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November 2008 - Proposition 8 Ignites Gay Marriage Debate

Prop 8 Protestors
A protest in November 2008 after Prop 8 succeeded at the ballot. | Photo: Jason Rosenberg/Flickr/Creative Commons License

On November 4, 2008, as California voters made history to elect Barack Obama as the first African American to become President of the United States, voters also approved the statewide measure known as Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.

Proposition 8, authored and backed by various religious conservative organizations, created a new amendment to the California Constitution which mandated that marriage in the state of California was restricted to that between a man and a woman.

In May 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was a constitutionally-protected right in the state, and 18,000 marriages among same-sex couples took place between then and the passage of Proposition 8.

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The controversial initiative pitted "marriage sanctity" vs. "marriage equality" in a cultural and legal battle over the next four and a half years. Soon after the election, lawsuits were filed seeking to invalidate the initiative. Numerous protests and rallies took place, not just in California, but nationwide -- from both sides of the issue -- but those advocating for marriage equality became the loudest at the table.

In May 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Prop 8. The court also upheld the 18,000 same-sex marriages that took place before Prop 8 went into effect. In August 2010, a federal judge ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution and disallowed enforcement of it.

In March 2013, the Human Rights Campaign, a nationwide organization advocating for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender rights, launched a social media campaign, urging supporters of marriage equality to change their profile picture on social media accounts to a red version of the HRC logo. The viral campaign energized LGBT activists and straight allies sympathetic to the cause, particularly among the social media-savvy Millennial generation, and caused supporters of gay marriage rights to show their solidarity through their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Over the four years since the 2008 election, a number of states have allowed same-sex marriage or civil unions, and Americans, according to polls, were more accepting of same-sex marriages than they were a decade ago -- the signs of changing times and social attitudes.

Though it was a statewide measure, the gay marriage equality issue affected a number of communities in Southern California, particularly the city of West Hollywood, with its large LGBT population and tradition of LGBT activism, and the city of Los Angeles, which in the 2013 municipal elections had elected three openly-gay officials to citywide office: City Controller Ron Galperin, and City Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Mitch O'Farrell.

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to make a ruling on the constitutionality of Prop 8, and dismissed the lawsuit contending that the sponsors of the initiative lacked the legal standing to defend a state law in federal court if they could not show "concrete and particularized injury."

The action essentially nullified the initiative, and by July 2013, California began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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