Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Economist analysis of the future of marriage equality in California

You may have missed this story in The Economist last month (Gay marriage -- The guys next door -- May 22nd 2008).

They conclude that the right wing may have a hard time trying to get any traction for their referendum to turn back the clock on equality:

James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, a conservative Protestant group, spluttered that the ruling was “judicial tyranny”. He called on Californians to ban same-sex marriage, as 26 other states have done. They should get the chance: next month an initiative that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman will almost certainly be approved for November's ballot. A similar measure will appear in Florida. Both sides are preparing for a nasty fight. Yet there are several reasons to think that the dispute will play out differently this time.

The first is that Mr Dobson is wrong. The drive for gay marriage in California has not been led by judges. The state legislature has twice passed bills recognising same-sex marriages; both bills were vetoed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor, who argued that the issue ought to be resolved by the courts. Although California has plenty of Christian conservatives, they are less tightly bound to the Republican Party than in other states. Rick Warren, by far California's most influential pastor, strives to appear non-partisan.

And Republicans are hardly presenting a united front against gay marriage this year. Although John McCain opposes it, he says the issue ought to be left to the states. Mr Schwarzenegger promises to uphold the decision of the state Supreme Court (which is, incidentally, dominated by Republicans). Last summer Jerry Sanders, the Republican mayor of San Diego, tearfully announced that his daughter was a lesbian and that he could no longer oppose same-sex marriage.

Another big difference is that, assuming the court does not suspend its own ruling, gay weddings will begin next month in places like Palm Springs. The town, which is represented by a Republican congresswoman, a Republican state senator and a Republican assemblywoman, is not easily caricatured as a liberal enclave. It is also increasingly typical of gay America.

The last full census, in 2000, revealed that Palm Springs had a higher proportion of same-sex couples than San Francisco. In California it was second only to West Hollywood, in Los Angeles. Since then it has become a lot more gay. Yet it feels utterly unlike ghettos such as West Hollywood or the Castro, in San Francisco.

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