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May 16, 2008


By Mary Anne Ostrom



End of gay marriage legal battle means political fight will start anew



Whenever gay marriage re-emerges so does fierce political warfare.


Thursday's ruling may be reason for many Californians to celebrate, and a political redemption for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, but there's more to come.

It looks very likely conservative groups will succeed in putting a constitutional amendment before California voters in November to overturn the court's decision.


And the subject is sure to get attention on the presidential campaign trail.


Some politicians, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, may not get involved, but energized campaigns on both sides of a proposed constitutional ban will do their best to draw in high-profile leaders. Already, Newsom has thrown down the gauntlet, saying Thursday, "As California goes, so goes the nation."


Meanwhile, the California electorate is growing more Democratic and, polls show, more comfortable with the idea that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. A June 2007 survey of likely voters by the Public Policy Institute of California found gay marriage losing, but by a slim 48 percent to 46 percent. In 2000, the margin was 55 percent to 38 percent.


Elsewhere, others suggest, the re-emergence of gay marriage on the national stage could inflame conservatives and convince them to finally get fully behind Republican presidential candidate John McCain, for whom they've shown only lukewarm support.


At the same time, it may hinder Democrat Barack Obama, should he become the nominee, as he tries to expand support among lower-middle-class white voters, many of whom do not favor same-sex marriages. Obama also opposes gay marriage, but favors strong civil union laws.


Nationally, "It might galvanize social conservatives who have lacked the rallying cry in recent years," said Jack Pitney, professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College.


Regarding how voters might come down on a constitutional amendment overturning the ruling, Pitney added, "It's a jump ball."


On Thursday, Schwarzenegger reiterated his position that he will not support a constitutional ban on gay marriage, telling the Sacramento Bee, "It's a big mistake."


But other Republican Party leaders said Thursday that they would actively campaign for such an amendment.


Andrew Pugno, a spokesman for, an umbrella group of supporters, predicted "a very angry reaction from voters that the court has thrown a voter-passed initiative out the window."


Hardly surprising, the tone from San Francisco was much different.


"What a day in San Francisco, what a day for America," Newsom shouted from the steps of City Hall's ornate rotunda, as hundreds cheered.

And it was a pretty good day for Newsom, too.


Four years ago, national politicians lambasted the young, upstart mayor for sanctioning gay marriage, an act that some of his own political mentors openly criticized.


On Thursday, basking in the limelight after what he said was a near-sleepless night of anticipation, Newsom certainly acted like a man on a comeback.


"He has resurrected from the coffin that we put him in," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at California State University-Sacramento.


Of Obama and Hillary Clinton, Newsom suggested the ruling is "a great opportunity" for them to express support for gay marriage, though he does not expect them to. Both have said the decision of granting marriage status should be left to the states.


Newsom predicted Republicans won't get far in trying to link national Democrats to gay marriage among voters who may not support it.


Several political observers agreed that the presidential landscape this year is different. O'Connor said Obama, who appears to be the likely Democratic nominee, is expected to bring independent and younger voters to the polls, two groups that tend to support gay marriage.


McCain, who is making appearances in Northern California next week, including Silicon Valley, has never vocally attacked gay marriage but does not support it.


Jeff Sadosky, a McCain spokesman, responded to the ruling saying, "McCain supports the right of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution sanctioning the union between a man and a woman, just as he did in his home state of Arizona."