2008: Battle over same-sex marriage ending / San Francisco Chronicle

See the original of this post on the San Francisco Chronicle website at this link.

Thanks much,

Steve St.Clair
Battle over same-sex marriage ending
John Wildermuth, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
(11-04) 21:45 PST SAN FRANCISCO —

After a heated, divisive campaign, fueled by a record $73 million of spending, California voters Tuesday were backing Prop. 8, which would change the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

With 21 percent of the vote counted, the measure held a 54 percent to 46 percent lead.

Six months after the California Supreme Court cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to legally wed, the estimated 18,000 same-sex couples who took advantage of the landmark decision now are wondering if they will be the last.

Opponents of the measure, gathered at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, were confident the numbers would start moving their way.

“It’s really early,” said Ali Bay, a spokeswoman for the “No on Prop. 8” campaign. “I expect we’ll be watching this race late into the night.”

Supporters of the ban were cautiously optimistic.

“We’re confident voters did go to the polls to vote ‘yes’ to protect traditional marriage,” said Chip White, a spokesman for the Prop. 8 campaign.

Same-sex marriage bans won easily Tuesday night in Florida and Arizona. It was a rematch in Arizona, which in 2006 became the only state to ever reject a ban on gay marriage.

The campaign pitted those who argued that a same-sex marriage ban was nothing more than outdated discrimination against gays and lesbians, and conservatives and Christian groups who countered that the state and the courts have no right to unilaterally change a definition of marriage that has existed for centuries.

The flood of dollars that poured into California from every part of the country made Prop. 8 the most expensive social issue race the nation has ever seen. And behind every one of those checks was someone desperately worried about what the result of the election could mean to them and their state.

To San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and other opponents of Prop. 8, as well as to religious groups who backed the measure, the proposed ban on same-sex marriage was the second most important election in the country Tuesday.

The Prop. 8 battle, born in San Francisco, came eight years after more than 61 percent of California voters came out in favor of Prop. 22, which banned same-sex marriage in the state. But supporters had little time to savor the victory.

In 2004, Newsom set off a political and social explosion when he ordered marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in the city. Gay and lesbian couples flocked to the city, showing up in wedding dresses and tuxes for the chance to be legally married. Despite outraged reaction from across the state and nation, Newsom didn’t back down until a court ordered the city to stop issuing the same-sex licenses.

In 2005 and 2007, the Legislature passed bills that would have allowed same-sex marriage, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed them. In 2006, the state Supreme Court voted unanimously to hear several challenges to same-sex marriage and rule on them.

Opponents of same-sex marriage were ready with a challenge that became Prop. 8.

Worried that a governor after Schwarzenegger would sign a same-sex marriage bill or that the court would rule against them, Prop. 22 supporters began putting together another initiative drive to make the same-sex marriage ban part of the California Constitution, beyond the reach of either the Legislature or the courts. They raised the money and gathered more than 1.1 million signatures by this spring.

On May 15, the state Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage. The court voted 4-3 to overturn Prop. 22 and the same-sex marriage ban, ruling that the state Constitution provided a right to marry that extends to same-sex couples. The three dissenting justices argued that it was up to the voters or the Legislature, not the court, to permit same-sex marriage, a view quickly taken up by opponents of the ruling.

“Four judges ignored 4 million voters and imposed same-sex marriage on California,” Prop. 8 supporters said in a TV ad. “It’s no longer about tolerance. Acceptance of gay marriage is now mandatory.”

It was an argument that continued all the way to election day.

But with same-sex marriage legal in California, opponents of Prop. 8 could run a totally different campaign from the type that had lost virtually every election over the issue in states across the nation.

Rather than arguing for same-sex marriage, opponents took the moral high ground atop the Supreme Court decision and argued that a vote for Prop. 8 was a vote for discrimination. They got another bit of help when state Attorney General Jerry Brown ordered the Prop. 8 ballot language changed to say that it “eliminates the rights of same-sex couples to marry.”

Prop. 8 backers charged that politics, not legal rectitude, was behind Brown’s decision. They went to court, but lost.

That allowed Prop. 8 opponents, worried that many voters were not enamored with the idea of same-sex marriage, to run a TV campaign that almost never mentioned gays or lesbians or showed them in an ad. Instead, the ads charged that Prop. 8 supporters wanted to take away rights from a single, unnamed group of people, which just wasn’t fair.

“Proposition 8 would be a terrible mistake for California,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a “No on Prop. 8” ad in the final week of the campaign. “It’s about discrimination, and we must always say no to that.”

That pitch also was a big help for the Democratic presidential ticket. Both Barack Obama and Joe Biden could give 100 percent support to the campaign’s efforts to preserve rights, even though neither of them supports same-sex marriage.

Middle-of-the-road voters were the prize in the campaign, and both sides geared their efforts toward grabbing them.

“There are about 40 percent of the voters on each side, and nothing will move them,” said Steve Smith, political consultant for the “No on Prop. 8” effort. “Then there’s the other 20 percent that seems to change their mind every day. That’s who we concentrate on.”

The fight for undecided voters left each side battling around the edges of an issue that seemed straightforward enough: Should gay and lesbian couples be allowed to marry in California?

Both campaigns worked hard to avoid offending voters they needed for victory.

Supporters of the same-sex marriage ban aimed their ads at parents, warning that if Prop. 8 lost, children would be taught in public schools that there is no difference between traditional marriages and same-sex unions. As a little girl in one TV ad told her mother: “I learned how a prince can marry a prince, and I can marry a princess.”

The Prop. 8 campaign set a record as the most expensive social issue election in the nation’s history, with more than 140,000 donors giving a combined $73 million to the two sides. Across the state, thousands of volunteers worked phone banks and knocked on doors in an effort to drum up support.

E-mail John Wildermuth at jwildermuth@sfchronicle.com


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