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Proposition 8 (California)  
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Proposition 8, also known as the California Marriage Protection Act, was the ballot proposition that amended the California state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The passage of Proposition 8 sparked large demonstrations throughout California and inspired new grassroots activism on behalf of gay rights. After prolonged litigation in both state and federal court, it was finally struck down on June 26, 2013.

Passed on November 4, 2008, Proposition 8 added a new provision to the California constitution that declared that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." This wording is the same as Proposition 22, which is sometimes known as the Knight Initiative because it was proposed by state senator William "Pete" Knight. Proposition 22 was adopted in 2000 as a simple law and was invalidated by the 2008 California Supreme Court's ruling in In re Marriages, which legalized same-sex marriage in California.

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In response to that ruling, proponents of "traditional" marriage launched a petition drive to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would end same-sex marriage in the state.


On February 12, 2004, San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that the city would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Literally overnight thousands of same-sex couples converged on city hall for their licenses. Riveting footage of couples waiting in line for hours and having their unions blessed on the steps of city hall brought national and international attention.

These marriages, however, were soon nullified by the California Supreme Court, which did not at that time address the substantive question of the constitutionality of banning same-sex marriage but ruled that Mayor Newsom lacked the authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In the litigation that followed the San Francisco marriages, advocates for same-sex marriage won an impressive victory at the trial court, which ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. This decision, however, was soon reversed by the California Court of Appeals.

On May 15, 2008, however, the California Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled that the prohibition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The Court struck down two state laws (including Proposition 22) that banned same-sex marriage and declared that the state's domestic partnership law, which was adopted in 2003 and subsequently augmented, was not sufficient to provide equal protection under the law to same-sex couples.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Ronald George declared that the right to marriage is a fundamental right that must be accorded to same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples. "The right to marry," he wrote, "represents the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with a person of one's choice and, as such, is of fundamental significance both to society and to the individual."

Basing its ruling on the equal protection clause of the state constitution, the Court also adopted a new standard of review in determining claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Rather than the "rational basis" test, the Court ruled that claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation require "strict scrutiny."

Despite pleas from opponents of same-sex marriage and the attorneys general of eleven states, the Court refused to delay the effect of its decision, so on June 17, 2008, same-sex couples began marrying in California. Since California has no residency requirement, couples from out-of-state were also eligible to marry in the state.

The Campaign

In response to the court ruling, a coalition of anti-gay activists began collecting signatures on a petition to amend the constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. To qualify the amendment for the ballot, its proponents needed the signatures of almost 700,000 registered voters. On June 2, 2008, they submitted more than 1,100,000 signatures.

The California Supreme Court rejected pre-election challenges to the initiative by opponents, who contended that constitutional amendments must be ratified by the legislature, and challenges to the ballot summary and title by proponents of the amendment, who contended that the Attorney General's summary, which included a statement that the initiative would deprive same-sex couples of the right to marry, was prejudicial.

Finally, on August 11, 2008, Proposition 8 was certified for the November 4, 2008 election.

Proposition 8 was bitterly contested by extraordinarily well-financed campaigns, both for and against. The campaign for Proposition 8 raised almost $40 million dollars, the largest donors to which were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and the Roman Catholic Church.

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The signs at this rally in favor of Proposition 8 held on October 26, 2008 in Fresno, California reflect the religious roots of the proposition's support.
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