During the last 100 years, the states of California and New York have held the greatest sway over the United States’ laws and policies. In recent years, the state of California was the first to ban cigarette smoking in public areas, and implemented laws as controversial as stem-cell research. On November 4, 2008, there is yet another bill that could have an enormous impact on the direction of the United States- Proposition 8: Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.
What brought about Proposition 8? To answer this, we must turn back a few months to May 15, 2008, when the California Supreme Court voted 4-3 in favor of striking down Proposition 22 and other statues that limited the legal qualification of marriage to a relationship between a man and a woman. The California Supreme Court declared these statues were in violation of the equal protection clause under the California Constitution. Shortly thereafter on June 17, 2008, same-sex marriage became legally recognized in the state of California. This decision has provoked heated debate throughout the different districts of California, and has led to the current fight over Proposition 8.
Proposition 8 has not only displayed the ferocity of opinions surrounding the issue of same-sex marriage in the United States, but also the worldwide recognition of California’s influence over global social, economic, and legal areas. By the end of last week, donations for and against Proposition 8 totaled over $57 million, surpassing donations for any candidate or issue in the upcoming California election. What makes the donations even more important is that they come from all 50 U.S states and 17 different countries.
According to the San Francisco NBC News Network, October 25, 2008:
That would be a record nationally for a ballot initiative based on a social rather than economic issue, campaign finance experts say. It also eclipses the combined total of $33 million spent in the 24 states where similar measures have been put to voters since 2004.
If approved by California voters, Proposition 8 would overturn a state Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriages by changing the state constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman.
Campaign committees formed to respectively back and battle the amendment were close in fundraising as of Oct. 23, AP’s analysis found. Supporters have raised at least $27.7 million, while opponents have taken in $29.2 million, closing a fundraising gap that had them $10 million behind at the beginning of the month.
If you think that all Californians are in support of same-sex marriage, think again. On February 12, 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered city clerks to issue same-sex marriage certificates, they were only short lived. The California Supreme Court ruled against the mayor’s decision and ended up voiding all of the certificates. In recent years there have been repeated attempts at passing same-sex marriage bills in the California Legislature, all without success. In 2005 and 2007, the bill passed the legislature, only to be vetoed by Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Californians themselves are divided over Proposition 8, and this ambivalence has spared no one. Californian clergy are split over the issue, and Mormons are torn between their views and that of the LDS Church.
Proposition 8 is also a speaking point for the Democratic and Republican candidates for president. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have rejected Proposition 8, calling the act divisive and discriminatory. This stance puts Obama at odds with his prior anti-federalist position on the marriage. John McCain and Sarah Palin both publicly support Proposition 8. One July 2nd, 2008, McCain first came out in support of the ban, explaining:
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.
McCain’s position is a step beyond his anti-federalist stance on same-sex marriage, and perhaps is more value-driven than juridical in nature. While the etymology of marriage comes from a specific Judeo-Christian heritage that has been discriminatory toward non-heterosexual relationships, the United States has yet to make a concerted decision on how this word should apply in the contemporary context. If both the California Supreme Court and Californians ends up supporting same-sex marriages, neither federalists nor anti-federalists will have much to say against the law.
In the end, California’s decision may very well decide the future direction of same-sex marriages for the country.
*It should be noted that in addition to Proposition 8, the California ballot contains initiatives on abortion, alternative energy, infrastructure, prison reform, and health care.