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Same-sex marriage vote comes down to wire in California

Proposition 8 calls for constitutional ban on gay ceremonies

While everyone will be holding their breath on Tue, Nov 4 waiting to find out the next President of the United States, gays and lesbians will also be closely watching the results of a Californian vote on same-sex marriage.

Comparable to a referendum here in Canada, Proposition 8, sub-headed, “Eliminates the right of same-sex couples to marry,” seeks to amend the California constitution to define marriage as only a union between a man and a woman.

The proposition was developed in response to a May Supreme Court of California ruling that found same-sex couples had the legal right to marry under equal protection clauses of the state constitution.

Prop 8 has mobilized everyone from gay rights groups to celebrities and businesses. Hollywood players like Steven Spielberg and Brad Pitt have contributed to the No on 8 campaign, while Democrats and Republicans alike have called the ban a civil rights issue.

“The mood is very high energy, it’s the largest mobilization and grassroots campaign California has ever seen,” says Kevin Tilden, an executive committee member of the No on 8 campaign, the group defending the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

“Some of it has been organic, where their side has three people on a street corner and within half an hour a bunch of our supporters will be on the other side of the street,” Tilden says.

But even though there is great support for the No on 8 campaign, Tilden says the group has not become overconfident.

“We’d be foolish to be optimistic. I think everyone thinks it’s going to be decided by a very narrow margin of votes, and there’s no margin of safety here,” Tilden says. “I think everyone believes it’s going to be down to the wire, a very late night on election night.”

The race remains tight, as polls show a gap of a few percentage points between the two sides. Two polls released mid-October, one by the Public Policy Institute of California and the other by SurveyUSA, show the race to be neck and neck. The former reported the No vote at 52 percent and Yes at 44 percent, while the latter found only 45 percent support against the ban and 48 percent for it.

Meanwhile, Ellen DeGeneres reportedly donated $100,000 to purchase airtime for a public service announcement imploring Californians to vote against the ban. In it she describes her 2008 marriage to girlfriend Portia de Rossi as “the happiest day of my life.”

“I believe in fairness, I believe in compassion, I believe in equality for all people. Proposition 8 does not,” the comedian says in the video, which became a viral hit on the internet, generating more than 100,000 views since being posted on Oct 14.

Even California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has said he would respect the supreme court ruling, and that he does not support the proposition.

And support has not stopped at the celebrity level. Some of California’s largest high-tech corporations, including Google and Apple computers, have supported the No on Prop 8 campaign. Apple donated $100,000 to the effort, posting on its website, “Apple views this as a civil rights issue, rather than just a political issue, and is therefore speaking out publicly against Proposition 8.”

But proponents of the ban, mostly right-wing conservative groups, have been fighting to have their plan adopted. Tilden says both sides have raised more than $35 million.

Centralized by the ProtectMarriage.com campaign, orthodox religious groups like the Mormons and conservative values groups like the American Family Association have waged a fierce campaign to win public support for the ban. An intense advertising war between the two sides has burned up the airwaves in California.

On Sat Nov 1 a rally of Prop 8 supporters is set to take over Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego for a 12-hour prayer and fasting session organized by evangelical Christians. More than 70,000 supporters are expected at the event, dubbed TheCall.

Academics have spoken out against the ProtectMarriage.com campaign, complaining that it plays on fears and skews truths surrounding the issue.

“Proposition 8 would forbid government officials from according gay men and lesbians a fundamental right they now enjoy and that all other adults in California will continue to enjoy: the right to marry a person of their choice,” reads a joint statement signed by 59 law professors from the state.

“The ability of same-sex couples to enter into registered domestic partnerships does not eliminate that discrimination.  Thus the claim made by some of Proposition 8’s supporters that the amendment does not discriminate against gay men and lesbians is simply false.”

Support for same-sex marriage has been steadily on the rise since a May poll by the Los Angeles Times showed only 35 percent of Californians would vote to protect same-sex marriage.

Florida and Arizona have similar constitutional bans on their ballots, though neither state currently allows same-sex marriages to be performed.