Same-Sex Marriage Showdown in California

To the apparent disgust and delight of many national religious right leaders, November’s election in California will be about more than the presidency; it will be a showdown of epic proportions over same-sex marriage. And while this year’s battle isn’t as widespread as 2004 (when the Karl Rove-engineered anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiatives were victorious in more than a dozen states and may have helped carry President George W. Bush to a second term), California’s Marriage Initiative could either reenergize the GOP’s now-listless evangelical base, or result in another blow to a religious right many feel is over the hill.

Two recent decisions, one by the California Supreme Court, and the other by the state’s Secretary of State paved the way for the facedown. The battle was joined when on May 15, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, and less than three weeks later, California’s Secretary of State Debra Bowen ruled that an initiative outlawing same-sex marriage would appear on the state‘s November 4 ballot.

If the old aphorism, “as California goes, so goes the nation” has any tread left on its tires, a defeat of the anti-same-sex marriage initiative could roll, albeit slowly and carefully, into other states across the country.

For religious right organizations, the 4-3 ruling by the state Supreme Court–which overturned the state’s 2000 ballot initiative, Proposition 22, and declared same-sex marriage a Constitutional right (making it the second state after Massachusetts to do so)—was a supreme example of so-called judicial activism run amok. And it constituted ample evidence that a national Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was a necessity.

News reports have pointed out that unlike Massachusetts, California will not require marriage license applicants to be state residents. Gays and lesbians from across the country could marry in California and return home to a mixed reception.

Despite requests by opponents of the decision that a stay be issued until after the November election, on June 4 the Court declared that gay couples will be eligible to receive civil marriage licenses in California beginning on June 17.

An outraged Matt Staver, founder and chairman of conservative Liberty Counsel, said that “When the California Supreme Court denied this stay, especially in light of the marriage amendment being certified for the November ballot, it indicates a clear political agenda. I believe that judges acting as judges, and not as legislators, would have granted the stay.”

Staver, who is Dean of the Liberty University School of Law (founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell) added: “This particular battle is not over. It’s not going to be decided by four judges—it’s going to be decided by the people in November. I believe when the passage of the marriage amendment happens in November, all of the marriage licenses, if any, that have been issued will become invalid and invisible.”

On June 3, the Secretary of State said that the sponsors of an anti-same-sex marriage initiative (which is called the Protect Marriage Amendment, and would amend the state Constitution to guarantee that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”) had gathered substantially more than the 694,354 petition signatures, an amount equal to 8 percent of the votes cast during the last governor’s race, to qualify for the ballot.

The initiative campaign has been spearheaded by an organization called which, according to its website, is a project of an entity called California Renewal., chaired Ron Prentice.