This Day In History: November 4

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With over 13 million votes cast, California voters approve Proposition 8 on November 4, 2008, amending the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

Only months earlier, in May 2008, the California Supreme Court had deemed the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, making California the second state in the country to legalize gay marriage. Thus, Proposition 8 reversed the state court’s ruling.

Proposition 8, which “provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” passed 52% to 48%, by a margin of about 600,000 votes. The proposition was opposed by a broad coalition including major corporations such as PG&E and Apple; a litany of civil rights, social justice and community-based organizations; a dozen unions; both sitting U.S. Senators, 16 congressional representatives and the sitting governor; and seven mayors. Californian voters received robocalls from former president Bill Clinton asking them to vote no on the measure, while actors from the television show “Ugly Betty” argued in Spanish-language TV spots that voting no “is not about being gay or straight,” but “about being American.”

The Protect Marriage campaign supporting Proposition 8 constantly invoked the “far-reaching consequences” of legal gay marriage, particularly the implication that school curriculums would be required to teach that gay marriage is “the same as traditional marriage.” Pollster David Fleischer, in his analysis of the election results, found that the greatest shift toward “Yes” among undecided voters was “among parents with children under 18 living at home—many of them white Democrats,” who feared the effects of legal gay marriage on their children’s public education. Evangelicals and Republicans formed the core of Proposition 8’s support.

California's ban on same-sex marriage was soon overturned through the courts: While Proposition 8 would be upheld by the California Supreme Court the next year, in 2010 a U.S. District Court judge ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional, with their decision stayed on appeal. The District Court’s ruling was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal in 2013, allowing for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

In 2015, same-sex marriage was made legal nationwide in the landmark Supreme Court civil rights case Obergefell v. Hodges

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