Silicon Valley voters asked to erase obsolete same-sex marriage law
A rainbow crosswalk on The Alameda outside the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center in San Jose, which opened in 1981. Photo by Julia Forrest.

    Voters in San Jose and the rest of the state have a chance to erase a law still on the books that bans same-sex marriage in California.

    The California Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment last week to repeal Prop. 8, a 2008 measure that established a ban on same-sex marriage. The ban became moot in 2013 after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision, legalizing same-sex marriage in California. The nation’s highest court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in 2015.

    State residents will have a chance to vote to remove the ban in 2024. It can only be removed through a ballot measure because it is a constitutional amendment.

    Assemblymember Evan Low, who represents parts of San Jose, introduced the legislation alongside state Sen. Scott Wiener, who represents San Francisco. Low said it came in response to recent actions by the Supreme Court to allow businesses to refuse to supply services for same-sex weddings and the court’s decision to overturn Roe v.Wade last year. Low said the court could rollback other previous decisions, adding that Justice Clarence Thomas said the court should reconsider its same-sex marriage ruling after it overturned Roe v. Wade.

    “All we need to do is not be complacent,” Low told San José Spotlight. “Everyday Californians would believe that we have these rights and we cannot fathom that such rights would be overturned… we should have eyes wide open as to the threat that exists.”

    Drew Lloyd, board president of Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee, an LGBTQ political action committee, said he worries the Supreme Court could revisit the case, putting in jeopardy not only his marriage, but marriages across the country. He said the ballot measure will allow people to rectify the prior ban.

    “People in California have significantly evolved on this issue, and the sky did not, in fact, fall when same-sex people started getting married,” Lloyd told San José Spotlight. “It’s heartbreaking to think that we might have to endure this distressing roller coaster again.”

    Low said this time around will be different since there is less of a partisan divide on the issue compared to 2008. The vote in the state Senate passed 31-0 with nine abstentions. The Assembly passed the amendment 67-0, with 13 abstentions. At least one legislator abstained from the vote citing religious reasons.

    “When marriage equality first came about in California, the major opposition was with the Republican legislators in the party, whereas right now, this is a bipartisan measure,” Low said. “In other words, this constitution amendment has received votes from all across the aisle.”

    Ahead of the nation

    California has a long history of being at forefront of issues related to same-sex marriage. In 2004, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite it being illegal, which a court later stopped. In 2005, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed legislation aiming to legalize gay marriage.

    LGBTQ rights have come a long way in Silicon Valley. In 1978, the San Jose City Council planned a Gay Pride Week, but community backlash dashed the idea. In 1979, the council and Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors put measures in front of voters to ban discrimination regarding sexual orientation, and grant housing and employment protections to gays and lesbians. But voters rejected both measures in 1980.

    In 1993, then-Supervisor Ron Gonzales wanted a resolution declaring Lesbian and Gay Pride Week in Santa Clara County, but the idea was shut down in San Jose until 2001 when then-Councilmember Ken Yeager reintroduced it.

    Even now, according to a 2013 county public health assessment, the local LGBTQ community tends to face various health disparities and inequities regarding basic resources such as affordable housing and social services. According to that same assessment, about 4% of Santa Clara County’s population is part of the LGBTQ community.

    Yeager said the 2008 law must be erased.

    “It will give LGBTQ people something to fight for,” he told San José Spotlight. “We haven’t had an issue like this for quite a while and I think it’s going to energize the community.”

    Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.

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