Will Gay Marriage Return to Campaign Trail?
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
Immigration burst onto the campaign trail almost overnight in April, when Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law the nation's toughest state measure against illegal immigrants. A federal judge's decision last week to block key portions of the law — hours before it was to go into effect — has only added fuel to the political fire, as Democrats and Republicans joust over whether states should have the right to enforce what traditionally has been a federal responsibility.
Wednesday (Aug. 4) will see another divisive federal court ruling with the potential to revive an issue that, in much of the country at least, has been dormant for some time: gay marriage. A U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco will announce whether California's voter-approved ban on same-sex unions — known as Prop 8 — violates the federal constitution. The ruling is expected between 1 and 3 p.m. Pacific time.
The legal wrangling over Prop 8 has been happening since just after voters approved the 2008 ballot initiative, which overturned an earlier California Supreme Court decision that temporarily authorized same-sex marriage throughout the state.
Without Prop 8, California would have been by far the largest and most influential jurisdiction to allow gay marriage, which is legal only in New England — exception for Rhode Island — and in Iowa and Washington, D.C. Most states have constitutional bans on gay marriage and, in fact, in every state where voters have had their say on same-sex marriage, they have rejected it.
Political analysts expect most state and federal elections this year to turn on the state of the local and national economies, but social issues always have the potential to find their way onto the campaign trail, as the national uproar over the Arizona immigration law makes clear. And at least in states where gay marriage remains a subject of debate, candidates probably will be watching Wednesday's ruling closely.
In Iowa, for example, where the state Supreme Court controversially authorized gay marriage last year, Republican gubernatorial nominee Terry Branstad is hoping that GOP gains in November can force a public vote on the issue, The Des Moines Register reported last month . Since the Iowa Supreme Court ruling, Democratic leaders in the legislature have blocked debate on a measure that would ban same-sex marriage, the paper noted.
What makes Wednesday's ruling important nationally is that the case has the potential, eventually, to affect all states — not just California. If a federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court finds that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution, gay marriage could become the law of the land across the United States. That prospect is sure to drive campagn discussion in the days and weeks that follow Wednesday's initial ruling.