Rachel Schiff ’10 and her girlfriend were celebrating President-elect Barack Obama’s victory in Times Square on Tuesday night when Schiff got the news about Proposition 8. People were screaming with joy around her, she said, but things were looking bleak for gay marriage in her home state of California.
“It’s hard to celebrate when you feel like your rights are just taken out from under your feet,” Schiff said.
She was not alone. California’s passage of “Prop 8” — which changes the California Constitution to ban gay marriage and says that only marriages between a man and a woman are recognized in the state — put a damper on an otherwise-triumphant election for members of the Yale’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as well as Californians who had voted against the measure.
Prop 8 passed with 52.4 percent of the vote in favor of the measure, compared to 46.6 percent of voters who opposed it. Despite this, the opposition group No on Prop 8 reported Wednesday that they believe more than 3 million absentee and provisional ballots have yet to be counted. If true, those votes would have the potential to reverse the outcome.
“I went to sleep smiling and screaming on Old Campus because I have a black president,” LBGT Coop Coordinator Ben Gonzalez ’09, who is from Desert Hot Springs, Calif. “I woke up today frowning and screaming in my room because my life, my love and my ability to be married is an impossibility in the place where I was born and where my home is.”
The impacts of the vote were even felt within Yale’s administration. Joseph Gordon, the acting dean of Yale College, said the status of his and his partner’s California-sanctioned marriage was uncertain in light of the vote. While he said he was saddened by Californians’ decision on Prop 8, he expressed hope for the country in light of Obama’s victory.
“On the one hand this election showed that the American people in general can triumph over a fear of difference,” he said. “And yet it also shows that they still have some fears remaining, that we have all as a people yet to overcome.”
Sophia Shapiro ’11, co-coordinator of the undergraduate lesbian organization Sappho, said she believes resistance to the measure’s passage was weaker than it could have been because gay marriage supporters did not believe Prop 8 had a chance of passing and therefore failed to mobilize significant efforts against the measure.
Religious and conservative groups, including the New Haven-based Knights of Columbus, pushed hard for Prop 8. A number of ads in favor of the proposition ran in California, including one depicting a young girl telling her mother that she learned “prince married prince” in school.
Additionally, Prop 8 was helped by high minority turnout, driven by excitement for Obama’s candidacy. Exit polls reported that 70 percent of African-Americans and more than half of Latino voters backed Prop 8.
Christine Jun ’12, who hails from Nevada County in northern California, was up until 4 a.m. discussing the measure with friends from home on the telephone. A large portion of southern California, including Los Angeles County, voted for the measure.
“We were all bashing on SoCal because SoCal’s very conservative in this aspect,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Los Angeles resident Christina Huffington ’12 said she cast an absentee ballot in California — rather than registering in Connecticut and voting locally — largely because of Prop 8.
And given California’s status as a decidedly blue state, San Franciscan Austin Baik ’11 said he felt let down by the state.
“It really just sunk all my faith in everything that I just kind of held really dear about being a Californian,” Baik said.
But gay rights advocates say they will not give up after Tuesday’s vote. They filed three lawsuits on Wednesday asking the California Supreme Court to overturn Prop 8, calling it an illegal constitutional revision.
The Associated Press contributed reporting from Los Angeles.