The people's election - Page 5

On (almost) every level, the grassroots beat the establishment and the progressives beat the big money
San Franciscans celebrate America
Photo by Stefan Jora

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, joined by Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and Santa Clara County Counsel Ann C. Raven, filed a legal challenge to Prop. 8, arguing that a ballot initiative can't be used to take away fundamental constitutional rights.

"Such a sweeping redefinition of equal protection would require a constitutional revision rather than a mere amendment," the petition argued.

"The issue before the court today is of far greater consequence than marriage equality alone," Herrera said. "Equal protection of the laws is not merely the cornerstone of the California Constitution, it is what separates constitutional democracy from mob rule tyranny. If allowed to stand, Prop. 8 so devastates the principle of equal protection that it endangers the fundamental rights of any potential electoral minority — even for protected classes based on race, religion, national origin, and gender."

That may succeed. In fact, the state Supreme Court made quite clear in its analysis legalizing same-sex marriage that this was a matter of fundamental rights: "Although defendants maintain that this court has an obligation to defer to the statutory definition of marriage contained in [state law] because that statute — having been adopted through the initiative process — represents the expression of the 'people's will,' this argument fails to take into account the very basic point that the provisions of the California Constitution itself constitute the ultimate expression of the people's will, and that the fundamental rights embodied within that Constitution for the protection of all persons represent restraints that the people themselves have imposed upon the statutory enactments that may be adopted either by their elected representatives or by the voters through the initiative process.

As the United States Supreme Court explained in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette (1943) 319 U.S. 624, 638: 'The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.'"

As Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin told the Guardian later that week: "Luckily, we have an independent judiciary, because the voters of California have mistakenly taken away a class of civil rights."

But if that legal case fails, this will probably wind up on the state ballot again. And the next campaign will have to be different.

There already have been many discussions about what the No on 8 campaign did wrong and right, but it's clear that the queer movement needs to reach out to African Americans, particularly black churches. African Americans voted heavily in favor of Prop. 8, and ministers in many congregations preached in favor of the measure.

But there are plenty of black religious leaders who took the other side. In San Francisco the Rev. Amos Brown, who leads the Third Baptist Church, one of the city's largest African American congregations, spoke powerfully from the pulpit about the connections between the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the fight for same-sex marriage.

The next time this is on the ballot, progressive and queer leaders will need to build a more broad-based movement. That is not only possible, but almost inevitable.

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