Capitol Alert

Gay marriage ruling reflects culture shift long felt in California

The California Capitol dome was alight in the colors of the rainbow Friday evening.
The California Capitol dome was alight in the colors of the rainbow Friday evening. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Folded into Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent of the Supreme Court’s affirmation of gay marriage across the United States on Friday came a slap at California and its singular place in the cross-section of the American experience.

Not only did eight of the court’s nine members grow up in coastal states, Scalia wrote, but only one “hails from the vast expanse in between,” with “not a single Southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner.”

In parentheses, he said, “California does not count.”

In the majority opinion, of course, it did. The 5-4 decision that the Constitution guarantees gay people the right to wed in every state reflected a cultural shift in which California has been at the head.

It was more than a decade ago that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, then mayor of San Francisco, ordered officials in his city to perform gay weddings in 2004.

During the years-long battle that ensued, gay rights activists and opponents of same-sex marriage focused their efforts on California. The state’s voters passed Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage in 2008, then saw the ban overturned.

West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon said that he's thrilled for the victory of the same-sex marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 26, 2015. "America has evolved. America has changed. The American people support the value

As in other parts of the country, public opinion shifted.

Only 30 percent of Californians favored gay marriage 30 years ago, according to the Field Poll, and it was not until 2010 that a majority of voters – 51 percent – registered support. By 2013, more than 60 percent of voters approved of gay marriage.

“I think we can take great comfort and hope from the fact that something that people didn’t even conceive of not so many decades ago has become a reality by the United States Supreme Court all over this country,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at an event in San Francisco hours after the ruling. “Marriage equality, the rights of same-sex couples now recognized by the highest court in the land. Who would have ever thought that even five years ago? But it happened. It happened.”

The court’s ruling prompted celebrations around the state, rainbow flags waving. Gay rights activists planned to rally Friday evening at the state Capitol.

Sarah Barkawi, project director of design and communications firm Uptown Studios on Alhambra Blvd, said she woke up this morning to a text from her boss, Tina Reynolds, declaring Friday a “U.S. Gay Holiday.” The business closed at 1 p.m. in honor of the announcement.

“We’re treating it as a holiday,” Barkawi said. “That’s how important it is to us.”

At Grace Church in Citrus Heights, pastor Vincent Bradshaw held a mid-day event of his own, gathering his members Friday to object to the Supreme Court’s ruling and asking those who supported gay marriage to repent.

“This is a decision that is against the will of the God for our nation,” he said. “This decision today means we have a major departure from God – that we don’t care what he says, we’re just going to hear the voice of man ... the Supreme Court has an authority to do this, but God’s rules will never change.”

Conservatives across the country also criticized the ruling, including the party’s presidential candidates.

In California, the weight of public opinion has tempered Republican politicians’ opposition to same-sex marriage, though rank-and-file Republicans are still more likely to disapprove of gay marriage than to approve.

In this state, the GOP’s last two gubernatorial candidates, Neel Kashkari and Meg Whitman – who supported the same-sex marriage ban when she ran in 2010 – were among conservatives who filed briefs with the court supporting gay marriage.

“America has evolved,” said Christopher Cabaldon, the mayor of West Sacramento. “The court said over and over today that America has evolved. The American people support the value of equality and justice.”

Scalia’s remark about California was a nod to the justice who is from here, and who wrote the majority opinion for the court.

In that opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy of Sacramento wrote that marriage “has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society” and that, as an institution, it has “evolved over time.”

“The limitation of marriage to opposite-sex couples may long have seemed natural and just,” he wrote, “but its inconsistency with the central meaning of the fundamental right to marry is now manifest.”

Later, in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee addressed a cheering crowd.

“At long last, ladies and gentlemen, marriage equality in the United States,” he said. “We started that movement. We started that movement right here in San Francisco.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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