Gay Marriage Dealt a Setback in California

Brittney Bain | Religion News Service | Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gay Marriage Dealt a Setback in California

November 6, 2008

WASHINGTON (RNS) -- In a razor-thin outcome, California voters overturned same-sex marriage rights in the nation's most populous state, as similar bans on gay marriage were approved in Arizona and Florida.

The verdicts by voters in three large and growing states will likely put the brakes -- at least temporarily -- on gay groups' march toward civil marriage rights.

The three measures were a stunning defeat for same-sex marriage proponents, and showed conservatives' continued ability to flood the polls to prevent -- or in California's case, overturn -- court-ordered gay marriages.

Observers say the fight may now shift away from the courts to state legislatures because voters have shown little appetite for courts that mandate equal protection for gay and straight couples.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday (Nov. 5), the state constitutional amendment led in California with 52 percent of the vote.

With few votes left to count, both sides said it would be nearly impossible for the measure to fail.

"We are grateful to have reclaimed for traditional marriage what activist judges took away from the people of California when they began allowing same-sex marriage back in May," said Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego and supporter of the grassroots "Protect Marriage" campaign.

On Wednesday, a coalition of gay groups, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, asked the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8, saying it violates the "underlying principles" of the constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

Thousands of same-sex couples rushed to the altar to wed in California after the state Supreme Court overturned a 2000 voter referendum that defined marriage between one man and one woman.

Close to $73 million in donations from both in-state and across the country was spent by opponents and supporters of California's Proposition 8, which amends the state's constitution to define marriage solely between a man and a woman.

The campaign pitted church leaders and some evangelical groups against civil rights activists, other religious leaders, and even celebrities and corporations. Apple Inc. and Google Inc. both donated at least $100,000 to the "No on 8" campaign, while the Mormon Church was one of the biggest backers and fundraisers for the proposition, pouring in millions of dollars.

Campaign ads became as controversial as an 11th-hour commercial released by an anti-Proposition 8 group called Courage Coalition depicted two Mormon missionaries invading a lesbian couple's home to confiscate their marriage license.

Advocates for gay marriage called the issue a matter of equal rights, while opponents argued same-sex couples already have domestic partnership rights.

"I believe in the long run that marriage will be recognized," said the Rev. Troy Perry, who founded the predominately gay Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles in 1968. "I'm not pleased, but I'm not bitter about it, I'm a Christian."

Ron Prentice, chairman of and part of the "Yes on 8" movement, called it a "great day for marriage."

"Gay and lesbian domestic partnerships will continue to enjoy the same legal rights as married spouses. Our coalition has no plans to seek any changes in that law," Prentice said.

In Florida, voters approved an amendment to the state's constitution that bars same-sex marriage and defines marriage as only between a man and woman. Gay marriage was already illegal in the state.

The amendment had 62 percent of the vote Wednesday morning, with 99 percent of the ballots counted. It needed 60 percent to pass.

"The passage of Amendment 2 in Florida must serve to reignite our passion and drive for justice in the pursuit of legal recognition of our relationships, not only in Florida, but also in every place where lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people have yet to achieve full equality," said the Rev. Jim Merritt, marriage equality coordinator for the Metropolitan Community Churches' Global Justice Ministry.

Arizona voters approved a state constitutional ban on gay marriage with 56.5 percent of the vote.

While Arizona law already prohibits gay marriage, supporters wanted to amend the state's constitution to prevent a judicial overturn of the law. The amendment that passed was a scaled-down version of an amendment

rejected by voters in Arizona two years ago.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a pro-traditional marriage group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., said the balloting in all three states demonstrated that voters wanted to preserve marriage between a man and woman.

"Voters do not want the will of the people thwarted by courts or legislatures that listen more to political special interests than they do to them," said Brian Raum, senior legal counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund in a statement.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

David Finnigan contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. Used by permission. All rights reserved.