SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–California voters Tuesday overruled the state Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing “gay marriage,” and in the process handed the nationwide pro-family movement one of its most significant victories ever.
With 95 percent of results tabulated, Proposition 8 — a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman — led by 52-48 percent and a margin of 400,000 votes out of nearly 10 million cast.
The amendment reverses the high court’s landmark May decision and serves as the biggest setback yet for homosexual activists in their goal of legalizing “gay marriage” nationwide.
It is the first time that voters in a state have overturned a court’s decision on the issue. The amendment reads, “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
“When one looks at the demographics of California, if traditional marriage can win in California, it can win in any of the 50 states when it’s put to a vote of the people,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press.
The victory was but one of four “gay rights” ballot initiatives where conservatives were victorious. Florida adopted a marriage amendment — passing it 62-38 percent and surpassing the necessary 60 percent supermajority — while Arizona passed its own marriage amendment, 56-44 percent, two years after citizens there had become the first state to defeat an amendment.
Three-fifths (30) of the states now have adopted a marriage amendment.
Meanwhile, a ballot initiative in Arkansas prohibiting adoptions by cohabitating heterosexual and homosexual couples passed, 57-43 percent. The only loss of the night for conservatives pertaining to “gay rights” came in Connecticut, where voters by a margin of 59-41 percent rejected a once-every-two-decades question asking whether a constitutional convention should be held. Conservatives had hoped to use the convention to legalize direct initiative in the state and then to gather enough signatures to place a marriage amendment on the ballot.
The win in California easily was the night’s highlight for social conservatives — and a shock to many political observers. The Yes for 8 campaign trailed in the final three pre-election public polls and even trailed in the Election Day exit polling, 53-47 percent. With the amendment’s passage, it is uncertain what will happen to the thousands of licenses already issued.
“Given the Full Faith and Credit Clause found in our [federal] Constitution, if it hadn’t passed, we would have seen a floodgate opened in terms of same-sex marriage. Now, we’ve closed that gate,” Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state and current senior fellow at the Family Research Council, said during a conference call with reporters. “… We now don’t have the threat of the rapid expansion of same-sex marriage throughout the country.”
Prop 8 supporters had to overcome at least three major obstacles in recent months, the first of which came in early June when the California Supreme Court refused to delay its ruling from going into effect until after the November vote; backers knew it could be much tougher to pass an amendment when licenses already were being issued. A second obstacle came later in June, when California Attorney General Jerry Brown changed the ballot language (the actual language voters see in the voting booth) to say that it “eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry” — a much more negative description than what it previously read. Thirdly, supporters of Prop 8 had to survive an influx of cash to the opposition; over the final month of the campaign, the main opposition group — boosted by money from big-name Hollywood stars, homosexual interests groups and the California Teachers Association — raised $19 million, significantly more than the $10.3 million brought in by ProtectMarriage.com, the lead organization supporting it. Fundraising was critical to purchasing television ads.
Conservatives feared that California — a trend-setter in social issues as the nation’s most populous state — also would lead the way in legalizing “gay marriage” nationwide. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom famously told a cheering crowd after the high court issued its decision, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” In hindsight, conservatives hope he was right.
Prop 8 supporters won by successfully changing the discussion about “marriage rights” to a discussion on the impact of “gay marriage.” They ran television commercials showing how children in public schools would learn about “gay marriage” if the decision was not overturned. They also effectively used Newsom in a TV ad, showing him confidently telling a crowd in reference to “gay marriage” legalization, “It’s gonna happen, whether you like it or not!” Additionally, Prop 8 backers successfully energized churchgoers to vote in droves.
The fact that marriage amendments passed in California and Florida — two states carried by Democrat Barack Obama — is noteworthy, Blackwell said.
“I think it’s important that … folks understand that we don’t put these issues on the ballot because they are wedge issues or issues to be used as political tools,” he said. “We really put them on the ballot because we think it’s important to get public policy that respects the desires of the body politic.”
In California, 35 percent of Democrats voted for the amendment, while in Florida, the number was 47 percent. Blacks also overwhelmingly backed the amendments; in California, 70 percent of African Americans voted for Prop 8, and in Florida, 71 percent of black voters voted for Amendment 2. Increased black turnout in California helped make the difference: In 2004, blacks made up 6 percent of California voters; this year it was 10 percent.
Florida’s marriage amendment passed despite being outspent by an estimated margin of 3-to-1 and despite a campaign by opponents to make the debate about anything but “gay marriage.” The victory ended a four-year effort that began with the collecting of signatures to place it on the ballot.
“Once again the people of Florida have spoken,” said John Stemberger, chairman of Florida’s Yes2Marriage.org. “They have voted for the common sense of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Gathering election night at Orlando’s First Baptist Church of Central Florida, several hundred supporters of Amendment 2 watched cable news network election results, while carefully monitoring the votes on the marriage amendment coming in from across the state. By the time it was safe to declare victory at around 11 p.m. Eastern, about two dozen supporters sang the Fanny Crosby hymn, “To God be the Glory,” and closed with a time of prayer led by Clayton Cloer, pastor of First Baptist Central Florida and leader of the effort to rally pastors to support the amendment.
The victory in Arizona means that every state that has placed a marriage amendment on the ballot eventually has passed it. The 2006 amendment failed, 52-48 percent, mainly because opponents successfully changed the debate away from “gay marriage.” That was not the case this time, because supporters tweaked the amendment so that it banned “gay marriage” only and left the issue of same-sex civil unions for another day.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by James A. Smith Sr., executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at FloridaBaptistWitness.com, and Tom Strode of BP’s Washington bureau.