California High Court Will Review Prop. 8 Ban On Same-Sex Marriage

Religious Right organizations scored an upset victory in November when California voters narrowly approved a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages – but now their win may be in jeopardy.

The California Supreme Court has agreed to review the legality of Proposition 8, a measure banning same-sex marriage that passed by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent Nov. 4.

Prop. 8 opponents argue that the amendment is actually a revision to the California Constitution. Revisions require approval by a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a constitutional convention to become part of the document. They also assert that it violates the equal protection provisions of the California Constitution.

Religious Right groups and conservative religious denominations were very active in the campaign to pass Prop. 8. It has been widely reported that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) implored its members to contribute to the effort, resulting in an influx of $20 million. The church also ran phone banks to turn out the vote.

Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco apparently played a key role in bringing the Mormons into the effort.

Niederauer, formerly the Roman Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City, wrote a column reporting that he is the one who reached out to the Mormon church hierarchy.

“Last May,” wrote Niederauer, “the staff of the [state Catholic] Conference office informed me that leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) had given their support to the campaign for Proposition 22 in the year 2000, and were already considering an involvement in connection with Proposition 8. Accordingly, I was asked to contact leaders of the LDS Church whom I had come to know during my eleven years as Bishop of Salt Lake City, to ask them to cooperate again, in this election cycle. I did write to them and they urged the members of their Church, especially those in California, to become involved.”

Niederauer brushed off concerns that the churches used the political process to write their religious views into law.

“Some would say that, in light of the separation of church and state, churches should remain silent about any political matter,” he asserted. “However, religious leaders in America have the constitutional right to speak out on issues of public policy.”

Meanwhile, investigative journalist Bill Berkowitz has reported that Religious Right groups in California hope to punish the justices who voted in favor of same-sex marriage in May by voting them off the court. (The California Supreme Court voted 4-3 in May to strike down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, sparking the drive to write the ban into the California Constitution.)

Their ire has focused primarily on Chief Justice Ronald George, who was appointed in 1972 by Ronald Reagan, then governor of the state. George, the Religious Right asserts, has drifted into the liberal camp.

“Ron George should be thrown out for voting for gay marriage,” said Mike Spence, president of the conservative California Republican Assembly. “He has a very radical view of what’s a family.”

George faces a retention election in 2010.