Friday, May 23, 2008

Californians Reject Gay Marriage

A new Los Angeles Times poll finds a slight majority of Californians rejecting same-sex marriage:

By bare majorities, Californians reject the state Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex marriages and back a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at the November ballot that would outlaw such unions, a Los Angeles Times/KTLA Poll has found.

But the survey also suggested that the state is moving closer to accepting nontraditional marriages, which could create openings for supporters of same-sex marriage as the campaign unfolds.

More than half of Californians said gay relationships were not morally wrong, that they would not degrade heterosexual marriages and that all that mattered was that a relationship be loving and committed, regardless of gender.

Overall, the proportion of Californians who back either gay marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples has remained fairly constant over the years. But the generational schism is pronounced. Those under 45 were less likely to favor a constitutional amendment than their elders and were more supportive of the court's decision to overturn the state's current ban on gay marriage. They also disagreed more strongly than their elders with the notion that gay relationships threatened traditional marriage.

The results of the survey set up an intriguing question for the fall campaign: Will the younger, more live-and-let-live voters mobilized by likely Democratic nominee Barack Obama doom the gay marriage ban? Or will conservatives drawn to the polls by the amendment boost the odds for the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain?

Either way, the poll suggests the outcome of the proposed amendment is far from certain. Overall, it was leading 54% to 35% among registered voters. But because ballot measures on controversial topics often lose support during the course of a campaign, strategists typically want to start out well above the 50% support level.

"Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure," said Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus.

The politically volatile issue leaped into the forefront last week after the court made its judgment in a case that stemmed from San Francisco's unsuccessful effort in 2004 to allow gay marriage in the city. The court's decision, on a 4-3 vote by judges largely appointed by Republican governors, came eight years after Californians overwhelmingly banned gay marriage through a ballot measure, Proposition 22.

The court's verdict threw the issue forward until November, when Californians are expected to be asked to amend the state Constitution to prohibit gay marriage. An affirmative vote on the amendment would reinstate the ban and lead to more litigation over the issue.

Before the court took action, opponents of same-sex marriage already had submitted more than 1 million signatures to the secretary of state's office to put the matter on the November ballot. Secretary of State Debra Bowen has said she will determine its fate by mid-June, but the backers are believed to have collected enough signatures to qualify.

That is a slim majority opposed, although California gets some heavy-duty advertising campaigns, and the liberal bastions of the state don't always win out. It will, of course, but a huge indicate of California's complete consolidation of left-wing hegemony if the measure fails.
See also, Benjamin Wittes, "State of The Unions," who makes an argument similar to one I shared last week:

The California justices declared the right to marry a person of one's own gender a fundamental right, and they declared as well that it violates state equal protection doctrine for California to treat gay and straight couples differently for purposes of marriage. California has a domestic partnership law, which grants same-sex couples virtually all of the rights and obligations of marriage, making the current dispute one of nomenclature over the use of the word "marriage," not about the substance of marriage rights. But as their colleagues in Massachusetts did a few years ago, the California justices treated this accommodation as a kind of "separate but equal" institution--which is to say, not an equal one at all.

"[Affording] access to this designation exclusively to opposite-sex couples, while providing same-sex couples access to only a novel alternative designation, realistically must be viewed as constituting significantly unequal treatment to same-sex couples," the court wrote. Those challenging the law "persuasively invoke by analogy the decisions of the United States Supreme Court finding inadequate a state's creation of a separate law school for Black students rather than granting such students access to the University of Texas Law School."
The equation of gays rights to the black American freedom struggle is problematic, analytically and morally. But Wittes goes on, noting how Barack Obama's an advocate of civil unions, not the nomenclature-specific notion of "gay marriage":

In all but a small handful of states, such a compromise would represent a giant step forward for same-sex couples. Yet according to the Massachusetts and California supreme courts, that doesn't matter.

Their states, these courts have held, are constitutionally obliged to afford gay relationships all of the recognition given to heterosexual marriage. And the desire of Obama and millions of like-minded Americans to give gay couples everything but the name "marriage" somehow warrants comparison with the building of parallel African American institutions by way of keeping blacks out of white ones.

The court was not the most strident advocate of this view. The San Francisco Chronicle
exulted in response to the ruling that the justices had "strode past the bigotry, fear and blind adherence to tradition that have stood in the way of marriage equality." But what blind, fearful bigots are the Chronicle talking about here? Not just Californians who oppose gay rights entirely, but apparently also those who, like Obama, support civil unions of the type the court rejected.

Something is wrong with this picture. Somehow, we've confused progress on marriage equality with some of the most opprobrious episodes of our legal, cultural, and moral history. For having the guts to move forward while other states were passing nasty constitutional amendments depriving gays of any marital benefits, Californians stand condemned in their own courts for discrimination and in their own newspapers for bigotry.

Few people, of course, really believe this. When we listen to Obama touting civil unions, we hear the progress that he urges, not some appeal to segregation. But it can't be progress when Obama suggests civil unions, and also progress when a court strikes them down as unconstitutionally discriminatory. And there are costs to asking courts to so far outflank our political system that we would admire politicians for advocating things we would simultaneously want judges to toss out.

One of those costs is that venerable phrases like "equal protection" become so twisted that you can get whiplash watching someone like Obama go from progressive to discrimination advocate.
Read that carefully.

For Obama to favor the California decision would put him on the wrong side of civil rights progress.