Cover Story

California says, 'I do'

Ballot initiative turns back gay assault on the traditional understanding of marriage

Issue: "It's Bush vs. Gore," March 18, 2000

The night before Super Tuesday, whirling spotlights streaked the sky over a strip mall tucked in an obscure corner of Hillcrest, San Diego's gay district. About three dozen homosexuals had turned out to rally against Proposition 22, the California ballot initiative intended to prevent state recognition of homosexual marriage. Motorists honked obligingly for activists who stood on the sidewalk waving signs that read: "No on 22! Protect Families!" But oddly, no families were present. Instead, several grunge-garbed, college-age stumpers called out to passersby, a man in a blond wig and candy-apple red evening dress fiddled with his silver purse, and two young lesbians reveled in a public kiss.

But they will not be reveling in legal marriage anytime soon. Golden State voters overwhelmingly approved Prop 22, a 14-word amendment to the state constitution that reads, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is recognized or valid in California." The initiative, which homosexual activists claimed would strip gays and lesbians of civil rights, passed 61 percent to 39 percent.

"Pro-family voters of all races and political stripes have voted to tell homosexual activists to stop attacking the sacred institution of marriage," said Randy Thomasson, executive director of Sacramento-based Campaign for California Families, which supported the measure.

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Analysts said about 86 percent of religious conservatives marked their ballots in favor of Prop 22, as did 70 percent of voters age 60 and older. Seventy percent of Hispanic voters also said yes to the measure, a voting trend that not only validates the socially conservative bent of California's Hispanic electorate, but may also bode well for George W. Bush's presidential bid as he attempts to court Hispanic voters nationwide.

Mr. Thomasson said the Prop 22 vote showed that the Golden State's majority-Democrat government is "out of touch with the large majority of Californians." The California legislature has passed a raft of pro-gay legislation since 1998; the Democrat-controlled state assembly had passed a resolution of opposition to Prop 22.

The measure galvanized politicians and church leaders on both sides of the argument. Supporters raised about $8 million and opponents about $5.5 million. The state GOP, evangelical denominations, and Catholic bishops backed the proposition. Democrats and leaders of the state's mainline Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches opposed it.

Homosexual activists organized fundraisers, marches, and dozens of house parties in an attempt to get out the no-on-22 vote. Celebrities like Melissa Etheridge mugged at anti-22 concerts and consciousness-raising events. Opponents uprooted and destroyed an estimated 100,000 "Yes on 22" lawn signs. But in the end, California became the 31st state to pass a measure that effectively bans same-sex marriage. Signatures are being gathered for similar measures in Colorado and Nevada.

Pete Knight, the Republican state senator who sponsored Proposition 22, said of the measure's passage: "The message is, California is not ready for a marriage between a man and a man."

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