California Democrats want to change the state constitution to safeguard a right that is already firmly protected across the state, just in case the U.S. Supreme Court decides to do away with it.
Oh, and putting it on the ballot will probably help Democrats in the 2024 election.
If that all sounds familiar, you might be thinking of Proposition 1, the highly popular ballot measure from last November that cemented the right to an abortion in the state constitution and that may have goosed liberal-leaning voters to the polls.
This time, the right in question is same-sex marriage.
On Tuesday (yes, Valentine’s Day), San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener and Cupertino Assemblymember Evan Low, both Democrats, introduced a proposal to expunge language from the state constitution that defines marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman.
To become law, the measure will need the support of two-thirds of both the Assembly and the Senate and of a majority of voters on the November 2024 ballot.
That offending text comes from 2008’s Proposition 8. Passed by a narrow majority of Californians, the measure was later struck down in federal court. Even so, the language sits inert inside the state constitution.
- Article I, Section 7.5: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
But Wiener, Low and a coalition of civil rights organizations worry that the conservative majority on the current U.S. Supreme Court could breathe life back into those dead letters.
- Wiener: “It’s absolute poison, it is so destructive and it’s humiliating that this is in our constitution.”
On abortion, gun regulations, religious freedom and the power of federal regulatory agencies, the nation’s highest court has indeed exhibited a recent habit of reversing earlier decisions on really big, really controversial issues.
There’s no indication, however, that the majority of justices have much appetite to do the same on gay marriage. The court deemed marriage a constitutional right for all adult couples in 2015. One cause of alarm for Wiener and Low: In his concurring opinion in the case that rescinded the right to an abortion last year, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the court, using the same legal logic, “should reconsider” its prior rulings on same-sex marriage. But his conservative colleagues on the court disagreed.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, a prominent supporter of Prop. 1, said in a statement that he supports this constitutional amendment and that “Prop. 8 has no place in our constitution.”
A political play? As with Prop. 1, putting same sex-marriage on the ballot could gin up turnout among California’s Democratic-leaning voters.
In January, the Public Policy Institute of California found that a whopping 75% of likely voters support a policy allowing gay and lesbians couples to marry. No matter how you break down the sample of respondents — by gender, region, income, education, and ethnicity — majorities favored the policy. The only exception was Republicans, though even 46% of the GOP voters surveyed supported same-sex marriage.
Dean Bonner, associated survey director at the institute, said it’s too soon to say whether a measure like this would affect voter participation. Presidential election years are already higher turnout years, the biggest supporters of same-sex marriage are most likely to vote anyway and this proposition — assuming it qualifies — will be competing with a lot of other contentious issues on the ballot.
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