Sex, Religion & Prop 8

The vote on California’s Proposition 8 in the November election shocked and dismayed the gay community—and surprised others who thought it was a shoo-in vote for the liberal state. Prop 8 amended the state constitution to read, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California”; the measure was approved by a majority of the voters (52.3 percent). If the measure is upheld by the court, it will rescind a May 2008 California Supreme Court decision sanctioning same-sex marriage. (Since November 5, same-sex marriages are prohibited in California; those that took place between May and November 2008 are in litigation.)

Though it shares the liberal tendencies of Massachusetts and Connecticut, where courts also legalized gay marriage, California has a robust referendum system that allows the voters to have their say. When voting yes on Proposition 8, over 7 million Californians said no to gay marriage; conversely, 6.4 million who voted no said yes. (Language confusion is one of the characteristic flaws of a politicized referendum system.) It was a costly electoral battle totaling $83 million, second only to the presidential campaign. What happened? Who opposed gay marriage and why?

In a contest predicted to favor same-sex marriage, the initial surprise was the overwhelming percentage of African Americans who voted to oppose it—an election-day exit poll reported 70...

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About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.