In November 2008, California voters went to the polls for a general election. In addition to voting for a new president and other elected officials, voters were asked to vote on a ballot proposition commonly referred to as Proposition 8. Proposition 8 asked voters to decide whether the California state constitution should be amended to change the definition of marriage in California to include only heterosexual couples.
The History of Proposition 8
In the decade prior to the passage of Proposition 8, the California legislature and courts had been very involved in the issue of same sex marriage. There were legal successes and failures on both sides of the issue. In May 2008, the California Supreme Court issued an important ruling concerning same sex marriages. The court found that to exclude same sex couples from marriage would be unconstitutional because the exclusion violated the equal protection clause of the state constitution. This was an important decision in the midst of what was already a hotly contested debate in California.
The Specifics of Proposition 8
Proposition 8 was meant to bring certainty to the issue of same sex marriage in California. By a margin of 52.2% of voters in favor of Proposition 8 and 47.8% opposed to Proposition 8, the voters of the state voted to amend the California State Constitution to make same sex marriages unconstitutional and, therefore, illegal in the state. The passage of Proposition 8 meant that California would only allow and recognize marriages that occurred between one man and one woman.
While Proposition 8 is clear in its intent to prevent future marriages between same sex couples, the ballot proposition was not clear on how the approximately 18,000 marriages of same sex couples that occurred between May – November 2008 would be handled. This is a matter that is still before the courts.
The Impact of Proposition 8
The issue of same sex marriage is an important one in the United States and many people on both sides of the issue were carefully watching the outcome of Proposition 8 to decide how to proceed in their own states. Everyone is still watching as the California Supreme Court hears challenges to Proposition 8 and the remaining issues concerning Proposition 8’s validity and applicability are answered.
Many celebrities and important religious and lobbying groups were involved in supporting both sides of the Proposition 8 ballot initiative. However, the celebrity involvement and extensive media coverage should not overshadow the deeply personal impact that Proposition 8 has for many California couples and the important legal issues that it raises. The intense rhetoric used on both sides of this issue while highly relevant prior to the vote on Proposition 8 is also no longer the issue as the courts decide this future of same sex marriages in California.
The California Supreme Court must now decide whether Proposition 8 is constitutional and what the rights of same sex couples will be in the state of California. The Court has already heard oral arguments in a Proposition 8 challenge and the Court’s ruling is expected by June 2009.
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