Editorial: Holding Newsom to his pledge

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday June 12, 2024
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Governor Gavin Newsom spoke about the Freedom to Marry initiative in San Francisco June 7. Photo: John Ferrannini
Governor Gavin Newsom spoke about the Freedom to Marry initiative in San Francisco June 7. Photo: John Ferrannini

We were pleased that Governor Gavin Newsom came to San Francisco last week to help launch the Northern California kick-off of the Freedom to Marry ballot initiative. It was important that Newsom expend some political capital to help get the message out that it's critical for people to vote for this proposition on the November 5 ballot. The governor told us he would do "whatever I can do" to help pass the initiative, which is also heartening, as we urged him to do so in an editorial a few weeks ago.

The groups running the Freedom to Marry campaign need to hold Newsom to his pledge. The governor should be deployed in campaign materials — along with same-sex couples — in the coming months as people start paying attention to issues on the ballot. Most importantly, the governor can speak about why this initiative is so important.

Yes, same-sex marriage is legal in California, and has been since June 2013. But the old zombie language of 2008's Proposition 8, that marriage is only between a man and a woman, remains in the California Constitution. The Freedom to Marry initiative, which does not yet have a proposition number, would remove that language. Prop 8 was declared unconstitutional following a 2010 federal trial, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision in 2013, with same-sex marriages resuming in the Golden State that June. (Same-sex marriage, of course, became legal nationwide with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision.)

The issue of the Prop 8 language was raised in 2022 due to the Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion. In a concurring opinion in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested precedent on issues ranging from contraception to sodomy laws to same-sex marriage could be changed.

"In future cases, we should reconsider all of this court's substantive due process precedents, including Griswold [contraception], Lawrence [sexual relations between same-sex couples], and Obergefell [same-sex marriage]," Thomas wrote. "Because any substantive due process decision is 'demonstrably erroneous,' we have a duty to 'correct the error' established in those precedents."

This alarmed LGBTQ rights advocates, and last year state legislators passed Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, now dubbed the Freedom to Marry initiative, to place a remedy on this year's ballot.

Newsom is no stranger to the same-sex marriage movement because he jump-started it back in 2004 shortly after he became San Francisco's mayor. We will never forget the day — February 12 — that Newsom ordered city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as the "Winter of Love" was born and lasted for a month.

"I have a little history, as you may know, on this issue, going back 20 years," Newsom said during his June 7 appearance at Manny's, the gay-owned cafe and event space in the Mission district. "Been a big part of my journey and the journey of millions and millions of others, and we want to see this to completion, we want to see this to fruition, and get this stain off our constitution and this Freedom to Marry initiative will do just that."

Today, the divisiveness around marriage equality is mostly in the rear-view mirror, as gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) pointed out when he appeared with Newsom. "Marriage equality right now is a bit like mom-and-apple pie," Wiener said. "We even have some Republicans who support it. That was not the case back then."

In fact, when ACA 5 passed the Legislature last year, it won bipartisan votes. More recently, the California Republican Party opted not to take a position on the ballot measure and to remain neutral. That's good news, because while some individual Republican candidates might be opposed, the state party won't be directing opposition.

The Freedom to Marry campaign includes Equality California, the statewide LGBTQ rights organization; the national Human Rights Campaign; TransLatin@ Coalition; the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California; and Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. These organizations have much to do between now and Election Day, chiefly to make sure that voters are not complacent and understand the importance of jettisoning the Prop 8 language once and for all. This is the same tactic that was successful in California in 2022 when voters passed Proposition 1, enshrining the right to abortion in the state's governing document.

We think that voters know — or soon will once they start paying attention — that rights can't be left to the current Supreme Court. The conservative supermajority may well start examining precedents that have already been decided, just as Thomas wrote in that concurring opinion. And if Democrats lose control of the U.S. Senate and the White House, well, who knows how bad things may get, from an LGBTQ perspective. Earlier this week, recordings of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's wife came to light where she is alleged to have said she designed a flag to counter Pride month.

"It's white and it has yellow and orange flames around it. And in the middle is the word vergogna. Vergogna in Italian means 'shame.' Vergogna. V-E-R-G-O-G-N-A. Vergogna. Shame, shame, shame on you," Martha-Ann Alito is alleged to have said, according to media reports.

Ashley Morris, organizing director of the ACLU of Northern California stated, "This ballot measure comes at a pivotal moment in time when the Supreme Court has made it clear it is willing to revoke hard-won rights, endangering the freedoms of millions of Californians."

So, we appreciate Newsom for his vocal support in San Francisco last week. Now, he needs to amplify his message throughout the Golden State in advance of the election.

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