Yale law graduate Scott Lopez, 38, said that the same-sex marriage referendum result in California has massive ramifications for gay rights in America.
People take note of what happens in California. This referendum can be used as guideline for all other issues, he said. States like Connecticut and Massachusetts can do what they like but it’s California that people look to.
The issue is far from resolved. Following the passing of Proposition 8 with a 52 to 48 per cent majority, pro-gay activists have filed three court challenges. The question is whether the referendum is a revision or a simply an amendment to the state constitution.
What people have passed is a revision to the constitution, which makes a fundamental change to the principles of the document, said Scott. Marriage was granted through the judicial system citing the Constitution. The real purpose of the Constitution is to protect people’s rights, not take them away.
If the Court decides that the referendum was a revision then both houses of the Californian legislature must approve the Proposition with a two-thirds majority for the change to be enacted.
President-elect Barack Obama obtained 61 percent of the vote in California. How can a state overwhelmingly endorse an African American Democrat President who spoke against the proposition and yet vote in favour of eliminating gay equality?
Gay rights are seen as different from other equality issues. The church wields significant influence and portrays homosexuality as immoral, said Scott.
Gay rights also suffered a crippling blow in Florida. Amendment 2, again to change the constitution on marriage, received 62 percent support. In Florida it was a super-majority. No one thought it would pass and it did, said Scott.
The passing of Proposition 102 in Arizona, 57 percent to 43 percent, did not come as a surprise, as the state is home to Republican candidate John McCain.
Prohibition of same-sex marriage is the norm throughout America. There are now only six states that don’t have either a constitution or statute prohibiting same-sex marriage.
In terms of the law, the United States is a homophobic place, said Scott who worked as a human rights attorney in Connecticut.
In a quirk of language, California still recognises civil unions even though same-sex marriage is now prohibited in the constitution. Eleven states recognise civil unions.
This is a separate but equal regime. Legally civil unions are the same as marriage but it doesn’t provide the same feeling of recognition and respect, said Scott.
In an equality victory, Connecticut rejected 61 to 39 percent, Question 1, a measure calling for a constitutional convention on gay marriage. In October this year the Connecticut High Court ruled in favour of same-sex marriage.
The only other state where same-sex marriage is permitted is Massachusetts. The small northeastern states are generally more progressive than the rest of the country.
Scott, who’s been in Australia since 1999, is currently undertaking a doctorate at Sydney University in public health law reform focusing on the health of Indigenous Australians.
I was looking for a place to settle with the greatest prospects to build a tolerant society. I am heartened with last year’s change of government.