle of a Democratic sweep of Congress and the White House, voters in three states approved amendments to their constitutions defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. The wins lent encouragement to those who argue America remains a center-right country ideologically, despite major Democratic gains.
The Florida win was by an impressively large margin: 62% to 38%. The Arizona win, 56% to 44%, was important because in 2006 Arizona earned the dubious distinction of being the only state in which voters had ever turned down the chance to protect traditional marriage. The victory in Arizona means state marriage amendments are now 30 for 30 at the ballot box.
But the biggest victory was Prop 8 in California, where voters surprised pundits by overturning a May state supreme court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Gay-marriage advocates dominated the airwaves during the summer with a $6 million pro-gay-marriage television ad campaign (run during the Summer Olympics), which was reinforced by an almost uniformly sympathetic mainstream media. By September the polls — which initially favored Prop 8 — suggested the amendment was doomed to ignominious failure.
It didn’t help when Democratic Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown rewrote the ballot language, changing the title from “California Limits to Marriage Amendment” to “Elimination of the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry” (a move that polls suggest cost the amendment 5 to 10 percentage points of support).
But a coalition of Catholics, white and black evangelicals, Mormons and people of other faiths were quietly building a campaign to reach the hearts and minds of California voters — and their war chest allowed them to get the message out. Traditional marriage supporters raised close to $40 million, unprecedented for a social issue, with about 40% estimated to have come from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons).
The polls turned dramatically as soon as the Yes on 8 campaign went on the air on September 23, with ads developed by campaign manager Schubert Flint Public Affairs. The first ad featured San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s smug proclamation that gay marriage is coming “whether you like it or not.” The ad also raised questions about what gay marriage would mean for teaching in public schools and for religious institutions that do not view same-sex couples as marriages.
In early October, gay-marriage advocates sent out an SOS to their supporters, admitting that the polls had turned. Barbra Streisand and Melissa Etheridge staged a concert that reportedly brought in $4 million. Seven-figure donations came in from the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, labor unions, national gay-rights organizations and out-of-state gay millionaires (Michigan’s Jon Stryker donated $1 million).
But despite the flood of big names and big dollars, on Tuesday, November 4, California voters once again opted to protect marriage, by 52% to 48%.
How have gay marriage advocates responded? By reaching for their lawyers. On November 17, a court will consider a request by the ACLU and gay-rights groups to issue a preliminary injunction against Prop 8. Gay-rights groups are arguing that a single, one-sentence definition of marriage constitutes a full-scale revision of the constitution, which must come from the legislature, rather than an amendment that can be passed by the voters under California law. They are urging the state supreme court to strike down an amendment to the state’s own constitution approved by a clear majority of voters.
The Oregon Supreme Court has already rejected this line of argumentation. As UCLA law Prof. Daniel Lowenstein says:
“The contention that Proposition 8 is a constitutional revision rather than an amendment borders on the frivolous.” But given the high-profile support of the challenge to Prop 8 among powerful politicians, backers of the measure remain worried. Even Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for the court to strike down Prop 8, telling CNN:
“I think that we will again maybe undo that, if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area.”
The second response by gay-marriage advocates has been massive threats of retaliation against those participating in the political process, the LDS church in particular, as well as African-Americans, 70% of whom voted for Prop 8, according to exit polling.
Large, disruptive protests are being held at LDS places of worship in California and Utah. In the waning days of the campaign, gay-marriage advocates actually ran an outrageous hate-filled television ad “Home Invasion,” inciting religious hatred against the LDS church because its members donated to Prop 8.
These tactics however may backfire. Gay-marriage advocates are no longer looking like a movement devoted to love and tolerance. They are affirming the Yes on Prop 8 campaigns contention that religious liberty is on the line in the marriage debate. Gay-marriage advocates now appear to view anyone who thinks marriage means the union of one man and one woman is the equivalent of a racist, and can be treated as such. (Click here, for a video of gay-marriage advocates verbally harassing an elderly woman)
Singling out minority religious communities because they exercised their basic civil rights to vote, organize and donate is a truly ugly new development. I’m not sure it’s what the Obama campaign meant, but in California it’s the change we are getting.
What lesson can we take from the marriage victories? Here’s one obvious one: Americans really care about protecting marriage. It’s not a wedge issue or a political convenience (California was never at play in the presidential campaign). The Protect Marriage Yes on 8 Campaign raised more money and summoned more volunteers than any social issue in America ever has.
There are only temporary victories in this fallen world. But the victory for marriage was a big one.