Political Notes: San Francisco supervisors set to back excising California's same-sex marriage ban amendment

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday June 8, 2023
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Thousands of enthusiastic activists took to Market Street protesting the passage of Proposition 8 on November 7, 2008, a few days after the election. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Thousands of enthusiastic activists took to Market Street protesting the passage of Proposition 8 on November 7, 2008, a few days after the election. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is set to back the effort to repeal Proposition 8's "zombie language" from the California Constitution at its June 13 meeting. State lawmakers are expected to place a measure before voters on the 2024 general election ballot that would excise the homophobic legacy of the ballot measure narrowly adopted in 2008.

Gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) earlier this year had introduced Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5, which would remove Prop 8's definition of marriage being between a man and a woman from state statutes. Although a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013 invalidated Prop 8, and two years later the court's Obergefell v. Hodges decision established same-sex marriage as a federal right, there is concern that the current conservative majority on the court could rescind the earlier marriage equality ruling akin to its ending a federal right to abortion last June.

On June 5, Low gathered with several of his legislative colleagues on the West Steps of the California Capitol to announce ACA 5's actual language to repeal Prop 8. The Assembly Judiciary Committee is also set to take it up Tuesday morning.

ACA 5 requires a two-thirds vote by the Legislature to be adopted, with the Assembly expected to pass it by the end of the month. The state Senate is expected to pass it later this summer, although the chamber has until June 30, 2024, to vote for it in order to get it onto the November ballot that fall. ACA 5 doesn't need to go before Governor Gavin Newsom to sign.

The coming votes on ACA 5 in the Statehouse prompted District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí to pen a resolution in support of seeing state legislators adopt it. He first reached out to his three gay colleagues on the board — Supervisors Joel Engardio of District 4, Matt Dorsey of District 6, and Rafael Mandelman of District 8 — to gain their support. All three signed on as co-sponsors.

"We felt, given the fact this is still embedded in the California Constitution, it is the right time to repeal it," Safaí told the Bay Area Reporter in an exclusive interview June 7, a day after introducing the resolution at the board.

As for taking a lead role in authoring it, Safaí said he felt it was an appropriate action, so long as his gay colleagues supported his doing it, because it will take a coalition of voters to support repealing Prop 8's language next November.

"It is the LGBTQ-plus community and allies who will have to do this together," said Safaí, who will also appear on the same ballot as a San Francisco mayoral candidate.

As for the board resolution garnering support Tuesday from all 11 supervisors, Safaí told the B.A.R., "I can pretty much guarantee that every supervisor will sign on as a co-sponsor as this comes up."

It is believed the San Francisco supervisors will be the first board to adopt a resolution in support of repealing Prop 8. Last July, the Oakland City Council was the first known elected body in the state to do so, as the Political Notes column reported at the time. This April the Cupertino City Council sent in a letter of support for ACA 5 and repealing Prop 8's language.

"Marriage equality is a fundamental right, and I'm thankful to have the support of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors," Low told the B.A.R. "This is an opportunity for our state to remove a black mark from the California constitution and protect our community members, especially considering the recent attacks on the LGBTQ+ community."

Inspired by a gay couple's wedding

There is also a more personal reason behind why Safaí brought forward the resolution. He happened to lose his first bid for his supervisor seat on the same ballot that saw Prop 8 win 15 years ago. (He was elected on his second bid for the District 11 seat in 2016.)

Working as a volunteer on Safaí's 2008 campaign was Thomas Luchini, 69, who met his partner, Adrian Catuar, 71, in April 1978 at the now-closed Castro gay bar Alfie's. The couple became friends with Safaí, and when they needed an officiant to marry them this spring, they reached out to the supervisor.

Safaí married the men on April 6 on the top floor of City Hall right below the municipal building's historic Rotunda. The ceremony not only made him think about having the supervisors take a stance in support of ACA 5 but also prompted a flood of memories for him.

"It reminded me we started working with them in 2008 when I ran for office the first time. I narrowly lost that day but Prop 8 narrowly won that day," recalled Safaí.

Luchini told the B.A.R. he was happy to learn the couple's marriage had sparked the resolution from Safaí, calling it "a great idea." But in a sign of how LGBTQ advocates will need to educate voters that Prop 8 still lingers, Luchini also said he thought the court rulings had completely invalidated it.

"I was surprised; I thought Prop 8 had been repealed. But I guess the language is still in the constitution," said Luchini, a Mission Terrace resident who had lived near upper Market Street when he first moved to San Francisco in 1977.

As for having confidence that voters will do away with Prop 8 once and for all next year, Luchini told the B.A.R., "I'd like to. There are pockets of the state that make odd decisions to me."

What gives him hope is recalling the many young people, many of who were straight, who took part in a protest against Prop 8's passage back in 2008 that he also participated in. Marching past the Safeway grocery store on Market Street near where he used to live, Luchini was struck by how far support for LGBTQ rights had come since the days of his own youth in the 1970s.

"I thought what a huge difference in the culture. I was very touched by it and seeing so many young people, many not necessarily gay people, come out to protest the passage of Prop 8," recalled Luchini.

Safaí also sounded a note of confidence that the Prop 8 repeal effort would pass. He pointed out that since its initial passage, public support for marriage equality has only grown and President Joe Biden last December signed bipartisan legislation, the Respect for Marriage Act, to repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act that was passed in 1996.

"It is the law of the land, and I think we are just reaffirming that and taking it out of the state constitution. I feel confident we will get it done," said Safaí. "I will be proud to campaign on that next year."

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