By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
On the evening of September 22, Young Israel of Century City synagogue hosted an “interfaith” town hall meeting for supporters of the November 4 Proposition 8 measure to ban same-sex marriage in California. The event wasn’t highly publicized, but 60 or 70 people, many of them young men and women in their 20s who belong to the Mormon Church, showed up at the temple on Pico Boulevard, just down the street from Factor’s Famous Deli. After an all-male a cappella group sang, “In Him My Soul Delights,” Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, a Catholic and longtime academic with teaching stints at Yale and George Mason universities, took the podium.
Founder of the San Diego–based Ruth Institute, Morse promotes “lifelong married love” between a man and a woman. According to the institute’s Web site, she also believes “treating same-sex unions as marriages will change marriage in destructive ways.” She opposes legalized gay marriage in California, as did the other speakers, who included Dr. Mark Brewer of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Randall Huff of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the influential Jewish group Orthodoxy Union.
But it was Morse, speaking with a kind of shoot-from-the-hip flair, who best laid out the big-picture implications of the 2008 Prop. 8 battle. “People often call us the land of fruits and nuts,” she told the crowd. “People expect us to do crazy things out here. ... But if gay marriage goes down in California, it goes down in the United States. If it goes down in the United States, it goes down around the world.”
The audience quietly nodded.
“If gay marriage goes down in California,” she later concluded, “it won’t be back in our lifetime.”
Five days later, on a bright Saturday afternoon, Lorri Jean, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, stood on a makeshift altar in the backyard of a Hollywood Hills home just above Doheny Drive. Friends and family sat in foldout chairs to witness her marriage to her longtime partner, attorney Gina Calvelli.
Jean’s younger brother Andy, a straight man and a cattle rancher from Idaho, presided over the ceremony, and after the women exchanged wedding rings and kissed, Jean turned to the 50 friends and family gathered. For months, the nationally recognized gay-rights activist had been anxious about defeating Proposition 8, but now she felt something different come over her.
“I saw all of those smiling faces,” Jean says, “and most of them were straight. But they were just so happy for us. They seemed to want it more than we did. I thought to myself, Maybe we really can win this time, maybe it will be different.”
By the following Monday morning, Jean was back at her fourth-floor corner office at the Gay & Lesbian Center in Hollywood, where she spends half of a 70- to 80-hour workweek making phone calls and taking meetings as an executive-committee member of the “No on 8” campaign, the umbrella group organized to defeat Proposition 8.
“I couldn’t take a honeymoon,” says Jean, sitting at her desk with a view of the Hollywood sign behind her. “[Proposition 8] could set back our quest for full marriage equality for a generation.”
But if the ballot measure were voted down, Jean predicts, “It will make a lot of states with fair-minded legislators think that maybe they should take a look at same-sex marriage. The stakes in this fight are enormously high, win or lose.”
Dr. Morse wouldn’t disagree with her. On November 4, according to experts on both sides of the Prop. 8 battle, voters will not only decide if same-sex marriage will remain legal in California, but, through a political domino effect, if gays and lesbians can wed in other states in the next year or two.
“California is a thought leader for other courts and other states,” says Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, and one of the leading opponents of same-sex marriage in the United States. If Proposition 8 doesn’t pass and gay marriage remains legal, Gallagher believes other states will follow California’s lead and “effectively end the [traditional] marriage movement” across the country.
“It will be a mop-up movement after that,” Gallagher says.
Gay-marriage advocates now see New Jersey, New York, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont as battlegrounds ready to be won if Californians back gay marriage by voting down Prop. 8. On October 10, the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in Connecticut.
“We will likely have full marriage equality [in those states] by 2011,” says Marty Rouse, national field director at the Human Rights Campaign, an influential gay-rights lobbying group based in Washington, D.C. Iowa will also jump into the-gay marriage fray, with a case to be heard by the state Supreme Court in December.
“California is the biggest battle in my lifetime,” says Mark Paredes, who holds the title of high counselor at the Santa Monica Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who believes the November decision will have a “worldwide” impact, with countries in Europe and beyond following the example set by the United States.