In a significant victory for traditional marriage and the democratic process, the California Supreme Court ruled 6-1 today that last year’s passage by popular vote of Proposition 8 was a proper amendment to the state’s constitution. This is a far different outcome from just a year ago, when last May the same court overturned Proposition 22, the 2000 voter-approved statute that codified the traditional definition of marriage.
Proposition 8 and Proposition 22 are identical in their language, each specifying that in California, only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized. But the latter was merely a statute, which the court deemed unconstitutional for denying the “fundamental right” to marry whomever one pleases, whereas the former actually amended the constitution, thus obviating the finding of Proposition 22 unconstitutional.
As soon as San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom openly defied state law and began marrying same-sex couples at City Hall in 2004, a judicial challenge was inevitable. Proponents of traditional marriage had the foresight to qualify a constitutional amendment (Proposition 8) should judicial activists overturn Proposition 22.
The judicial challenge to Proposition 8 was entirely different from Proposition 22. Now that the people had placed in their state constitution the traditional definition of marriage, opponents had to argue that instead of being unconstitutional, the method by which the constitution was amended was improper. The lawsuits against Proposition 8 asserted that rather than a constitutional amendment, the proposition was a constitutional revision. The threshold for attaining a revision of the state constitution is much higher than a regular amendment.
According to Article 18 of the California Constitution, a revision requires the state legislature’s 2/3 approval before being placed on the ballot for voter approval. An amendment can be generated by the people via the initiative process, and while it requires more petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, it does not require the legislature’s involvement, and only needs simple majority approval by voters.