You might say the long journey of Proposition 8 began May 15, 2008, when a ruling came down from the California Supreme Court declaring that gay and lesbian couples had a legal right to get married.

 San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom (R) marries same-sex couple Del Martin (R) and Phyllis Lyon (L) during a private ceremony at San Francisco City Hall June 16, 2008. (Marcio Jose Sanchez-Pool/Getty Images)
San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom (R) marries same-sex couple Del Martin (R) and Phyllis Lyon (L) during a private ceremony at San Francisco City Hall June 16, 2008. (Marcio Jose Sanchez-Pool/Getty Images)

Mayor Gavin Newsom celebrated at City Hall with a crowd of thrilled San Franciscans, “This door’s wide open now. It’s gonna happen whether you like it or not. This is the future, and it’s now.”

It was a historic ruling, but not a done deal.

The ruling infuriated supporters of traditional marriage, including Randy Thomasson, with Protect Marriage.

“It will spur Californians to go to the polls to override the judges and protect marriage licenses for one man and one woman in the California constitution,” Thomasson said.

Two weeks later Protect Marriage had submitted more than a million signatures for a ballot measure, Proposition 8, to do just that.

Race to the Polls

For the months leading up to the November election, same-sex couples rushed to get marriage licenses. Tens of thousands of gay and lesbian couples were legally married in California before Prop. 8 hit the polls in November.

At the same time Proposition 8 proponents organized and fundraised.

Supporters of Proposition 8 rally during a 'Yes on 8 bus tour' stop at St. Frances X Cabrini Church on October 24, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. ( David McNew/Getty Images)
Supporters of Proposition 8 rally during a ‘Yes on 8 bus tour’ stop at St. Frances X Cabrini Church on October 24, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. ( David McNew/Getty Images)

Less than a month before Election Day, the Calvary Christian Center sponsored an event that got thousands of people on the lawn of the State Capitol in Sacramento.

“This is not about a civil rights issue,” said Reverend Philip Goudeaux to the crowd. “It’s a moral issue. It’s about right and wrong.”

Proponents of Prop. 8 spent more than $80 million dollars and aired campaigns targeted at scaring parents on the consequences for their children if Prop. 8 failed.

On election night, opponents of gay marriage claimed a narrow victory, 52 to 48 percent.

Into the Federal Courts

But the fight didn’t end there. Same-sex marriage supporters immediately asked the California Supreme Court to overturn Prop. 8. But, in 2009, the court upheld the measure.

The ruling was the end of the road in state court, but it marked the beginning of a new journey through federal court. A male couple from Los Angeles and two lesbians from Berkeley filed a lawsuit against the measure in federal district court.

“We’re not asking to be tolerated or accepted. What we’re asking for is a basic civil right,” said Paul Katami, one of the plaintiffs.

Two high profile attorneys led the legal team for their case. Theodore Olson, a conservative stalwart, jointed the tean saying: “The case we filed is not about liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. This case is about the equal rights guaranteed to every American under the United States Constitution.”

The battle continued in August of 2010, following a two-week trial in San Francisco, federal Judge Vaughn Walker issues a sweeping decision declaring Prop. 8 unconstitutional. He wrote that preventing gay and lesbian marriages violated equal protection under the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The case then went to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where opponents asked for Judge Walker’s decision to be overturned. That didn’t happen. A three-judge panel voted 2-1 to uphold it.

Heading to the Supreme Court

Which brings us to Tuesday, when the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the case.

A recent poll shows that California voters feel differently now than they did in 2008, by a wide margin, most say that they support same sex marriage.

People on both sides of this historic case will be paying close attention on Tuesday, for a chance to witness history. The justices will issue their decision later this year.


Watch the clip from KQED’s “This Week in Northern California” explaining how we got here.

Prop. 8: How We Got Here (Video) 28 April,2014Scott Shafer

  • Dan Dever

    I’m disappointed that gay and straight folks can’t find solutions that allow them to both enjoy rights and yet respect each other. Straight people who claim brotherly love toward all people could do better to be understanding of gays whose views are different than theirs. ill will toward those who appose their standards should be replaced with compassion and understanding. Both camps would do well to practice it. This doesn’t have to be a contest of you against me but an adventure in finding common ground whereby both camps can find ways to respect each other. I see nothing wrong with providing the same rights to gays and naming it something other than marriage with would give religious institutions what they want which is to hold up marriage as a religious and sacred rite. That requires some give and take and desire to all get along. My way or the highway never has been a very good solution in my experience. Let’s all make America a better place for tomorrow. Such a novel idea.

