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California should get back in gear on gay marriage

New York's legalization of gay marriage will show Californians that it's a good thing, paving the way for the misguided Proposition 8 to be undone.

June 26, 2011

Same-sex marriage is a matter of common sense — there is no good reason to withhold the legal and social advantages of marriage from a group that has long suffered every sort of discrimination. But it is also an emotional issue. And so, we offer our heartfelt admiration and congratulations to the state of New York for becoming the sixth state — more populous than the other five put together — to legalize the marriage of gay and lesbian couples, and we wish joy to the newly engaged couples and the thousands upon thousands who will follow them through the years.

We're celebrating, yes, but wistfully. While New York is now at the forefront of today's most important civil rights struggle, helping move the nation toward increased understanding and acceptance of same-sex marriage, California is stuck in reverse. That wasn't the case three years ago when, for six giddy months in 2008, gay marriage was legal here, thanks to a powerful and progressive decision by the state Supreme Court. But in November of that year, Californians once again banned such unions, after an ugly and divisive campaign that misled too many voters into believing that heterosexual marriages were somehow under threat and that churches would be forced to perform same-sex weddings no matter what their religious beliefs.

Polls show that Californians' views have changed since Proposition 8 was passed, swinging from slightly opposed to slightly in favor of same-sex marriage. It's our fervent hope that the federal lawsuit challenging Proposition 8 will ultimately succeed, because we believe that such marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution by singling out homosexuals as unworthy of equal protection under the law. And if the lawsuit does not succeed, the day can't come too quickly in which the newly enlightened electorate goes back to the voting booth to overthrow Proposition 8.

New York's historic vote should help speed things along. With its large population — third in the nation, behind California and Texas — there will be more same-sex marriages than ever and more opportunity for Americans to observe and grow accustomed to them. Many of those couples will move to other states where they will press to have their rights recognized.

It is also significant that the legislative road to marriage rights for New York's gay and lesbian couples was paved in part with major lobbying donations from Republican billionaire Paul Singer, whose son is gay. Several of the politicians who supported the bill also have gay and lesbian relatives. As gays and lesbians have emerged from the closet, more Americans have learned that these are their friends, neighbors and loved ones.

The vote also required the fine strategic work of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who not only lined up key supporters but also brought disorganized gay-rights advocates into line. Gay-rights groups in California were defeated in part because they ran a less organized and effective campaign than Proposition 8's supporters.

Today it is New York's turn to bask in the knowledge that it has moved the entire country forward in the ongoing struggle for equal rights for all. California should learn lessons from New York's victory and quickly put itself back on the right side of history.

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