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November 5, 2008

Column #1,419

Marriage Won in Three States

by Mike McManus

 In 1956 when I was a teenager I witnessed one of the first Civil Rights battles, the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by then unknown Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  After Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, King persuaded Negroes to stop riding the buses. For a year they walked to work.  The case went to the Supreme Court which ruled blacks could sit anywhere they wished.

 It is hard to imagine such racial oppression, or to appreciate the immense effort by blacks for the smallest gains toward America’s ideal that “All men are created equal.”

Therefore, I understand African-Americans jubilantly celebrating the election of Barack Obama, the first black man to be President.  They had every reason to exclaim, “Its just like a new world,” said Leroy Johnson, 80, a year behind Dr. King at Morehouse College.

However, there was also reason for celebrating by religious conservatives who opposed Obama’s election.  In three states, voters said no to homosexual marriage.  Most notably, Californians voted 52 to 48 percent to insert an amendment into the state constitution, stating, “Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” 

Similar state marriage amendments were added to the constitutions of Florida and Arizona, making them the 29th  and 30th states to protect marriage. In Florida, a super-majority was required, a 60 percent vote, yet it won by 62 to 38 percent. The Arizona amendment passed by 56 to 44 percent.                                                            

The battle for passage in California was titanic.  After activists gathered one million names on a petition for a vote on what became Proposition 8, the California Supreme Court ruled by 4-3 that an earlier law, with the same language, was unconstitutional though it was passed by a referendum supported by 61 percent of 7.5 million voting in 2000.

Suddenly gay marriage was legal and 11,000 gay and lesbian couples tied the knot.

Attorney General Jerry Brown allowed Prop 8 to be put on the ballot, but he biased the wording of the measure by saying it “eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry.”

A poll revealed that Californians opposed Prop 8 by 54 to 40 percent.  Thousands of churches got involved in the fight, and ultimately raised  millions to make a case for Prop 8. One of their TV ads stated that “Children in public schools will have to be taught that same-sex marriage is just as good as traditional marriage.”                              

The supporters of gay marriage were horrified and raised millions to air a counter ad in which California’s Superintendent of Schools charged that Prop 8 had nothing to do with the schools, adding that same-sex marriage would not be taught in public schools.

Those who backed Prop 8 countered with an ad proving him wrong by noting that 96 percent of California’s school districts have to teach “respect for marriage and committed relationships.”                                                                    

The battle then turned nasty.  Tens of thousands of “Yes on 8" signs were stolen, or were vandalized with a swastika or with the word BIGOT.  The organizers of Prop 8 found their own property defaced, such as spray-painting a car rear window: BIGOTS LIVE HERE, with an arrow pointed toward the house.                                                     

A church was spray-painted NO ON 8 - EQUAL RIGHTS.

A new round of ads supporting Prop 8 ads began with a man’s calm voice saying “The restoration of traditional marriage is something that millions have supported. Marriage between a man and a woman is hardly controversial. It binds men and women to create a loving environment for the raising up of children.”

It then depicted how supporters of Prop 8 “have been excoriated, vilified, harassed, called bigots. Property has been destroyed by roaming vandals, churches have been defaced, donors to our campaign have been beaten and hospitalized,” one of whom was pictured in a closeup.                                               

Another ad warned that if Prop 8 failed, that adoption agencies would be forced to place children with same-sex couples, that ministers who preach against same sex marriages may lose their tax exemption or be sued for hate speech, which has happened in Canada and Sweden.

Ultimately, 70,000 people contributed $38 million for such ads. Some were targeted at African Americans who were expected to vote for Obama, but were supportive of traditional marriage.   They were countered by $32 million of hostile ads, much of it donated by Hollywood stars. It was the most expensive battle ever fought over a referendum  .

In the end, however, a state which voted 61 percent for Obama, who opposed Proposition 8 -- also voted 52-48 percent in favor of the constitutional amendment protecting marriage.

Both sides rejoiced.

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