Constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage pass in California, Arizona and Florida; gay adoption ban passes in Arkansas
Steve Atkinson said he’s "hugely sad" about the passage Tuesday, Nov. 4 of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in California — but not because it means his marriage might be invalidated.
Atkinson, a longtime local gay-rights activist, and his partner of 19 years, Ted Kincaid, traveled to San Francisco from Dallas in July and became one of an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples who’ve tied the knot in California since gay marriage became legal there in June.
But on Tuesday, California voters passed Proposition 8, which limits marriage to heterosexual couples, by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. Prop 8 nullifies the decision by the California Supreme Court in May that made same-sex marriage legal.
Atkinson said he doubts existing marriages will be invalidated, which is yet to be determined, but he’s more concerned about the overall impact on LGBT equality.
"I’m much more concerned about the bigger picture. If you look at the big picture, even if they invalidate our marriage, it’s not going to take any rights from us that we currently have," Atkinson said Wednesday, adding that the state of Texas doesn’t recognize their marriage anyway. "That still doesn’t mean I’m not hugely sad about it. It’s very sad and very disheartening."
In addition to California, voters in Arizona and Florida also approved bans on same-sex marriage Tuesday, and in Arkansas, a constitutional amendment passed that prohibits gay and lesbian couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents. The only state where the LGBT community was on the winning side of a ballot initiative was Connecticut, where voters rejected a Constitutional Convention aimed, in large part, at banning same-sex marriage.
"This is an otherwise very happy day, and there’s a lot for us to be celebrating as a community," said Atkinson, a member of the national board of governors for the Human Rights Campaign. "On the one hand I think our country took such a huge step forward by electing [Barack] Obama president and by really turning away from hateful politics and turning to candidates who want to unify people and not divide people. The other part of the dichotomy that’s the sad part is that so many voters in those four states voted to discriminate against us as GLBT people, and those voters think that’s perfectly OK. We had a huge victory, I think, as a community in this election cycle, but we have a long way to go."
While the defeats in Arizona, Arkansas and Florida were disappointing, they paled in comparison to the one in California, the nation’s most populous state.
Spending for and against Prop 8 reached $74 million — including hundreds of thousands in contributions from Texas — making it the most expensive social-issues campaign in U.S. history and the most expensive campaign this year outside the race for the White House. Activists on both sides of the issue saw the measure as critical to building momentum for their causes due to the state’s broad economic, social and political influence on the rest of the U.S.
"People believe in the institution of marriage," Frank Schubert, co-manager of the Yes on 8 campaign, told The Associated Press after declaring victory early Wednesday. "It’s one institution that crosses ethnic divides, that crosses partisan divides. … People have stood up because they care about marriage and they care a great deal."
Leaders of the No on 8 campaign initially refused to concede the race, because Prop 8 was ahead by only 400,000 votes, but 3-4 million absentee ballots had yet to be counted. By Thursday, though, it became clear that the absentee ballots wouldn’t be enough to make up the difference.
"We are humbled by the courage, dignity and commitment displayed by all who fought this historic battle," leaders of the No on 8 campaign said in a mass e-mail Thursday afternoon. "Victory was not ours today. But the struggle for equality is not over."
A day earlier, opponents of Prop 8 filed three lawsuits, and on Wednesday night, thousands of marriage equality supporters took to the streets in Los Angeles and San Francisco, resulting in multiple arrests.
About 3,000 to 5,000 people reportedly attended a rally in West Hollywood, where they marched through the streets, blocking traffic at major intersections. About 2,000 people attended a rally on the steps of City Hall in San Francisco, and more protests were planned in California on Thursday.
Exit polls for The AP found that Proposition 8 received critical support from black voters who flocked to the polls to support Obama for president. About seven in 10 blacks voted in favor of the ban, while Latinos also supported it and whites were split.
Californians overwhelmingly passed a ban on same-sex marriage in 2000, but gay-rights supporters had hoped public opinion on the issue had shifted enough for this year’s measure to be rejected.
"We pick ourselves up and trudge on," Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told AP. "There has been enormous movement in favor of full equality in eight short years. That is the direction this is heading, and if it’s not today or it’s not tomorrow, it will be soon."
Similar same-sex marriage bans had prevailed in 27 states before Tuesday’s elections, but none were in California’s situation — with gay couples already having been married there. The state attorney general, Jerry Brown, has said those marriages will remain valid, although legal challenges are possible.
Despite intense disappointment, some newlyweds chose to look on the positive side, taking comfort that millions of Californians had voted to validate their relationships.
"I’m really OK," said Diana Correia, of Berkeley, who married her partner of 18 years, Cynthia Correia, on Sunday in front of the couple’s two children and 80 relatives and friends. "I hope the marriage holds, but we are already married in our hearts, so nobody can take that away."
Jake Rowe, 27, and James Eslick, 29, were in the midst of getting married at Sacramento City Hall on Wednesday morning when someone from the clerk’s office stopped the wedding. But not all county clerks stopped sanctioning same-sex marriages Wednesday.
Grace Chavez, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County registrar’s office in Norwalk, said weddings for gay couples were being performed in first floor chapel. But in San Francisco, county clerk Karen Hong Lee said gay couples were asked to wait until the office received guidance from state officials.
Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Debra Bowen, said initiatives typically take effect the day after an election, although the results from Tuesday’s races will not be certified until Dec. 13.
Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for Brown, said the attorney general’s office has yet to decide whether same-sex marriages conducted after Election Day would be valid.
Marriage equality supporters filed three lawsuits Wednesday asking the California Supreme Court to invalidate Prop 8. All three lawsuits argued that Prop 8 was a constitutional revision — and not an amendment — because it fundamentally altered the guarantee of equal protection, according to The Los Angeles Times. A constitutional revision must be approved by the state Legislature.
Tuesday’s vote drops the number of states that allow gay marriage to one, though it will soon rise again to two.
A ruling by Massachusetts’ highest court made same-sex marriage legal there in 2004. A ruling last month by the Connecticut Supreme Court will make gay marriage legal there beginning next week. All other states specifically forbid it except for New York, which recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and Rhode Island, where state law is silent on the subject.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 7, 2008.