Equal rights activists on campus and throughout the county are decrying Tuesday’s passage of Proposition 8, which amends the California State Constitution to make gay marriage illegal.
The hot-button ballot measure drew heated debate and national coverage. According to a report by the New York Times, Prop 8 was perhaps the most expensive ballot measure ever contested, with proponents and opponents spending about $75 million on campaigns each. Opposition to the proposition – including a sizeable group of students that protested on campus yesterday – claimed the measure was an assault on the rights of individuals.
Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com, an advocate group for Prop 8, however, called the decision a resounding affirmation of Californian’s desire to define marriage once and for all as existing solely between a man and woman.
“This is a great day for marriage,” he said. “We are gratified that voters chose to protect traditional marriage and reclaimed this great institution.”
Yesterday, students wielding signs and shouting slogans gathered at Storke Plaza to protest the ban on gay marriage. By 2:30 p.m., the stationary rally had become a cross-campus march, led by a large rainbow flag and flanked by police escorts.
The event was organized by Trevor Ditzler, a fourth-year religious studies and psychology double major. He said he was outraged at what he perceived to be violation of fundamental rights.
“I want people to take away that this is a personal issue,” Ditzler said. “It’s about equality. I want people to reach out and talk to each other. We elected Obama – which was a huge step forward – but we also took a huge step back.”
Ditzler’s concerns were echoed by many in the crowd, including Doug Wagoner, a first-year undeclared UCSB student.
“As of today, I’m a second class citizen,” Wagoner said. “We can’t stand for letting our rights be taken away and campus is the best place to [organize] because people need to see the faces of the those they are taking rights away from.”
Although the change in the constitution does not automatically affect marriages that have already taken place in the state, Jerry Schwartz, director of Development for the Pacific Pride Foundation, said this amendment makes it easier for these marriages to be challenged in court.
“As of now, their marriages will be recognized,” Schwartz said, “but the people who sponsored ‘Yes on 8’ are preparing a class action lawsuit to annul all of these marriages.”
Schwartz said that although he worried about the implications of the legislation, he took heart in the support that same-sex-marriage has by some members of government.
“State Attorney General Jerry Brown is very committed to making sure that these marriages are not annulled,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said that he was not terribly surprised by the outcome of the election, which he credited at least in part to questionable campaign tactics on the part of the proposition’s supporters.
“I know that a lot of people were disappointed by it, but I was not surprised that the proposition passed,” he said. “I had a lot of reasons – some malicious, and some just out of our control. For example, [the proposition’s supporters] sent out a flier before the election saying that Barack Obama was in support of Prop 8, and that was not the case.”
Although Schwartz had expected that the bill would pass, many within the queer community voiced surprise that traditionally liberal California would approve such conservative legislation. Amelia English, Co-Chair of UCSB’s Queer Student Union and fourth-year sociology and women’s studies student, said that she was surprised and let down by the voter’s mandate.
“Personally, I’m really disappointed in California,” English said. “Initial polls kind of gave us hope. But a lot of voters seemed to change their minds in the last month. Even L.A. County voted 50-50, which is surprising – you would think they would be more progressive.”
Like English, some pundits had originally estimated that the proposition would face tough opposition amongst California voters. However, exit polls show that certain demographic groups – particularly older voters and African-American voters – came out strongly for the proposition.
Although the amendment was opposed 61 percent to 39 percent by voters in the 18 to 29 year age bracket, according to exit polls, it was supported by 70 percent of African American voters, who account for 10 percent of the California electorate.
Though the amendment marks a setback for supporters of same sex marriage rights, Schwartz and English agree that they will continue to work for equality for the queer community.
“It sucks, but I know we are going to keep on fighting,” English said. “If the amendment isn’t overturned by the court like it was last May, then the next election we can get something on the ballot. It is four years away, but we’re going to keep working.”