California Gay Rights Activists Show Us Intolerance Works Both Ways


In what is considered one of the more liberal and progressive states in the country, California seemingly took one giant step backward as its citizens narrowly passed an initiative to ban same-sex marriages on the November 4, 2008 ballot. The California Supreme Court went to session earlier this week to decide whether Proposition 8 is valid or invalid.

Proposition 8, or the Defense of Marriage Act, amended the state constitution to define a marriage as being between a man and a woman, effectually taking away the right for same-sex couples to marry.

Proposition 8 became the most heated political debate in state history outside of presidential elections and easily the most expensive social issue campaign in U.S. history. Contributions totaled $39.9 million to the pro-Prop 8 campaign and $43.3 million to the against-Prop 8 campaign.

Results and History

Proposition 8 Voting MapCalifornia voters passed the initiative 52.3% to 47.7% (7,001,084 to 6,401,482 votes). The voting pattern highlights the geographical divide of California. The more density populated coastal areas, as in the San Francisco Bay Area, tend to be and vote liberal while the central valley and inland areas, as in Fresno and Bakersfield, tend to be and vote conservative.

Los Angeles tends to more often than not be the deciding factor in polarizing issues, and the Los Angeles Times has a great county-by-county breakdown of the voting results. L.A. County surprisingly supported Proposition 8 (50.4% to 49.6%), but not by much, which contrasts its progressive Hollywood image.

Within the past decade, gay marriage has become a hot topic in California. Voters passed Proposition 22 on March 7, 2000 that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. The initiative passed overwhelmingly 61.4% to 38.6%. Years later, state legislators would pass Assembly Bill 849 to make California the first state in the country to approve gay marriages without pressure from the state supreme court. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would later veto the bill, eventually making way for Proposition 8 to make its way onto a ballot.

The Fallout

Even after all of the ballots were counted and Proposition 8 passed, the issue of gay marriage in California did not go away. Had the initiative not pass, the issue still would not have gone away.

Exit polls found that black and Latino voters largely supported Proposition 8, which drew much ire from activists confused that historically discriminated ethnicities could be so unsympathetic to an often discriminated group. Barak Obama didn’t help.

It took a while, but later separate studies by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force contradicted the exit polls and stated that religious affiliation proved more an indicator as to how the person would vote on Prop 8. The PPIC’s report (PDF) indicated that Evangelical Christians were 85% likely to vote for the initiative versus non-whites who were 57% likely. Research by Patrick J. Egan and Kenneth Sherrill (“California‚Äôs Proposition 8: What Happened, and What Does the Future Hold?”) for the Task Force‘s Policy Institute explained that while black and Latino voters largely supported the initiative, the exit poll figures were overestimates.

Vandalism from Proposition 8's Passing

Gay marriage activists were forced to turn their attention to religious groups that supported the measure, chiefly Mormons. Unfortunately, that attention came in the form of protests, violence, and vandalism. Targeting Mormons were aided by transparency laws that made donor lists public information.

Bad. Very bad. Gay marriage supporters did not help themselves and seemingly gave themselves free passes to run amok in the name of progressivism.

How come those actions weren’t considered hate crimes? If not, they came awfully close. I can’t understand how even the most righteous people found that behavior acceptable. Imagine if the roles were reversed. Do you know how much outcry there would have been had people vandalized the buildings of gay and lesbian organizations?

I support gay rights, but in no way did I support the attempt to humiliate and out Proposition 8 supporters simply because they donated money, in this economy no less, to a cause they believed in. Public participation is democracy at its best.

While I can’t blame the entire gay rights movement for the actions of a few individuals, those bad apples nonetheless made progressives look like (1) crybabies, (2) thugs, and (3) idiots. It even rekindled the constant privacy debate in our transparency laws.

How come no one praises Proposition 8 supporters for using legal means to attain their goals? While I don’t support their goals, I will always admire their efforts (if legal and proper), although the school misinformation tactics were shameful.

The Future

Proposition 8 to be Decided at California Supreme Court

I have no doubt that gay marriage will eventually be legal not just in California but in the entire country as well. It is inevitable. Egan and Sherrill’s research shows the change in Californians’ votes on marriage equality from 2000’s Proposition 22 to 2008’s Proposition 8 was a 9% total decline of “yes” votes, as well as percentage declines in every measure except Republican votes.

The battle for marriage equality will be a lengthy one, as many individual states take baby steps in the wording of their respective laws from same-sex marriages to civil unions to complete bans.

Ultimately, one side will simply have to suck it up and accept the result. Unfortunately, all signs point to victory for gay marriage supporters. For California’s part in all of this, the issue has fallen onto the state Supreme Court. I will refrain from predicting the court’s verdict because the issue will soon go back into the hands of voters via the initiative process and will probably return for judicial review.

The true consequence of this whole Proposition 8 ordeal is the reality that few people really understand tolerance and what it was meant for. Tolerance works both ways and, while I hate to generalize the entire against-Prop 8 group, a few bad apples ruined the message and fight for gay rights. There was immediate prejudice against religious groups, with the Church of Latter-Day Saints in particular. Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t prejudice the chief enemy of tolerance?

One Reply to “California Gay Rights Activists Show Us Intolerance Works Both Ways”

  1. I think you both don’t understand the dynamics of what happened post the election, nor do you understand what intolerance means.

    I remember a conversation with my grandmother, while we watched the aftermath of the violent protests which followed the Rodney King incident a number of years ago. for her, a white woman who had always thought of herself as treating blacks better than your average white person, the riots and destruction made no sense what so ever. And to some degree, the backlash following the Prop 8 win seems similarly irrational and counter productive. Yet the reality is that anytime you have a group of people who have been oppressed and kept out and ignored, the pressure can build up, and explode, and right or wrong or good or bad, that is part of what we saw following the passage of Prop 8. To label it as “bad apples” simply shows a total disregard for the complexity of the whole situation.

    Another highly reported uprising in our history carries very different connotations. The Boston Tea Party anyone? I’m sure you were taught as I was, about how heroic and “patriotic” it was, and yet the same could be said as you express here.

    Your notion of “what tolerance is meant for,” is fine, in a purely theoretical world, but we don’t live in theory, we live in fact and reality. It isn’t as simple as “tolerance,” but rather tolerance in the middle of a long history, and a extremely charged arena.

    One thing that I think was a cause of the amount of uprising, was the history which lead to the unprecedented actions of election day. A public vote was deemed unconstitutional by the CA Supreme Court, and then a lot of couples were married, and then another election with a very small majority, took the rights away that the supreme court had enabled. This mixture of public vote/ court involvement/ removal of rights is a far cry from your simplistic idea of “participation in democracy.”

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