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.
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.
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.