    • They hate us and they always will. But the opposition against us is quite
      literally dying off. The mindless brutality of America’s 40+ year culture war
      against the legal rights of homosexuals is coming to end. Personally I don’t
      give a damn if the culture as a whole loves me. Prop 8 has already demonstrated
      to me what our culture is about- hate. What I do insist on however
      is due process and equal protection under law, and I will have, it come what

    • I’ll agree as long as religions start calling themselves what they really are CULTS… sounds like a fair trade…..after all they are both just words.

    • ldfrmc

      “I see nothing wrong with providing the same rights to gays and naming it something other than marriage”

      Until you apply for a job and have to tell them you are gay: “Do you have family benefits for domestic partners?” A married person does not have to tell a prospective employer they are straight or gay.

      Giving religious institutions “what they want” does not involve me in the least. I have nothing to give them. What a constitutional idea! Freedom of religion. Freedom from religion.

      If someone else thinks or feels my marriage changes theirs, I cannot help them. I think and feel they do not have much of a marriage to begin with, if they feel that way about MY MARRIAGE. What a rational idea!

      I’m all for giving them a referral to a good psychologist or psychiatrist.

    • Dan Dever

      I see there are high emotions on this issue. I expect that but lets not let emotions prevent us from exploring differing views. After all we should consider our similarities as well. In my view the government or my employer need only know if I am a single, a couple or a head of household. There is no need to reference my marriage status for taxes, healthcare or anything else. One of the three designations above will suffice. On another note, I suppose there may be some who hate like on 8 but from what I see they are in the minority. 8 is not about hate. It is about preserving something that has been around for a very long time and something that is considered sacred by many and has deep and profound meaning. To sum it up, If I’m not a religious person then this doesn’t matter. I can be a single or a couple and all singles can have the same rights as other singles and all couples can have the same rights as other couples. Conversely, if I am religious I can attend a church (or not) that defines marriage within its own organization the way it wants it defined and then I’m happy because it has nothing to do with my rights — but everything to do with my beliefs. I think if people were to try harder to find solutions that work for everyone instead of just wanting it “their way” we’d all be a lot better off.

  • As far back as the period of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine was critical of what
    he termed “the adulterous relationship between chuch and state.” The demise of
    Prop 8 will end the priviledged and determinitive status in American law and social
    policy that religion has unjustly benefited from. They brought it on thewmselves
    by over-reaching with that hateful Prop 8. The correction is coming. Archbishop
    Niederauer of the Catholic Diocese of San Francisco called in the rabidly anti-gay Mormon Church in Utah to assist him is this endeavor and hired political consultants that painted
    homosexual people as threats to children and to families. They await the, as does the
    GOP, the great shame they richly deserve, for they enshired hatred and division in the
    California Constitution.

  • The #1 one reason that deniers of same sex marriage give is suitability to raise children for denying same sex marriage, The problem with that line of reasoning is that it is false. No one is denied a opposite sex marriage no matter how inappropriate they are too raise children. Any serial killer or deranged mental case can get an opposite sex marriage, even if raising children is totally out of their capability, indeed even if they child are molesters they can still get an opposite sex marriage. So why should same sex couples be held to a standard, that opposite sex couples NEVER ARE? It’s just hate masquerading as concern for children.

  • John Sellers

    One consideration that I have not seen in the dialog is that I wish would surface in the conversation. The fact that marriage promotes monogamy and as such allowing Gay marriage would help prevent AIDS.

    I once asked a minister about this and was shocked by his attitude. He agreed that allowing Gay marriage would save lives for this reason, but still he remained against Gay marriage saying that it was the punishment of God against the Gays.

    During the upcoming interviews I hope that Scott Shafer will as Andrew Pugno, General Counsel, about this.


Scott Shafer

Scott Shafer migrated to KQED in 1998 after extended stints in politics and government to host The California  Report. Now he covers those things and more as senior editor for KQED’s Politics and Government Desk. When he’s not asking questions you’ll often find him in a pool playing water polo. Find him on Twitter @scottshafer

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