The sudden legalization of a gay marriage in Utah, of all places, will likely go down as the biggest and best pleasant surprise in the American civil rights movement last year. The fact that gay people are exercising their fundamental right to marry in a state that is a de facto right-wing religious theocracy is a huge step forward.
In California, the fact that Utah, the Mormon stronghold, has become the 18th state, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize marriage equality has been quietly celebrated with a soupçon of schadenfreude. Like a nice gazpacho, as they say, revenge is best served chilled.
After all, it was just five years ago, in the 2008 election season, that the Mormon Church chose to interfere in California politics by funding a nasty anti-gay campaign that many Californians believe led to the passage of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that rescinded marriage equality in California.
On Election Day 2008 in California, Barack Obama trounced the GOP’s McCain-Palin ticket by well over 3 million votes, 61 to 37 percent. And yet on that same ballot, Proposition 8, a voter initiative to rescind the right of gays to marry, also won, by 52 to 48 percent.
In the 2008 political environment, Democrats and left-leaning independents generally supported both gay marriage and Barack Obama, while Republicans and right-leaning independents all opposed gay marriage and supported Team Palin. Over 8.25 million people voted for the president, while 6.4 million people voted no on Prop, meaning they voted for marriage equality, and yet Prop 8 won with 7 million votes. Hundreds of thousands of Californians voted for Obama and against gay marriage. Why?
The simple answer is that the leadership of the Mormon Church in Utah chose to meddle in California politics. The California Republican Party, which should have funded the anti-gay campaign, was then (and is still) bankrupt. Leaders of the national anti-gay hate movement asked the Mormons for help. Word went out from Salt Lake City to local churches across Utah and elsewhere, and rank and file Mormons raised $20 million to kill marriage equality in California.
Most of their donations were used to fund ad campaigns that were vile and duplicitous, most notably a campaign that seems to have registered with young low-info parents purporting that, if Prop 8 were overturned, teachers would be forced to “teach gay marriage” in elementary schools.
As a result of the Prop 8 victory, California counties were forced to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This set up a legal imbalance. By November 2008, 36,000 gay men and women had been legally married in California, but then, by law, the right to marry was rescinded for every gay person in California. This is precisely the legal construct that the equal-protection clauses in both the state and U.S. constitutions are written to prevent.
Yes, the forces of hate will likely succeed in the next few weeks or months to block marriage equality in Utah, but because gay Utahns are being legally married now, when the stay is issued, Utah will find itself in precisely the same place the passage of Prop 8 put California — with one class of residents who are gay and legally married and a separate class of gays whose right to marry has been rescinded.
In short, it may take years and the wasting of millions of taxpayer dollars on legal challenges, but marriage equality will one day be the law of the land in the Beehive State.
And no other Americans could be happier about that prospect than residents of California.