SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Proponents of California’s Proposition 8 were celebrating their Election Day victory, but bracing for a new court challenge.
Proposition 8, ratified by 52% of the electorate, amended the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The state’s Supreme Court decided Nov. 19 to review three lawsuits that argue the ban was an improper method of amending the Constitution and interferes with the ability of the judiciary to protect minority rights.
Nevertheless, one proponent called the Election Day victory “miraculous.”
“A year ago I said it would take a miracle for us to do what we did, pass Proposition 8,” declared Charles LiMandri, the West Coast director of the Thomas More Law Center. “When you look at the forces arrayed against us — the media, Hollywood and elected officials — passage of Prop. 8 was a miracle.”
But the success of traditional marriage was met with three court challenges to the constitutional change.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Equality California and Lambda Legal argue that defining marriage as between one man and one woman is a revision to core constitutional principals and amending the constitution to define marriage through the initiative process was improper.
Ned Doleisi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, said that Protect Marriage.com and Yes on 8 Committee, which included significant Catholic components, will be involved in defending the new amendment in the face of the lawsuits, although the formal defense of Prop. 8 is the responsibility of the attorney general of California.
There are two ways to change the state’s constitution: An amendment can be instituted through voter-sponsored initiative or a revision by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, followed by a majority vote of the electorate. A revision is considered a change in basic government structure.
Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, explained, “Prop. 8 is attempting a revision that would take a fundamental right away from one minority group and require the government to discriminate against an individual’s right to marry a person of the individual’s choice, rather than a person of the government’s choice.”
Citing a 1948 interracial marriage case, Pizer stated, “The California Supreme Court found the right to marry was a fundamental right, and to marry who they [the individual] choose, and it was wrong to restrict marriage between races.”
Pizer continued, “This use of the initiative process constitutes an end run around the equal protection guarantee by simple majority vote. A majority could then deprive a minority of rights that nullify the individual guarantee and treat a minority as unequal.”
LiMandri called the lawsuits “a weak attempt” to overturn Prop. 8.
“The same argument has failed in the past in both California and Oregon,” he said. “They tried it when the people of California voted for the death penalty after the Supreme Court had found it unconstitutional. At that time, Justice Stanley Mosk acknowledged the people’s authority to decide the issue through the initiative-amendment process.”
LiMandri said the way churches came together played a large part in the victory.
“This has been a truly ecumenical coalition of Protestants, evangelicals and Catholics working closely with the Mormons because of their shared appreciation for God-ordered marriage and to serve our common Lord and Savior,” he said, adding that traditional marriage “is for the common good for kids and families, as God’s plan.”
He also said Hispanic and black voters played a large part in the victory.
“Seventy percent of blacks voted Yes, and 58% of Hispanics voted Yes because of their solid Christian background,” LiMandri said. “Hispanics were a large part of the force of over 100,000 Californians walking the precincts in the state for support of Prop. 8.”
Said Brenda Bennett, a spokeswoman for Sacramento’s Calvary Christian Center, “We visited community leaders as well as talking to our families and neighbors on a one-to-one basis. We literally put our lives on hold because this was priority.”
Despite the filing of formal court challenges, protest marches and demonstrations erupted throughout California in the weeks following the election. Many of the first protests took place outside Mormon temples, including the Los Angeles Tabernacle. It was widely reported that racial epithets were hurled at minority pedestrians passing on the sidewalk.
At least two Mormon temples and a Knights of Columbus office received envelopes containing an unknown white powder. The FBI is investigating.
“Hate mail, death threats, protest marches in front of churches and places of worship,” LiMandri said. “These are the ‘No on 8’ people who say they only want tolerance and peace. They are some of the most intolerant groups I have ever known.”
Some observers found it ironic that same-sex “marriage” supporters relied on an appeal to civil rights to back their case.
“Most African-Americans are rooted in the Baptist tradition and Hispanics in the Catholic culture,” said LiMandri. “It is hard for the opponents of traditional marriage to attach the label ‘bigots’ to blacks and Hispanics, people who have really suffered discrimination, when these minority groups came out against the gays.”
As Bennett commented, “The worst thing is to make this a civil rights issue. That is highly offensive to the black community. You can’t change the color of your skin. That is different than a lifestyle choice. Seventy percent of blacks voted for Prop. 8 because it was about defending traditional marriage.
“The other side sees the Mormons as an easier target for their protests,” she continued. “Because their civil rights argument has no standing in the black community, they can’t go after us.”
At a press conference Nov. 14, Leaders of the “Yes on 8” coalition called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and the “No on 8” campaign to denounce attacks against citizens who support traditional marriage. A request for comment from the governor’s office was not answered.
“We are waiting for a response from our elected officials,” said Ned Doleisi of the California Catholic Conference, “for them to step forward and call for civility.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, Schwarzenegger encouraged protesters to not give up “until they get it done.”
Said Doleisi, “It is a time-honored right in our country to protest. They are welcome to it, but it is a question of civility or discriminatory actions taken in a violent way. Targeting certain churches is intolerant and uncalled for by the rules of our society.”
Robin Rohr is based in