The recent run of states legalizing gay marriage – punctuated Wednesday by Maine becoming the fifth to do so – has increased the likelihood that California voters will face another ballot measure on the issue as early as next year.
The California Supreme Court is expected to uphold Proposition 8, last November’s ballot measure banning gay marriage, with a decision possible as soon as next week.
Before the court has ruled, both sides already are gearing up for another political campaign, which many now say could come in 2010.
As recently as a few months ago, some gay-rights activists were fearful that would be too soon. But the political climate has changed, they say. Gay marriage is now legal in at least five states, with New York, New Jersey and New Hampshire poised to follow.
“There is no doubt we are witnessing an enormous and unprecedented sea change in both public opinion and momentum on the issue of marriage equality,” said Kate Kendell, executive directive of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “I believe the electorate nationally and in California is in a different place when it comes to marriage equality than it was six months ago.”
Frank Schubert, who ran the Yes on 8 campaign in favor of the gay-marriage ban in California, said the decisions in New England and Iowa gave a boost to gay-marriage activists.
However, he said the battle was far from over, because voters in Iowa and Maine might overturn those decisions. Helping to persuade them might be Schubert himself, as he is advising a national group on how to duplicate the victory he helped secure in California against same-sex marriage.
“There’s no doubt the other side is going to try to make great hay out of Iowa and Maine … but none of those places are California. And California voters have now twice voted on this,” he said. “What part of ‘No’ don’t they understand?”
In 2000, as the gay-rights movement pushed for rights for couples, California voters approved Proposition 22, an initiative that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. Last May 15, in a landmark ruling, the California Supreme Court threw out that law, making the state the second in the nation after Massachusetts to allow gay marriage.
An estimated 18,000 same-sex couples were married in California before Nov. 4, when Proposition 8 amended the state constitution to outlaw gay marriage.
Since then, other states have moved toward legalizing gay marriage.
“The more states that come on board, the more people in California wonder: What did we do here?” said Marc Solomon, the newly hired marriage director for the gay-rights group Equality California. “Are gay couples in Bangor, Maine, and Dubuque, Iowa, really going to be marrying when people in Pasadena (Calif.) can’t?”
Late Wednesday afternoon, Equality California announced a grass-roots campaign to reach 300,000 voters in the next 100 days.
Many gay-rights activists say they hold a slim hope that the changes in other states might influence the California Supreme Court as it weighs legal challenges to Proposition 8.
If the court upholds the ban as expected, the developments in Iowa and Maine are already shaping political tactics.
The Saturday after the court rules, for example, activists are trying to organize a massive rally in Fresno, Calif., featuring actress Charlize Theron. “The battle for equality has to be fought in Middle America – in places like Fresno, California – not just in gay-friendly cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles,” the Courage Campaign said in an e-mail to supporters Wednesday.
Rick Jacobs, director of the group, said in an interview, “People see the possibility of winning places like Fresno because of what we’re seeing across the country.”