Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

California wants a do-over on same-sex marriage vote

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 12:36 PM EDT, Tue March 26, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: California voted in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage
  • Proposition 8 backers used fear to make their case against it, he says
  • Many Americans have shifted, seeing that their friends, loved ones include gays
  • Navarrette: Today Californians would vote in favor of same-sex marriage

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- In November 2008, after an ugly campaign that stirred emotions and split families along generational lines, California voters narrowly approved Proposition 8. The ballot initiative defined marriage as between a man and a woman and banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State.

Now, as the Supreme Court hears arguments from those challenging the law's constitutionality, we Californians have a message for the rest of the country: "Oops. Never mind."

A new Field Poll, released at the end of February, provides the evidence of what many of us here on the left coast have been sensing over the last 4½ years: When it comes to same-sex marriage, many California voters want a do-over. The survey shows that 61% of California voters now approve of it, with 32% opposed.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

The "pro" figure represents a big jump from 2008 when the Field Poll showed that 51% of California voters approved of same sex-marriage.

It's part of what has been a gradual march toward greater public acceptance of same-sex marriage in a state that has struggled with this issue like no other in recent memory.

I know this struggle. I went through it myself. Thirteen years ago, I opposed same-sex marriage and supported the watered-down alternative -- civil unions. As a practical matter, I thought activists should focus on things such as a federal civil rights bill outlawing private-sector discrimination due to sexual orientation. Then a gay family member helped me see the light. I now understand that we can't have a two-tiered system, where some of us enjoy the right to marry and our brothers and sisters and cousins don't, based solely on sexual orientation.

Opinion: Straight marriage is the real issue

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



California's struggle started about the same time. In 2000, another ballot initiative -- Proposition 22, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman -- was approved by 61% of California voters.

Note that this is the same percentage that, in the current Field Poll, says they now support same-sex marriage. A lot can happen in 13 years. A state can turn itself inside out in 13 years.

When the California Supreme Court struck down Proposition 22 as inconsistent with the state constitution, opponents of gay marriage got crafty and proposed another initiative -- Proposition 8, which went so far as to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Prop 8 and the road to the Supreme Court

California voters approved the measure, 52% to 48% -- and in doing so, betrayed their own liberal reputation.

Share your reaction to the arguments

Think of the irony. On the very same day that a majority of voters in this dark blue state voted for the nation's first African-American president, a majority also approved a ballot initiative that winked at bigotry.

Worse, supporters of the measure included a majority of Hispanic and African-American voters. They're no stranger to discrimination, and so they should know better. Maybe many of these voters of color got swept up in the same wave of fear and ignorance that swept across the rest of the state's population.

I live in California, and so I saw it all play out. It wasn't pretty. For instance, there were, in the final days of the campaign, a despicable series of "Yes on 8" radio and television ads that took full advantage of bigotry's old buddy -- fear. One of the main messages behind these ads was that, if same-sex marriage were legal, it would somehow creep its way into the public schools through the curriculum.

Opinion: The real 'modern family' in America

I remember one television ad that showed a little girl who hurried home from school and excitedly told her mother that she was reading a book about a prince who didn't marry a princess because he settled on marrying another prince. And so, she said with a big smile, when she grew up, she could marry a princess. The mother reacted with a panicked look.

The spot did not make clear that California parents have the right to be notified if sexually explicit material is being taught and to pull their children out of class if they choose.

Those are the facts. But, as we have learned time and again, fear doesn't listen to facts. But the good news is that fear usually loses its strength over time. And that is what happened here.

And it happened here, across the board. In the new Field Poll for California, 64% of African-Americans and Asian-Americans and 56% of Hispanics now support same-sex marriage.

No one can say definitively why the numbers have shifted in California. But the change of heart does seem to mirror a national trend where -- as more Americans discover or acknowledge that they have gays and lesbians among their friends and family -- their attitude toward same-sex marriage seems to be softening.

A new CNN/ORC International Survey found evidence of something that analysts are calling the "Rob Portman effect," in reference to the Republican senator from Ohio who changed his position on same-sex marriage after learning his son is gay. In the poll, 57% of Americans now say that they have a family member or close friend who is gay or lesbian. That's a 12-point gain since 2007. Meanwhile, over that same time period, the number of Americans who support same-sex marriage has gone up by almost exactly the same percentage.

Opinion: Our journey with the Clintons on gay rights

This is either one heck of a coincidence or evidence that people come to support same-sex marriage as the issue begins to hit closer to home and they become aware that someone they care about is gay or lesbian.

Whatever is causing the shift, in California and throughout the United States, let's be thankful for it.

The Supreme Court will be taking a close look at California's Proposition 8, and it is expected to hand down its ruling in June.

Speaking of this issue being close to home for many of us, among those attending the arguments will be Chief Justice John Roberts' lesbian cousin who lives in California.

But, frankly, whatever the high court decides isn't all that important anymore. Because, closer to home, many Californians have already admitted their mistake. And soon, they'll be looking for a way to correct it.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:46 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT