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NO MARRIAGE: California votes YES on Prop 8
NO MARRIAGE: California votes YES on Prop 8
by Mike Andrew - SGN Contributing Writer

California's Prop 8, an amendment to the state's constitution that would define marriage as an institution limited to one man and one woman, is passing. The measure was introduced by a coalition of right-wing and religious groups to reverse the California State Supreme Court's historic decision in favor of marriage equality.

With all precincts reporting, Yes votes led No votes by 52.5% to 47.5%, or about 500,000 votes. Somewhat more than 10 million votes were cast. Reportedly some 3 million absentee ballots are still being counted, but they seem to be trending slightly to the Yes side.

The No on Prop 8 Campaign website calls the election "too close to call." Other organizations, however, announced plans based on the assumption that Prop 8 would be successful. Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a petition with the California State Supreme Court urging them to strike down Prop 8.

In a media release announcing their filing, Lambda said in part, "The petition charges that Prop 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution's core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group - Lesbian and Gay Californians. Prop 8 also improperly attempts to prevent the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of protecting the equal protection rights of minorities."

It is not known when the court will rule on Lambda's petition, or whether other legal attempts to overturn Prop 8 will be forthcoming.

About 11,000 same-sex couples have been married in California since July this year, when the State Supreme Court's decision went into effect. Most legal experts believe that these marriages remain valid because they were legal at the time they were performed, but there is a possibility they would be invalidated by future court decisions in the wake of Prop 8.

In addition to California's Prop 8, anti-marriage constitutional amendments passed in Arizona and Florida. Arkansas passed an initiative prohibiting adoptions by same-sex couples.

The California campaign was hard-fought and astonishingly expensive. In all, $73 million was spent on both sides, making this the most expensive electoral contest of the year except for the presidential race. The No on Prop 8 Campaign spent $37.6 million and the other side spent $35.8 million.

About 30% of the total contributions - about $22 million - came from outside California, with both sides raising money from their respective national bases. The most out-of-state money - $3.6 million total - came from Utah, where the LDS (Mormon) Church raised about $2.6 million for the Yes on 8 side. Of the $51 million raised in-state, the two sides split the contributions relatively evenly.

The No on Prop 8 had been trailing badly in fundraising in early October, but a national media alert produced over $10 million in late contributions. Equal Rights Washington (ERW) Advocacy Director Josh Friedes questioned the value of last-minute spending, however. "Early money is many times more valuable than late money," Friedes said, "and I firmly believe that had the education campaign that preceded the political campaign been better funded we could have spent half the money and won."

The No on Prop 8 Campaign was controversial even within the LGBT community. Many activists criticized the campaign for the absence of Gay or Lesbian couples in its advertising. Campaign leaders replied that their aim was to win over a relatively small segment of undecided straight voters who would respond better to images of middle-of-the-road straight people. In mid-October, the campaign shook up its staff in an attempt to respond to critics and re-energize its organization.

Questions remain, however, especially in the context of an election that saw a huge turnout for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Obama won over 6 million votes in California, or 61%, compared to 37.2% for McCain. Obama had been publicly critical of Prop 8, and has been supportive of LGBT rights.

In a statement to SGN, ERW's Friedes emphasized the importance of analyzing the defeat in California and drawing appropriate lessons for Washington State. "I do not think the vote in California changes our timetable, it just helps us better understand what it is we need to secure marriage equality in Washington State," he said.

"It will not be that long before we pass a marriage bill in Washington State and then we will face a referendum," Friedes continued. "If we are to defeat this referendum we must learn the lessons taught to us by our defeat in California. Ballot measures on marriage are not like other issues. You cannot change people's positions on marriage equality in the heat of a divisive campaign. So we must act today as if the election were tomorrow and educate our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. In order to influence the numbers, we will need to achieve a marriage equality majority prior to the start of a referendum campaign. We are going to need to reach beyond our comfort zones and enlist our straight allies in asking them to speak to their social networks."

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