This year, both major Democratic candidates for Governor of California, Phil Angelides and Steve Westly, have pledged to sign the gay marriage bill that Arnold vetoed last year (AB 849, the deliciously titled, "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act"). The reason is not hard to fathom. In California, registered Democrats surveyed in a recent Field Poll reported 50% approval for same-sex marriage, even when offered the option of civil unions instead (only 28%). Opposition to gay marriage will lose you the Democratic primary in California.
Five years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Indeed, back in 2000, California voters approved Proposition 22 (the "Knight Initiative") by 61.4% to 38.6% to prevent California from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. While Californian voters still oppose gay marriage, the divide has become much closer: opposition to gay marriage is 50% to 44% among all registered voters. And on other issues, support for gay rights is high: 67% of all California adults believe gays should be able to serve in the military, and 55% support gay adoption. Also, several ballot initiatives that would have banned gay marriage in California failed to gather enough signatures this year.
But what I find most fascinating is this: of all the groupings other than raw ideology and political party affiliation, the one factor that mattered more than age, race, or religion was that those who reported personally knowing gays and lesbians were twice as likely to support gay marriage as those who did not. 64% of Californians now say they know homosexuals (up from 49% in 1977) and of those, half were close friends or family.
If you want to know why the tide is turning, a footnote to the poll says it all: 3% of the respondents identified themselves as gay or lesbian. Statewide, that would be over a million Californians. There are even six openly gay members of the California State Legislature too, including the authors of the Assembly and Senate versions of the gay marriage bill. And their courage in going public may be the real reason the bill managed to get the minimum 41 votes needed to pass. The right-wing "Christian Examiner" described the heated debate in the Assembly over that bill this way:
Other comments by supporting legislators clearly indicated that the vote was not about representing their constituents, but about supporting their friends in the Legislature. Many of the members referred to their friends, “Jackie” (Goldberg), or “Sheila” (Kuehl), or “Mark” (Leno), etc., naming three of the six California homosexual legislators, and stating how they couldn’t look their “friends” in the eye unless they voted to give them the same rights and privileges that they, as heterosexuals, enjoy.
From Ellen to "Brokeback Mountain," the emergence of a public gay culture obvious. But for every celebrity who has come out publicly, thousands have done so privately with their family and friends. For every raucous gay bar in West Hollywood, there are a hundred private parties at which gay and straight people mingle freely. The greatest gay pride parade is the quiet procession of gays and lesbians who have come out over the past forty years. Coming out is a profound political act. And this private revolution is changing the world.