The aftershocks from the passage of Proposition 8 on November 4th continue to reverberate across Los Angeles, with opponents of the controversial ballot measure waging protests that have stretched across the state of California.
Although all the ballots on the proposition had yet to be tallied as of November 12th, Proposition 8 opponents have conceded that there are not enough votes to defeat the measure, which will overturn a California Supreme Court decision in May that struck down the ban on same-sex marriages.
Perhaps the most polarizing ballot initiative since Proposition 187, a 1994 statewide measure that sought to deny public education, social and medical services to undocumented workers and their children, which was later ruled unconstitutional, Proposition 8 has ignited long-held, deep-seated passions and split open fissures along the cultural landscape and social order.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has officiated at five same-sex weddings, was disappointed that the measure passed with over 50 percent of the vote.
“I was not surprised, unfortunately,” the councilman said days after the November 4th election.
He was hopeful that the election of President-elect Barack Obama would usher in a new era of tolerance regarding race and sexual identity.
“Because Obama did not openly campaign against Prop. 8, that might have given some of his supporters license to vote for it,” Rosendahl surmised.
Janet Gollery McKeithen, a United Methodist Church minister, was taken aback when she learned of the vote.
“I was really surprised that happened,” said McKeithen, who leads the congregation at the Church in Ocean Park in Santa Monica, which has a long history of social activism. McKeithen has married five same-sex couples, in violation of her church’s doctrine.
Demonstrations in West Hollywood, Silverlake and Westwood have collectively drawn crowds of over 20,000, according to various news organizations, since California voters passed the divisive ballot measure, in addition to a protest march of several hundred people in front of the Mormon Temple in West Los Angeles on November 6th.
On November 11th, hundreds of gay rights supporters rallied at the Santa Monica Pier to voice their displeasure with the initiative. Motorists honked their horns as the crowd chanted and waved homemade signs.
Maurice Carrier came to the rally with several friends, and was happy to see not only the size of the demonstration but also the enthusiasm that accompanied it.
“First and foremost, we have a constitutional right to be here and to express our passion and our love, and we’re going to make the world see that we’re not going to lie down and accept hatred and discrimination,” Carrier said as he stood along Ocean Avenue with other protesters.
Jessica Otterbine was also pleased to see the size of the demonstration, as well as the diversity among the crowd.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “This is the movement of our generation, and it’s really great to see people coming out tonight, gay or straight, to support this.”
Otterbine, a Venice native, feels that supporters of gay rights must remain as steadfast as their opponents in their quest to obtain equal rights.
“[The opposition to same-sex marriage] started in the churches, and now we have to get one of ours going,” she said.
Carrier added, “We’re standing up for what is most sacred to us, what is most significant to us, which is having the right to spend our lives with the person that we love and be able to be looked at just like anyone else.”
Various church officials took umbrage at the fact that many who are for same-sex marriage have directed their anger at Mormons. The church contributed several million dollars to the “Yes on 8” campaign.
“It is disturbing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being singled out for speaking up as part of its democratic right in a free election,” said Kim Farah, a spokeswoman for the Mormon Church. “Members of the church in California and millions of others from every faith, ethnicity and political affiliation who voted for Proposition 8 exercised the most sacrosanct and individual rights in the United States — that of free expression and voting.”
Farah said that the Mormon Church respects the fact that others might disagree with its position on the incendiary measure, but takes issue with the rhetoric that has been directed toward church members in Westwood.
“While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process,” added the church spokeswoman.
Bishop William Weigand of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Sacramento issued a statement supporting the Mormon Church’s stance on Proposition 8.
“Catholics stand in solidarity with our Mormon brothers and sisters in support of traditional marriage — the union of one man and one woman — that has been the major building block of Western Civilization for millennia,” said the bishop, who formerly headed the Salt Lake City Diocese. “The ProtectMarriage Coalition, which led the successful campaign to pass Proposition 8, was an historic alliance of people from every faith and ethnicity. LDS [Latter-day Saints] were included — but so were Catholics and Jews, Evangelicals and Orthodox, African-Americans and Latinos, Asians and Anglos.”
For Santa Monica City Councilman Kevin McKeown, the initiative’s passage was “an unwelcome surprise and a personal disappointment.”
McKeown and his City Council colleagues voted unanimously to oppose Proposition 8 on September 16th.
“Besides being a councilmember, I’m an ordained minister, and I was looking forward to a visit from my younger sister from out of state so I could officiate here in California at the wedding of Deirdre and her girlfriend,” the Santa Monica councilman wrote in an e-mail.
Gary DeLossa and Scott Storey, a Venice couple who were married over the summer, were thrilled with the court’s decision overturning the prohibition on same-sex marriage, but realized that the euphoria could be short-lived for many gay and lesbian couples.
“It is somewhat bittersweet because, while it was a huge victory for gay rights, we’re immediately faced with a group of people who are trying to take that right away,” DeLossa said during an interview with The Argonaut in May.
Others feel that now that the electorate has spoken, it is time to move ahead.
“We’re a democracy and our strength is that the majority wins the vote,” John Kirkpatrick, a member of the conservative Saddleback Church, said to the Los Angeles Times.
The fight now moves to the legal arena, and both sides are crafting their respective strategies on how to navigate these relatively unprecedented and uncharted waters.
Three lawsuits have been filed by the opponents of this highly charged measure, and it is unclear how any court might evaluate the various legal arguments that will ensue. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is defending the plaintiffs in one of the legal actions.
Proponents of Proposition 8 dismiss the legal challenges as irrelevant and unfortunate.
“The lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Equality California seeking to invalidate the decision of California voters to enshrine traditional marriage in California’s constitution is frivolous and regrettable,” asserted Andrew Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage.com, a self-described collection of pro-family and religious organizations and individuals. “These same groups filed an identical case with the California Supreme Court months ago, which was summarily dismissed.
“We will vigorously defend the people’s decision to enact Proposition 8.”
The Mormon Church has not decided to enter the legal fray so far.
“We will be watching and evaluating the legal aspects of the case,” Farah told The Argonaut by telephone from Salt Lake City.
Locally, Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo has joined his counterparts in San Francisco and Santa Clara County in filing a petition for writ of mandate with the California Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8.
“I am committed to using every resource at my disposal to secure the full civil rights of my constituents, and all Californians,” Delgadillo said in a statement released on November 5th. “We will not allow discrimination to be written into our [California] Constitution, and I am confident we will preserve equal rights for all.
“This is California.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger added his name and support to the mix on November 9th. In an interview with cable news network CNN, the governor, a longtime supporter of gay rights, expressed hope that the initiative could be overturned.
“It’s unfortunate, obviously, but it’s not the end,” Schwarzenegger said. “I think that we will again maybe undo that, if the court is willing to do that, and then move forward from there and again lead in that area.”
Rosendahl did take heart that younger voters cast ballots against Proposition 8 in much higher numbers than all other age groups.
“The younger generation was overwhelmingly supportive,” he noted. “That gives me tremendous hope for the future.”
That said, the councilman, who is gay, was bewildered at what many supporters of the initiative have articulated.
“How can you legislate against love and deny people their basic civil rights?” Rosendahl wondered.