On Tuesday, by a margin of 52 to 48 percent, voters in California amended their state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, as did voters in Florida (62 to 38 percent) and Arizona (56 to 44 percent).
Those who argue social conservatism is behind the GOP’s current electoral malaise take note: In Arizona marriage outperformed John McCain by 2 percentage points, in Florida by 14 percentage points, and in California by 15 percentage points.
The Arizona win, reversing a defeat for a marriage amendment in that state in 2006, also restores to state marriage amendments an unblemished record of victory: They have won in 30 out of 30 states where they have been on the ballot.
What lesson can we take from Tuesday’s marriage victories? Here’s one obvious one: Americans still care a great deal about this issue. The California supreme court may have believed that the public would acquiesce when it foisted same-sex marriage on the state earlier this year. But the successful campaign to overturn its ruling was an astonishing effort, unprecedented for a social issue, that raised more than 100,000 volunteers and almost $40 million from over 60,000 donors.
How have the leaders of the movement for same-sex marriage responded to their California loss at the ballot box? The same way they usually do: by getting lawyers to make ever more outrageous arguments to impose their values on unwilling people. (The ACLU is preparing to argue that a one-sentence definition of marriage constitutes such a wholesale revision of California’s constitution that the California Supreme Court should invalidate Prop 8.)
Just before they lost on Tuesday in California, same-sex marriage advocates in California descended to a new low. A group affiliated with Moveon.org, United Healthcare Workers, and the California Nurses Association released a television ad, “Home Invasion,” which portrayed Mormon missionaries as ransacking a California home: “We’re from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We’ve come to take away your rights.” (The ad was referring to the financial contributions Mormon citizens had made to the initiative campaign.) Are there any other religious minority groups whose political giving liberals believe should be stigmatized? Can we expect the Anti-Defamation League to speak up?
So far, not a single same-sex marriage advocate in California or outside of it has been willing to repudiate this vicious tactic: not MoveOn.org, of course, and not the ACLU or the Human Rights Campaign either. But also not, for example, Sen. Diane Feinstein, who appeared in an anti-Prop 8 TV ad saying that “we must always say no to discrimination.” But not, it seems, to bigotry.
The current conflict over marriage is in part a proxy for a larger ongoing conflict about the role of religious people and religious values in public life. As courts come to endorse the principle that sexual orientation is just like race, American government is going to find itself in the position of treating traditional faith communities just like racists. Voters should beware — if they are consulted on the matter.