The good news in an otherwise disheartening slate of returns was that voters in California, where I was born, raised and lived until moving to the Northwest a dozen years ago, confirmed their previous declaration that marriage can only be defined as one man, one woman.
After four-and-a-half months of gay marriage, sanctioned by only a one-judge margin (4-3) in a case negating the citizens' 2000 ballot initiative and a law that defined marriage traditionally, a majority inserted the time-honored definition into the state constitution, where it cannot be dislodged.
Though this may tear asunder the use of a particular word for gay couples, it does nothing to change their practical status, as California law already gives those in civil unions complete parity of rights with married couples.
And of course, gays always had an equal right to marry, the same right as any other adult, to choose one of the opposite gender. All that's happened is something linguistic, but deeply significant. It is a message that there are indeed gender differences that must be recognized, and even more importantly, that there is one combining of those differences that we hold as the highest, and for most, God-sanctified means of building connections, raising children, and creating a stable society.
This is extremely meaningful for me, as my husband had suggested I put my work on hold pending California's vote. I'm doing a book explaining the importance of marriage as the uniting of opposites; if Proposition 8 had failed, it would have opened the door for national gay marriage and symbolized Americans' indifference toward my subject. With Barack Obama's pledge to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, nothing could have stopped state reciprocity and the generalizing and devaluing of the institution. Now, I'll write with greater urgency.
And what about those same-sex couples who thought they'd married? There's no way to know how many people this affects, since shortly after the mid-May ruling, wedding licenses in California began listing "Party A" and "Party B" for "bride" and "groom." A study released last month by UCLA's Williams Institute looked at the differences in marriage rates between pre-and post-gay marriage rulings at the same times of year, and assumed any increase was gays. Using that questionable standard, they announced that 11,000 gay marriages had been performed. Williams' Gary Gates says many of these are couples who traveled to California for the ceremony, since the bulk of the weddings occurred at top tourist destinations.
By comparison, Massachusetts, the only other state legalizing gay unions, records 10,385 such couplings in four years --since May, 2004, according to a recent LA Times article.
The big fear was that Californians, like the proverbial frog boiled in slowly-heated water, had grown used to the idea of gay marriage, and, given big donors to the No on 8 campaign like the Service Employees International Union ($500,000) and the California Teachers Assn. ($250,000), would roll over and accept it. This outcome reassures us that no matter who's at the helm of the political wheel, our basic values will keep our nation turning the right direction.