The Politics Of Marriage

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"I respect the Court’s decision and as Governor, I will uphold its ruling. Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this state Supreme Court ruling."

That's the official statement from Governor Schwarzenegger after this morning's announcement by the California Supreme Court that same sex couples have the same rights to marriage as do heterosexual couples.

The 4-3 decision is sure to dominate the state's airwaves and newspapers for the next few days; the ruling takes effect in 30 days and it's reasonable to assume that thousands of gay couples will be applying for marriage licenses at that time.

Setting aside the decision and the details of the issue for a moment, let's consider the politics.

Public opinion polls have found some changes in the attitudes of Californians about the issue of same sex marriage in recent years... with what appears to be more support than existed when Proposition 22 passed in 2000.

Prop 22 was focused on state statute and not the California Constitution -- hence, it's a little tangential to the high court's ruling today. It's also a tangent to the initiative that voters may be asked to weigh in on this November: an actual amendment to the state constitution to ban same sex marriage... in other words, a cancellation of today's legal victory for gay couples.

But it's not tangential to the politics, with many seeing all of this as a cultural battle. The new initiative appears to be a lock to qualify for the ballot. And that raises the likelihood that it will dominate what's going to be an already crowded ballot. As his above statement makes clear, Schwarzenegger has firmly stated his opposition to the anti-gay marriage initiative. That puts him, once again, at odds with his conservative GOP brethren.

But will he campaign against the measure? Or better yet, how broad a coalition will arise to challenge conservative supporters? How will the political campaign influence the race for the White House (California is, after all, the big enchilada when it comes to electoral votes)? How might the debate shape the political future of possible gubernatorial candidates... in particular, the gentleman from San Francisco?

There are many, many layers of political intrigue here. And the ink is barely dry on the historic ruling.

For complete coverage of today's ruling, tune in to KQED Public Radio this afternoon for a half hour special news report, and more coverage tomorrow on The California Report.

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About John Myers

John Myers is Sacramento Bureau Chief for KQED Public Radio and "The California Report," heard daily on 23 public radio stations across the Golden State.

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