SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As California’s legislators continue to send Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger more same-sex “marriage” bills to veto, opponents of broadening the definition of marriage are preparing for battle.
In 2000, California's voters approved Proposition 22, the Defense of Marriage Act, 61% to 39%. The initiative reads, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
But Proposition 22 was passed as a statute, making it easier for the Legislature to override it — which it has unsuccessfully attempted, meeting the roadblock of Schwarzenegger’s veto. The Legislature is now in the process of passing similar legislation, fully aware that term limits will eventually force Schwarzenegger out of office.
Enter Matt Daniels, founder of the Alliance for Marriage, a nonprofit education and research organization dedicated to promoting marriage and addressing the problem of fatherless families — the very type of family Daniels himself grew up in during the ’60s in New York’s Spanish Harlem. Based in Washington D.C., Daniels and his alliance are working all over the country to stabilize the American family, but for now, his biggest effort is in California, where Daniels predicts, “The will of the people is going to trump Sacramento.”
Daniels wants to take Proposition 22 and make it part of California’s state constitution.
“We have got to take the language of Prop. 22 word for word and put it into the constitution. The target is either the June ’08 election or the general election in November ’08.”
For Daniels, the key to making this work is to enlist a group that opponents have counted on for support for most other issues, Hispanics. Daniels recalls that Hispanics voted for Proposition 22 in higher percentages than any other ethnic group, including whites. “For years, we’ve had Latino Christian groups involved in our efforts, including a number of major Latino leaders in California. When it became clear that we needed to constitutionalize Proposition 22, we decided to focus on the Latino community.”
Besides Hispanic support for Proposition 22, Daniels said they should be more involved in the latest effort because their civil rights history gives traditional marriage supporters more credibility.
“The forces behind the effort to destroy marriage are doing it in the name of a false analogy to civil rights. It is a fraud, but with the bias of the mainstream media, it is a powerful analogy because it positions people like us as being the equivalent of Jim Crow racists in the south,” he said. “The way you succeed against this argument is by mobilizing communities that can blow away the framework, like the Latino community.
“If I get up in public and make all the arguments about why the analogy to civil rights is historically, socially and morally false, I might win some people, but I’m limited in my ability to argue because I’m white. The Latino community can say the same things and it’s much harder to demonize them as the messenger. That is the core of our strategy.”
‘No Better Model’
With a committee of California-based Hispanic leaders ready to act as the voice of the Alliance for Marriage, Daniels believes he is about to detonate a huge bomb in the debate.
“The left in general, and the Democratic party specifically, take Latino voters for granted,” he said. “In fact, the state of California politics has been shaped by the fact that Republicans have lost the Latino vote. But of all the issues out there, what are Latinos as a group more adamantly opposed to in the agenda of the Democratic Party elite? They have a sincere and admirable commitment to family life and they are thriving demographically because of that. So we are striking at something with larger strategic significance.”
Laila Ibrahim, 42, is the owner and chief administrator at the Woolsey Preschool in Berkeley, Calif. She has lived in the Bay Area for more than 20 years with the same woman with whom she is raising two girls. In 1991, they had a commitment ceremony, but Ibrahim still thinks they have a right to be married.
“I absolutely respect every church’s right to choose who they will perform wedding ceremonies for and churches’ rights to decide what constitutes marriages, but I don’t feel like the federal or state government should limit marriage to one man and one woman. There are gay and lesbian people in committed relationships in California. We have domestic partnership laws here, but they only grant us second-class status. We have the same rights and responsibilities as married people, yet we’re creating a whole ‘secondary-track’ of law.”
Ibrahim disagreed with Daniels’ Latino strategy.
“I hate to broad-brush any particular group,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to presume that, especially since every Hispanic person I know is extremely respectful of me and my family.”
Sam Rodriguez lives in Sacramento and is the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. As one of the key grassroots workers in the effort to make Proposition 22 part of the state constitution, he said that both Ibrahim and Daniels are right — in a sense.
“Research has shown that of all ethnic groups, the Hispanic-American community is more committed to traditional marriage than any other,” Rodriguez said. “We are not anti-anything. Most Hispanics probably would respect her relationship, but if she attempted to define that relationship within the rubrics of traditional marriage, you would see an incredible push-back. It’s not marriage. Hispanic Americans see traditional marriage as vital for success against the social ills of the 21st century American experience.”
Luis Tellez is the president of the Witherspoon Institute, a think tank that “works to enhance public understanding of the political, moral and philosophical principles of free and democratic societies.” He said this issue appeals to more minorities than just Hispanics, since its possible impact is so large.
“All civilizations have had to come to grips with this,” he said. “This [marriage between a man and woman] is not a modern invention or a religious invention. This is necessary to sustain society and there is no better model for raising children.”
Daniels said that if this effort fails, he and other traditional voices can only blame themselves.
“If we don’t harness the power of this issue to build a movement that ‘out-rainbows’ the left,” he said, “then shame on us.”
Robert Kumpel is based in