Guest Opinion: Californians should not take the repeal of Prop 8 for granted

  • by Lex Lazar
  • Wednesday September 6, 2023
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Lex Lazar. Photo: Courtesy Lex Lazar
Lex Lazar. Photo: Courtesy Lex Lazar

As a former first-time candidate for public office, I am always looking for the political signage that pops up on yard signs and billboards at the beginning of an election cycle, to gauge the interest of voters in a campaign or candidate. Over my recent birthday weekend while commuting on Interstate 80, I saw my first bumper sticker of this cycle reading, "Miss me yet? Trump 2024."

Even with recent indictments and controversies former President Donald J. Trump seems poised to win the Republican primary in March, and make it to the November 2024 general election ballot.

On the ballot next November is the "California Right to Marry and Repeal Proposition 8 Amendment." A "yes" vote would support repealing Prop 8, which passed in 2008 and defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman in the California State Constitution. A "no" vote would keep the above definition in the state constitution.

You read that right. The state constitution in the most liberal state in America still reflects language that was upheld as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, two years before the same court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. (Golden State voters had approved Prop 8 in 2008, but it was the subject of a federal trial that found it to be unconstitutional.) The problem now is that should Trump's Supreme Court overturn Obergefell v. Hodges at some point in the future, marriage equality in California would be in jeopardy. (Trump nominated three conservative justices to the high court during his presidency, resulting in a 6-3 supermajority.) Thankfully, gay California lawmakers Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino) and state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) worked hard this year to see Assembly Constitutional Amendment 5 approved by the Legislature to go before California voters next year. Passage of ACA 5 would remove the "zombie" Prop 8 language from the state constitution.

If all this back and forth about same-sex marriage at the ballot box, and in the courts, sounds confusing, it is. Let's take a quick trip back to 2004, in the "Rainbow Wayback Machine." I was 25 years old and, in February of that year, I remember catching news reports of same-sex couples lining up around San Francisco City Hall because then-mayor Gavin Newsom, now the state's governor, ordered city and county officials to ignore previous state statutes barring same-sex marriage and issue licenses to same-sex couples. The county clerk's office began marrying same-sex couples, and the scenes of pure love and happiness made me optimistic that outdated opinions on homosexuality were becoming a thing of the past, and also hopeful that I, too, could fall in love in the future and have that union legally recognized.

The backlash didn't take long however. Through Lockyer v. City and County of San Francisco, the California Supreme Court ordered San Francisco to stop performing same-sex marriages and later ultimately voided all the marriages on August 12, 2004. Fast-forward to May 2008 when the California Supreme Court ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The decision went into effect on June 16, 2008, at 5:01 p.m. and, promptly, the same energy from San Francisco in 2004 was permeating through courthouses across California. Just a few months later, Prop 8 was passed with 52% of the vote, banning same-sex marriage statewide. Although a federal appeals court deemed Prop 8 unconstitutional in 2010, which the U.S. Supreme Court let stand, the only way to overturn a decision made by the voters of California is to bring it back before voters.

Throughout this period, it was hard for me to ignore that my right to a legally recognized union with the man I have yet to meet was never certain and could be left to the whims of judges or voters. After dropping out of California State University, Los Angeles in the late 1990s, I had been working retail management jobs. This helter-skelter debate on same-sex marriage influenced me to complete my college education with a focus on policy and political science. I volunteered with my local chapter of the No on Proposition 8 campaign, which was ultimately unsuccessful. The Yes on 8 campaign used slogans like "Restore Marriage" and images of a cartoon nuclear family, which successfully confused just enough voters for the measure to pass. Conservative activists from the religious right also mobilized with volunteers and donations to pass Prop 8.

Although a majority of voters in 2023 approve of same-sex marriage, Californians should not take the repeal of Prop 8 for granted. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a return of social policies pushed by the religious right. There have been efforts to ban books and critical race theory in some school districts. The state Republican Party and some pastors in California have used the opposition to mask mandates, for reasons such as personal freedom or religious beliefs, to elect very conservative school board members in places like Temecula. The school board there recently rejected a social studies curriculum that featured a half-page biography of the late Supervisor Harvey Milk, an action denounced by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and Newsom. Just like the "Miss me yet?" Trump bumper sticker should remind us that his voters are energized to take to the polls next March, we should energize the LGBTQ+ community and our allies to repeal Prop 8 in November 2024.

Until recently, I was a candidate for Assembly District 6 in the Sacramento area. The recent unexpected death of my older brother led me to decide September 5 to close my campaign to spend time with my family. There are currently four other LGBTQ candidates in that Assembly race, including the president of the Sacramento chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. The nature of the race is historic, and as it draws more attention, I call on all the candidates to stand strong in unison in support of the repeal of Prop 8. I don't think I've met the man I want to "put a ring on" yet but, if I do, it would be another twist of fate for the right to marry him to be stripped away by narrow-minded conservatives once again.

Lex Lazar is a former aide to San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Congressmember Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). He now works in the tech sector.

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