The passage of a ban on same-sex marriage in California has sent shockwaves throughout the country. On Tuesday, November 4, voters in California narrowly approved a ballot measure, named “Proposition 8,” which aims to amend the state constitution to eliminate marriage rights for same-sex couples.
This overturns a decision made in May 2008 by the state’s Supreme Court which at the time made California the second state in country after Massachusetts to legalize gay marriage to much acclaim. More than 18,000 California couples have married since then and are now left wondering what rights they may have.
As jubilation over Obama’s election victory subsided Wednesday, anger at the passage of Proposition 8 began spilling into California’s streets. Using websites like Facebook and text messages, spontaneous protests of thousands were organized across the state in the following days.
According to the Associated Press, more than 4,000 people marched on a Mormon church (which collected $3.6 million from Utah churches alone for the ”yes” campaign) and blocked traffic in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. Seven protesters were arrested in clashes with police. The next night, thousands showed up to protest again!
Daily protests have also occurred in San Francisco and the state capitol in Sacramento. On Friday night, November 7, protesters in San Francisco occupied major intersections and shut down a section of the downtown area. The local CBS television news report simply called the protest “huge.” Upwards of 2,000 protesters also blocked intersections in Long Beach Friday. And on Saturday, November 8, 8-10,000 protested in San Diego according to police.
More protests are being planned for the coming days in cities and towns across California. New web sites and organizations have been set up to campaign for an overturn of Proposition 8. A call has even gone out for national demonstrations on Saturday, November 15 (see www.jointheimpact.com). An important battle now looms between the emerging marriage equality movement and the religious right and other opponents of same-sex marriage.
One of the first major struggles will take place in the California court system. Legal challenges were immediately launched against Proposition 8 on the basis that the measure is not merely an amendment, but a major revision to the state constitution. However, it remains unclear if these legal challenges will succeed. Clearly, the fight for equal rights cannot rely on the wise thinking of a handful of legal experts and judges.
The passage of Proposition 8 represents a major threat to rights of same-sex couples throughout the country – not just in California. Gay marriage bans were also passed in Arizona and Florida. In Arkansas, where a ban on same-sex marriage already exists, a ballot measure aimed at same-sex couples - and using language specifically mentioning them - banned all unmarried couples from adopting children.
Unless these measures are challenged with a major mobilization of opposition nationwide, bigots around the country could use these “victories” to rally more support for suppressing marriage equality and LGBT rights nationally.
LBGT groups, civil rights organizations, women’s organizations, and trade unions (whose membership includes LGBT people) should step up the fight for marriage equality, launching a massive national campaign to demand an overturn of the California decision – and calling for marriage rights to be extended to same-sex couples in every state across the country.
For more info, see our article from May 2005, "Time to Step Up the Struggle for Marriage Equality — Build a Mass Movement to Defeat the Religious Right"