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Prop 8 Ruling: Support for Same Sex Marriage in California Grows Significantly

As the U.S. Supreme Court gets set to hand down a decision on Proposition 8, California's controversial 2008 ban on same sex marriage, new polls show that support for same sex marriage has grown significantly amongst voters in the state. The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll shows that 58% of registered voters believe that same sex marriage should be legal, with 36% opposed. This represents a significant change from 2008, when voters approved Proposition 8 by 52% to 42%. The ban has already been ruled unconstitutional by both the U.S. District Court in California and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling before the end of June.

As a recent Los Angeles Times headline points out, when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage, "like it or not, polls go only in one direction." The latest poll in California highlights the significant, and welcome, shift in public opinion towards allowing same sex couples the right to marry across the country over the past few years.

According to the poll, conducted between May 27 and June 2, support for same sex-marriage in California has risen across the board. Dave Kanevsky, research director of the American Viewpoint, a polling firm which helped conduct the poll, said that "every group has moved" in favor of allowing same sex couples to marry. Support is highest amongst voters aged between 18 and 29, with 76% in favor, while 52% of people aged 50 to 64 support making same sex marriage legal. Support amongst those aged over 65 has grown significantly, with the group now almost evenly divided, 46% in favor and 47% against, compared to 2010 when those against same sex marriage outnumbered those in favor by 19%. Dan Schur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, says that he has "never seen an issue on which public opinion has shifted so quickly and so dramatically."

Both the U.S. District Court in California and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. Having heard arguments back in March, the Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by the end of June. Matt Baume of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) says that Court has set aside June 13, June 17, and June 24 for rulings, although more days could be added before the end of the month. AFER has released this handy info-graphic showing how the Court might rule and the consequences of its decision:

Image credit: AFER

The Office of the City Attorney of San Francisco has also outlined four general scenarios and ranked them from best-case to worst-case for same sex marriage supporters. Under scenario one, the "Gold Medal" scenario, the Court affirms the Ninth Circuit decision invalidating Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, a decision which could have ramifications beyond California. In scenario two, the "Silver Medal" scenario, the Court dismisses the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit ruling as the final, binding decision, an outcome that would affect California only. Scenario three, the "Bronze Medal" scenario, would see the Court ruling the proponents of Proposition 8 lacked standing under federal law to appeal the Ninth Circuit decision and would leave the U.S. District Court as the final, binding decision. This could, however, lead to further legal arguments from same sex marriage opponents. In the final, "no medal," scenario, the Court decides to reverse the Ninth Circuit decision and uphold Proposition 8.

Reflecting on the latest poll in California, Karin Klein of the LA Times argues that the idea that a "vote [Proposition 8] has been taken and that's that for all eternity has always been a hollow one. Grand fights for grand visions have always involved multiple battles and usually some terrible defeats. But when an idea is the right one, it tends to take hold over time. That’s what we’re seeing in this poll." Whatever decision the Supreme Court makes, the battle for public opinion is increasingly being won by supporters of same sex marriage and there is no turning back.

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