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New Jersey has offered same-sex couples civil unions since 2006, but gay activists in that state have been actively seeking full marriage rights for several months. “We’ve seen examples over the last year that civil unions don’t work,” says Sanchez. Once the Prop. 8 vote comes down, he envisions a “very short timeline” for the New Jersey Legislature to pass a pro-gay-marriage bill, probably less than a year.
Davidson of Lambda Legal believes the California election will figure heavily in Iowa’s battle over gay marriage. “It will send a significant message,” he says. Davidson sees the strong possibility that by the end of 2009, gay marriage will be legal in five states: Connecticut and Massachusetts, where it is already legal, plus California, New Jersey and New York.
Jordan Lorence agrees, even though he argues cases for the other side of the same-sex-marriage fight. “I think it’s a definite possibility,” says Lorence, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal group that fights to uphold gay-marriage bans in court. “New York and New Jersey legislatures will just enact same-sex marriage, and they will be very encouraged by what happens in California.”
Lorence believes a defeat for either side will be “significant,” but “it won’t be the end of the ball game.” (His legal rival, Jon Davidson, is a little more gloomy: “A defeat will set us back years, if not decades.”) Lorence expects more lawsuits and more public-relations skirmishes. “There’s a battle of perceptions on both sides if same-sex is inevitable or not,” he says. If voters shoot down Prop. 8, Lorence predicts Lambda Legal will be very busy. “The ramifications, if it loses, is that people fly into California, get married, and go back to their states and sue for marriage rights,” he says.
That’s the kind of scenario that deeply concerns the Mormon Church. “Our leaders feel that if we start redefining marriage, it’s not a good thing for society,” says Paredes of the Mormon Church in Santa Monica, “so we were all asked to donate.”
With approximately 750,000 Mormons in California, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become a major player in promoting Prop. 8, and individual members have reportedly contributed millions of dollars. “We’re very organized as a church,” Paredes explains. “So we’re very easy to mobilize.”
He says the Mormon Church is not only worried about the ripple effects of continued legal gay marriage in California and the rest of the country, but throughout the world. “It will become a worldwide phenomenon,” he predicts. “The church sees this as a crossroads.” Although Paredes talks about the “moral confusion” gay marriage would cause in American society and beyond, the ultimate reason for the church’s intense involvement in “Yes on 8” appears to lie much closer to home: “We want to preserve our faith and our way of life,” he says when pressed about the church’s biggest fears. “We want our religious liberties to remain intact.”
Lambda Legal’s Davidson counters, “If the right wing wins, it’ll show that if you mobilize and gather enough money, you can take away any gay right. Why would they just stop with marriage?”
University of Southern California Professor John Matsusaka has studied California ballot measures for more than 20 years. Since 2004, he’s been president of the Initiative & Referendum Institute at USC. According to Matsusaka, the Golden State regularly sets the tone for public policy throughout the country. “Proposition 13 clearly sent off a chain reaction throughout the country for lower property taxes,” he says, “and it may have even played a role in Ronald Reagan becoming president.”
In a recent Initiative & Referendum Institute report, Matsusaka predicts that Prop. 8 will fail and gay marriage will remain legal here. “I would be surprised if it passed,” he tells the Weekly.
Because voters in 2000 approved Prop. 22, which banned same-sex marriage in California, a turnabout in sentiment among voters would be “extremely discouraging” to opponents of gay marriage. “California was one of the first states to adopt a ban on gay marriage,” Matsusaka says, “so it would be very significant if it reversed itself. Other states would take notice.” It’s an opportunity, he says, that gay-rights leaders should not squander. “This is their big chance to get a ruling from the people, and that would be a first.”
The “No on 8” campaign has faced some very rough times, though. By August 20, troubles began to surface. Although more than 50 national and local groups expected to raise at least $20 million to defeat Prop. 8, by late summer, their opponents had begun to overtake them in total contributions, primarily because of a $1 million donation to “Yes on 8” from the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization.