In a key vote being watched around the US and beyond, California will revisit on Nov. 4 the question of same-sex marriage. Proposition 8 would outlaw gay marriage by amending the state Constitution to say: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
The battle over Proposition 8 has been building in recent weeks, with millions of dollars being poured into ads on both sides, and some polls showing rising support for the measure.
Because of the state's size, population, and history of being on the cutting edge in social and cultural movements, the vote may help speed up or slow down similar moves in other states and countries.
"The world is watching this," says Dr. Leo Godzich, president of the National Association for Marriage Enhancement, a marriage education organization based in Arizona. "We have gained a worldwide reputation for exporting social issues to other nations. So, many are watching to see whether we will stand up for what has been a traditional foundation for society."
Gay-rights advocates say the notion of "traditional foundation" is expanding. And they expect that any defeat in California will discourage similar moves to outlaw same-sex unions elsewhere.
"People everywhere are less and less uncomfortable with the idea [of same-sex marriage]," says Steve Smith, a key strategist for the campaign against Prop. 8. "People know more and more same-sex couples who are valid members of society – the ones who operate a small shop downtown or the fireman next door. They've seen so many couples who have been together 20, 30, 40 years get married and the world hasn't come to an end. So now the issue is, 'Don't end this opportunity for these people.' "
A close vote?
Californians first outlawed same-sex marriage in a voter initiative in 2000. But that vote was struck down in May by the state Supreme Court, which said the state can't deny marriage to a couple on the basis of gender.
An estimated 11,000 same-sex couples have married in California since then.
A recent Survey USA poll showed 47 percent of Californians supported the new ballot initiative and 42 percent opposed it.
Formal studies have shown that polls have underestimated the pro-traditional-marriage vote by an average of 7 percent over the past several years. That is based on the observation that many respondents don't want to tell pollsters how strongly they feel about conventional marriage.
However, new voters, especially from young and minority groups, have been brought into politics this year by Barack Obama. Which of them show up on voting day could also affect the outcome.
Some critics of the measure say the only reason it is on the ballot is that the state Supreme Court was inappropriately activist about the issue.
"It's obvious that … in this case the judicial branch has overstepped its bounds and is legislating from the bench," says Dr. Godzich. "The people of California in 2000 spoke their desires [in approving Prop. 22 in 2000] and these judges are overturning their will."
But opponents say times have changed. "[California Gov.] Arnold [Schwarzenegger] is against ending same-sex marriage, and the legislature has approved such laws twice," says anti-Prop. 8 strategist Mr. Smith. "Out of the four justices who made the decision, three were appointed by conservative Republican governors."
Ad spending rises
Pro and con ads are flooding state television. One ad against the measure features a gray-haired heterosexual couple, married 46 years, with three children, one of whom is gay.
"My wife and I never treated our children different, we never loved them any differently, and the law shouldn't treat them differently either," says the father.
In recent days, opponents of same-sex marriage have stepped up television advertising and warned voters that if Proposition 8 is defeated, children will be taught about gay marriage in elementary schools. Gay-marriage supporters call that argument misleading.
As of last week, the campaign supporting the measure had raised $25.4 million, compared with $15.8 million for those supporting the right to gay marriage.
Gay-rights advocates are turning to Hollywood celebrities for help. In recent weeks, director Steven Spielberg and actor Brad Pitt each donated $100,000 in support of the campaign to preserve the right to gay marriage.
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who wed actress Portia de Rossi in August, had vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden (D) on her show Monday opposing Prop. 8 and has thrown $100,000 to buy TV time to fight the ban.
• Material from Reuters was used in this article.