The California Supreme Court this week upheld a referendum that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, but made an exception for couples who’d gotten married in the state before the referendum passed last November. The same court had ruled in May 2008 that same-sex couples had a right to marry under the state constitution—which prompted gay-marriage opponents to push the referendum, known as Proposition 8. Gay-rights groups argued that the constitutional impact of Prop. 8 was so profound that it required approval by the legislature. But on a 6–1 vote, the court disagreed and said the referendum may stand.
Gay-marriage backers vowed to introduce a referendum to overturn Prop. 8, possibly as soon as next year. “Tonight, we take to the streets,” said Lorri Jean of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, “but tomorrow, we must continue the hard work.” Prop. 8 supporters expressed relief. “I’m pleased that they upheld the will of the people,” said Bill Welsh, pastor of the Refuge Calvary Chapel in Huntington Beach.
“The California Supreme Court got it terribly wrong,” said The New York Times in an editorial. It denied “basic fairness” to gays and set a precedent “that could allow the existing rights of any minority” to be stripped away by the majority. But as gay marriage gains momentum nationwide, the California ruling will likely be “a temporary setback.”
The decision “is actually good for gay marriage,” said Aaron Zelinsky in HuffingtonPost.com. It “drives home that the future of gay rights lies at the ballot box and not in the courts.” Gay marriage, like other great civil-rights causes, will gain wide acceptance when it’s seen as the choice of the people, not a judge’s mandate.
Let’s have that debate, said Debra Saunders in the San Francisco Chronicle. But it would be nice if this time around, gay activists didn’t disparage as “haters and bigots” anyone who has moral or religious qualms about gay marriage. The best way to win hearts and minds is to show “respect and tolerance toward those with whom they disagree.”