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What Happened in California?

2008.November.7

In the midst of celebration of our next president, a lot of folks feel like they got a mixed bag because California voters passed Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in the state. The opposition to Prop 8 is refusing to concede and, with several lawsuits pending, there is a possibility the issue is not dead, but many supporters (in California, across the U.S., and even across the Atlantic) are stunned by the outcome. I’m sure even a few opponents were surprised, given the reputation California has for being a liberal bastion,  but it’s never that simple.

Ironically, my best guess is that Tuesday’s biggest victory is tied to Tuesday’s biggest defeat. The biggest reason Prop 8 succeeded was…

the victory of Barack Obama.

And while I hate to say the answer lies in demographics… the answer lies in demographics.

A lot of liberal voters (and I want to distinguish Democratic voters here from the Democratic Party, who I think should have been less surprised and to my knowledge were not directly involved in the ballot initiative) overlook the differences within their own party, especially during an upswing like 2006 and 2008. If Dems are going to win big, they think, surely the policies they like are going to pass as well. If a Democrat is elected president by a significant margin (and Obama won California with 59% of the vote), surely all of the ballot initiatives will go their way also!

But ballot initiatives aren’t part of straight-ticket voting, and they are an opportunity for wedge issues to be culled and highlight the differences between members of a party. That voters in red-turned-blue Colorado and red-as-ever South Dakota turned down initiatives targeting abortion reminds us that wedge issues wield a double-edged sword. Anyway, I’m rambling again. My point is that Democrats take some of their own for granted.

Obama triggered record voter turnout, with many lapsed voters registering for the first time specifically to vote for (or occasionally against) him. Among the block of new voters (and of dutiful ballot-casters as well), there was a huge turnout of voters who are Black and Latino, and they strongly favored of Obama. But those communities (which the Dems so often claim to be looking out for), are actually rather socially conservative, especially among older voters, who are most likely to vote. On this very issue, huge wars of words have occurred under the radar of most media between surviving Civil Rights leaders as to whether Gay Rights were the new civil rights or an abomination to the Civil Rights Movement’s church-value foundation. That question is not realistically answerable. “It is imperative to discuss rights issues without comparing the suffering of one group against that of others.”

So while pundits pontificate on the emerging split in the Republican Party, don’t forget that the Dems have been there before, and will one day be there again.

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One comment

  1. I was surprised and disappointed. I read that black voters made up 70% of yes votes on Prop 8.

    Here is the argument I generally here from otherwise “liberal” folks who don’t believe in gay marriage:

    Marriage is a religious act, and marriage is between a man and a women. The Bible says so. Lots of these folks think civil unions are ok… but get hung up on the religious meaning of the word “marriage”.

    It’s hard to argue with “the Bible says so” — the bible also says that eating shellfish is a sin.

    But, maybe the gay rights movement should take these concerns to heart: let’s not use the term “marriage”, let’s go with “marriage+” or maybe “marriage 2.0” ;) — to me, having the same rights as a straight married couple is more important than the word used to describe the union.



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