SACRAMENTO, Calif. — This year, California is the battleground for marriage, as voters weigh a constitutional amendment that would halt such same-sex unions that are now taking place in that state.
The California Supreme Court ruled in May that same-sex-attracted couples could legally wed, and delighted homosexuals began making plans for “marriage” ceremonies.
Chief Justice Ronald George wrote the majority opinion, which stated that “an individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.”
Although same-sex “marriage” activists celebrated victory after the ruling, the battle over the state definition of marriage is far from over. Activists from both sides are mobilizing forces on the California Protection of Marriage Act initiative. If passed, the ballot measure will amend the California Constitution to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in the state.
Meanwhile, on the other coast, Massachusetts upped the ante when the state Senate July 15 voted to repeal a 1913 law used most recently to prevent same-sex couples from other states from marrying there.
The California ballot initiative has gained the support of a broad coalition of religious leaders and cultural activists who are spreading the message that marriage should not be redefined by the courts.
Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles issued a statement after the ruling, saying, “The Church cannot approve of redefining marriage, which has a unique place in God’s creation, joining a man and a woman in a committed relationship in order to nurture and support the new life for which marriage is intended.”
The California Catholic Conference plans to issue a pastoral letter in support of the amendment soon.
More than 1.1 million signatures were gathered to put the amendment on the ballot in November, bringing the issue to the attention of candidates running for president.
Following the ruling, the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., stated that “he respects the decision of the California Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage.”
Obama stated opposition to the California Protection of Marriage Act initiative in a letter to the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, read at its annual Pride Breakfast in San Francisco. In the letter, he congratulated those in the group, “who have shown your love for each other by getting married these last few weeks,” and stated, “I oppose the divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution, and similar efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.”
Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., supports the California initiative, stating, “I support the efforts of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution between a man and a woman, just as we did in my home state of Arizona. I do not believe judges should be making these decisions.”
Although McCain has voted twice against federal constitutional amendments defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, he has stated that the definition of marriage should be decided by individual states.
What Polls Say
David Nammo, executive director of Family Research Council Action, admitted that the Republican candidate “is not speaking very strongly on this issue.
“He believes that marriage is between one man and one woman but he is not beating the drum,” Nammo said. “He’s not rousing his conservative base and he’s not pointing to the fact that marriage is an institution that is being redefined by the courts.”
But Nammo also noted that Obama is the most “pro-gay” presidential candidate that America has ever had. “He has been unapologetic about where he stands on the issue,” he stated. “Obama may not have come out and stated his support for same-sex ‘marriage,’ but he has done everything but that.”
The Family Research Center released a national poll earlier this month to show that 49% of voters are much more likely to vote for a candidate who supports state marriage amendments to the Constitution.
Ballot measures similar to the California Marriage Protection Act have often passed with a large margin of support from voters. So far, 27 of the 28 states that have included marriage amendment proposals on the ballot were passed.
But Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, remains worried about the California proposal.
“Right now, it doesn’t look good on our side,” he said. The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a Sacramento based organization, is working to mobilize Hispanic voters to vote for the marriage initiative as part of a broader coalition of cultural and faith based leaders.
Rodriguez is also an advising member of the Alliance for Marriage, a national coalition for the defense of marriage.
A May 28 California Field Poll reported that 51% oppose amending the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and only 43% favored an amendment. Six percent of those surveyed had no opinion on the amendment.
California is also home to several homosexual groups who are actively campaigning against the marriage initiative.
Opponents of the amendment are working to frame the issue as an issue of civil rights and tolerance against an “extremist right-wing” effort to discriminate.
“We do not need to amend our constitution to give the government more say in our private lives,” said Geoff Kors, executive director of Equality California, a group that opposes the amendment. “The right to marry is as fundamental as other basic human freedoms like free speech, the right to vote and the pursuit of happiness. The government simply has no business telling people who can and cannot get married.”
Funding for activists opposing the amendment is pouring in, Rodriguez noted, and supporters of the marriage initiative would have to match their efforts for the measure to exceed.
“We’re lagging behind in funds,” he admitted. “If we have 10 million, they have 40 million. We need a miracle financially to explain our side.”
Rodriguez added that the most important issue is to get the right message out to California voters, and, at the same time, repudiate homophobia.
“We need to incorporate some sort of compassionate, grace-filled inclination that it’s not an ‘us vs. them’ battle,” he said, “but rather, a matter of preserving an institution that is so necessary for addressing many of the social ills of our time.”
Charlie Spiering is based in