Court Rules Prop 8 Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional, Will California Regain Status as Leader on LGBT Rights?

Editor's Update: A federal appeals court Tuesday struck down California's ban on same-sex marriage, paving the way for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage as early as next year. The 2-1 decision by a panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that Prop 8 violated the U.S. Constitution. The architects of Prop. 8 have vowed to appeal. Will California now regain its status as a leader on LGBT rights?

(This piece was originally published in January 2012) Long gone are the days when people thought “as California goes, so goes the nation.” Once seen as the definitive leader on LGBT issues, the state’s recent failures to push for marriage equality jeapordizes its status as the nation’s progressive champion.

And it doesn’t look like the state has any intention of reclaiming that mantle any time soon. The 2012 election presents a huge opportunity for California to reclaim it’s trailblazing support for marriage equality, but Equality California and the other big gay rights groups are choosing to sit on their hands.

Other states, by contrast, have taken the lead on LGBT rights: Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and the District of Columbia have all legalized gay marriage since California voters enshrined “one man, one woman” into their constitution. New York, in particular, with its laser-targeted campaign and Republican support, clearly replaced California as gay rights advocates' ‘big win.’

Even after those victories, though, California still opts to take the backseat to the rest of the nation in terms of advancing equality.

Maryland and Washington’s governors recently announced support for gay marriage, creating the potential to shepherd marriage equality bills through their Democratic legislatures à la Andrew Cuomo. In New Jersey, the state senate president, who previously abstained in a marriage vote, has changed his opinion and now sees it as a civil rights issue. Now, the chamber is just a few votes shy of passing marriage equality with a veto-proof majority. That means they could get a marriage bill past anti-equality and rising Republican star, Chris Christie.

That progress alone should be enough to embarrass California for its inaction. But if that weren’t enough, Maine is collecting signatures to put marriage equality back on the ballot. The state is choosing to do this even though they’ve had less time to recover, and lost their last referendum battle by a larger margin than California did with Prop 8. 

The rationale for inaction is fairly simple. EQCA and its donors would rather wait for the Perry case to wind its way through the federal courts, and hope the Supreme Court strikes down the gay marriage ban. They believe pushing to repeal Prop. 8 right now is too risky and worry that another loss at the ballot box would be bad for momentum. But civil rights aren’t won timidly. The only thing bad for momentum is that the supposedly best-organized, most vocal advocates for marriage equality aren’t lifting a finger to repeal Prop. 8 when the chances for victory have never been better. 

What happened to your pride, California? What happened to the massive Prop. 8 protests? What happened to the awakened citizens that stood up and demanded repeal in 2010? You might have let your unemployment numbers drop, but don’t lose your commitment to equality. Don’t lose one of the most defining aspects that makes you such a great state because, lets be real, California, it’s not like you’re attracting business anymore.  

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