Despite opposition from Ellen DeGeneres and more, Proposition 8 passes by a slim margin

By Howard Breuer
November 05, 2008 11:00 AM
Craig Barritt/JPI

Californians voted Tuesday to ban same-sex marriage, setting the stage for a court battle over the legitimacy of roughly 16,000 such marriages – including those of celeb couples Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi and Star Trek‘s George Takei and Brad Altman.

With nearly 96 percent of the votes counted, controversial Proposition 8 passed by just over 52 percent (The initiative had drawn widespread opposition from Hollywood celebrities, including Brad Pitt, director Steven Spielberg, and even California’s Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger).

As Takei pondered the disappointing election returns Tuesday night, the 71-year-old actor told PEOPLE he was hopeful that his Sept. 14 marriage to Brad Altman would be “grandfathered in.”

But Altman was less confident. “We tasted marriage now, and it really is delicious!” Altman added. “And the thought that the people of California might take our marriage away from us is really frightening and worrisome and upsetting.”

DeGeneres – who wed de Rossi in August – has been an outspoken critic of Proposition 8. “I can’t return the wedding gifts,” she quipped. “I love my new toaster.”

Bracing for a Court Battle

Although voters were progressive enough to elect a black president, they leaned conservative on gay marriage initiatives in California, as well as Florida and Arizona – passing propositions specifying that only marriage between a man and a woman will be recognized in those states.

Attorney Mathew D. Staver – who has argued before the California Supreme Court against same-sex marriage – tells PEOPLE he’s confident that the state’s 18,000-plus gay marriages will be annulled. He notes, “Constitutional amendments are retroactive.”

But Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, tells PEOPLE: “It would be almost unthinkable to retroactively take away somebody’s marriage status – it would be completely unprecedented and it almost defies description.”

Long Struggle

Tuesday’s vote was merely the latest decision in a long-running struggle between California voters, politicians and judges over same-sex marriage.

In March 2000, 61 percent of voters approved a measure similar to Proposition 8, but it did not go so far as to rewrite the state’s constitution, which the new initiative does.

Four years later, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directed officials there to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples – which a court overturned a month later. The following year, the state legislature passed a bill legalizing such marriages, but Schwarzenegger vetoed it.

On May 15, 2008, the California Supreme Court voted 4-3 in favor of such marriages – and is now expected to weigh in on the validity of same-sex marriages that have since been performed in the state.

Minter says he will also argue that Proposition 8 be set aside altogether, on the grounds that state voters don’t have the power to make such a sweeping change to their constitution – especially one that calls for discrimination against a minority group. For more results, check out the official returns site.

Same-sex couples descend on City Hall as California legalizes gay marriage
Ellen & Portia wed at their L.A. home