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California Marriage Is a Go!

California Marriage Is a Go!


Tricia Romano scours the mainstream media's coverage of last week's decision to legalize gay marriage in California. Here are the highs and lows

After an election cycle where the gay marriage issue took a backseat to the war in Iraq and the floundering economy, gay activists suddenly found themselves in the national news again with the California supreme court's landmark ruling that state laws banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, opening the door for gays and lesbians to wed. The nation's biggest newspapers gave the story heavy play -- The New York Times ran 17 stories in under a week, including an editorial heralding the ruling as "A Victory for Equality and Justice."

The Los Angeles Times ran a half-page above-the-fold spread, while inside an interview with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom practically shouted, "Neener, neener, we told you soooo." A key quote from the mayor, who was heralded then outcast for pushing the issue during an election year, with many blaming the 2004 Democratic loss on the mobilization of antigay conservatives at the ballot box: "If I had told my fiancee, 'I want to civil-union you,' she would have looked at me cross-eyed. She would have said, 'I thought you wanted to marry me.' "

Asked about a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that could trump the judges' ruling, which is likely to qualify for the November ballot, Newsom told the The New York Times , "It's no longer denying something to people that they never had. It's taking something away that they've already enjoyed. And that's a much more difficult thing to do.''

The Wall Street Journal heralded the ruling as the "most important legal victory to date for proponents of same-sex marriage."

The Baltimore Sun ran the editorial "Untying the Not," which carried the subhead "Our view: California lifts a barrier that Maryland should as well." In discussing Maryland's state marriage benefits, one passage reads, "Marriage offers -- by at least one estimate -- more than 400 such rights. Prohibiting marriage, but cobbling together equivalent rights one by one, is not a sensible long-term solution to discrimination. California has taken a better route."

The editorial points out that the California court compared "the situation to interracial marriage, which that state also used to prohibit -- until the justices struck down that law 60 years ago." Sadly, the editors speculate that such legislation won't see the light of day in that state till the next decade.

The Sacramento Bee cautioned conservatives that the "new initiative isn't a shoo-in," referring to the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that will likely appear on the November ballot. Peter Hecht quotes Republican political consultant Dave Gilliard, who says that "The court's Prop. 22 ruling may just have saved the Republican Party and our candidates from a disaster in November." Nevertheless, the paper reports, support for same-sex marriage is in a virtual dead heat with opposition, according to the latest polls, with younger voters showing the greatest approval ratings.

Some publications are using "activism" as their go-to term to denounce the decision. On the Right, though not the "right" side, the National Review sputtered out a hissy fit in "Wedded to Activism." Words like "arrogant," "confused," and "misinterpretation" dot the editorial's landscape, as in, "Chief Justice Ronald M. George's majority opinion is as arrogant as it is confused. Never mind that, as his opinion concedes, '[f]rom the beginning of California statehood, the legal institution of marriage has been understood to refer to a relationship between a man and a woman.' Never mind that the very right to marry that he [George] so wildly misconstrues is built on that understanding." The piece goes on to point out that voters already ratified a California Defense of Marriage Act in 2000 by 61.4% -- but again, according to the latest poll numbers, attitudes have shifted greatly in the eight years since, and voters will likely have their say again in November.

Others in the National Review have similar conniption fits. Maggie Gallagher pushes the argument that marriage is rooted in procreation -- part of the 2007 Conaway v. Dean ruling in Maryland, which stated that "marriage enjoys its fundamental status due, in large part, to its link to procreation."

William C. Duncan of the Marriage Law Foundation says in "Supreme Overreach" that the event "had its genesis in executive lawlessness and ended with judicial overreaching."

Not so fast, says Jon Ponder of the Florida-based politics website Pensito Review. Six out of seven of those "activist" judges are Republicans, he says, pointing out the right-wing hypocrisy.

"When judges make decisions that favor gay civil rights, right-wingers label them 'activist judges' and howl, 'Let the people decide.' Yet more evidence -- as if any were needed -- that the right-wing position on gay marriage is based on bigotry, politics, and fund-raising, not principals or 'moral' values. But last year, when the California legislature -- a.k.a. 'the people' -- passed [a bill] that would have legalized gay marriage -- [for the second time] -- the right wing cheered when GOP governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the law..."

In punditry land, Fox News weighed in via The O'Reilly Factor, with guest host E.D. Hill asking his guests, marketing experts Laura Ries and Peter Shankman, whether Ellen DeGeneres's decision to announce her engagement on the show was bad for business. Shankman argued, "she built her entire show, 11 Emmy nominations, four wins in her first year, built entirely on the fact that she came out. This is all about an audience that understands her and wants to know more and more and more. She gets up in the audience, dances with them during commercials. This is an audience that loves her and lives their lives through her. The fact that she came out and then announced her marriage on the show is only going to help her totally."

We agree.

Jon Carroll at (the online home of the San Francisco Chronicle) frets that this could take on new life in the election cycle -- for the worse: "Let's hope it's a really, really low-key Halloween in the Castro this year. Put away the leathers until Thanksgiving.... And oh, what a Thanksgiving it could be."

After all, he says, "Gay marriage is, at its heart, a deeply conservative idea. It is the very opposite of an alternative lifestyle. If people truly care about the preservation of traditional values, they should get on the gay marriage bandwagon as soon as possible."

Maybe, he says hopefully, voters will see through the media circus and vote for more pressing matters, rather than against gay marriage. "Gas is $11 a gallon and somewhere in Fremont two men are wearing tuxes. Let's see, which one represents a real problem?"

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Tricia Romano