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California votes down same-sex marriage

Voters in Florida and Arizona also approved similar bans in a setback for the gay rights movement.

By / November 5, 2008

Volunteer Antonio Prieto installed a 'Yes on 8' proposition yard sign at a home in East Los Angeles, California on Oct. 31. A majority of Californian people voted for the gay marriage ban on election day.

Fred Prouser/Reuters

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Oakland, Calif.

California voters spoke Tuesday: Same-sex couples will no longer be permitted to legally marry in the Golden State.

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With 95 percent of the vote counted Wednesday morning, a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage headed for a narrow victory. It’s a public repudiation of a landmark state court ruling in May that found same-sex couples have a right to marry.

Voters in Florida and Arizona also approved constitutional bans on gay marriage on Tuesday. Just two years earlier, Arizona was the first state to defeat a gay marriage ban at the ballot box.

In the short-term, the ballot results this year represent a setback in the momentum that had been building for same-sex marriage. Opponents can now argue more vigorously that courts are trying to force a social change that’s too radical in the eyes of the public.

“In general, whenever a gay rights issue gets hot and gets a lot of political attention, support for gay rights drops,” says Gregory Lewis, a Georgia State University professor who has studied voter attitudes on gay marriage. “It’s not surprising that once Prop 8 started generating some real buzz, apparently, there was a drop in support for same-sex marriage.”

Buzz is an understatement. Proposition 8 became an all-out blitzkrieg in the culture war. Some $74 million poured into the campaigns, a national record for a social policy referendum.

The fight drew in Catholic bishops and Utah-based Mormons, Hollywood celebrities and high-tech titans like Google founder Sergey Brin. Even San Francisco 49er legend Steve Young fielded questions when his wife put up a “No on 8” yard sign.

An estimated 18,000 same-sex couples have already married in California. Legal scholars suggest these marriages would continue to be recognized despite Tuesday’s vote.

“It’s a matter of some dispute. My own judgment would be that they are perfectly valid,” says Doug Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University and opponent of gay marriage.

Mr. Kmiec says it’s too early to tell what finally persuaded voters, but he suspects concerns that same-sex marriage would be “taught as commonplace in school materials” was influential for some.

Campaign advertising first raised the concern, which was then illustrated further when public school first-graders were bused on a field trip to their lesbian teacher’s wedding at San Francisco’s city hall last month.

“If gay marriage is just about what Adam and Steve do in their private life, that’s one thing,” says Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, an advocacy group for traditional marriage. “But it’s also about what we are going to have to teach and affirm to our children.”

The “No on Prop. 8” campaign argued vehemently against the notion that the measure would have any impact either way on schools. They pointed to state Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell, who said, “our schools aren’t required to teach anything about marriage.”

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