LIANE HANSEN, host:
Connecticut has just become the third state to legalize gay marriage. The state Supreme Court ruled Friday that civil unions aren't enough to protect the rights of same-sex couples. Connecticut now joins Massachusetts and California as states where gay couples may wed. But in California, that right could be revoked by voters next month. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports on a ballot measure there that's getting national attention.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: It's called Proposition 8. And if passed, the measure will overturn last May's court ruling and once again ban same-sex marriage. It's provoked a heated battle for and against which is now playing out on the state's airwaves with a barrage of TV and radio commercials. In this one, Prop. 8 supporters use a clip of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom seeming to boast the day he performed some of California's first same-sex unions.
(Soundbite of pro-Proposition 8 TV ad)
Mayor GAVIN NEWSON (Democrat, San Francisco): This door's wide-open now. It's going to happen whether you like it or not.
Unidentified Announcer: Four judges ignored four million voters and imposed same-sex marriage on California...
GRIGSBY BATES: The anti-Prop. 8 forces are airing a commercial featuring Julia and Sam Thoron, gray-haired parents who've been married for 46 years.
(Soundbite of Equality California TV ad)
Mr. SAM THORON: My wife and I never treated our children differently. We never loved them any differently. And the law shouldn't treat them differently either.
Mrs. JULIA THORON: If Prop. 8 passes, our gay daughter and thousands of our fellow Californians will lose the right to marry.
GRIGSBY BATES: Losing their newly acquired right to marry is what worries Lorri Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.
Ms. LORRI JEAN (CEO, Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center): This is probably the most important civil rights battle in the history of our movement because it is the very first time that one of these anti-gay ballot measures has been on the ballot that would actually eliminate a civil right that we have achieved.
GRIGSBY BATES: Jean married her longtime partner last week, and she's just one of many gay rights advocates who worry about the possible ripple effects of the California vote. Prop. 8 could have profound effects nationwide, says Professor John Matsusaka who heads the USC Institute that studies ballot initiatives.
Professor JOHN MATSUSAKA (President, Initiative and Referendum Institute, University of Southern California): California is a trendsetter. If you look at the things that have come through the ballot proposition process going back 30 years - tax limits, term limits, medical marijuana - there has been a host of issues which started in California, and other states adopted once they started going forward.
Ms. SONIA EDDINGS BROWN (Spokesperson, Protect Marriage): Everyone has their eyes on this race. It's the second biggest race in the country.
GRIGSBY BATES: Sonia Eddings Brown is a spokesperson for Protect Marriage, a pro-Prop. 8 group that's working to make sure the initiative succeeds.
Ms. EDDINGS BROWN: Even this week in Iowa, the Supreme Court there is taking a look at same-sex marriage. So I think it affects everyone because it affects every home and every family.
GRIGSBY BATES: Brown says Protect Marriage is attracting support from religious and socially conservative organizations that believe marriage should only apply to the union of one man and one woman.
Ms. EDDINGS BROWN: We may see God in a different way, we may have different ways that we worship, but we all see society and what children need the same way. And this is a cultural crossroad.
GRIGSBY BATES: So far Prop. 8 has drawn over $48 million in campaign funds, much of it from organizations such as Focus on the Family, the Knights of Columbus, and thousands of Mormons who alone are credited with giving more than 30 percent of all Yes on 8 contributions. The No on 8 campaign has an equally long list of backers plus some Hollywood A-listers like Steven Spielberg, Brad Pitt, and Barbra Streisand. Lorri Jean says she's grateful for that high-profile support, but likes this even more.
Ms. JEAN: There is not a single significant newspaper in California that has editorialized in favor of Prop. 8.
GRIGSBY BATES: In early polls, Prop. 8 looked as if it would be defeated, but more recent polling shows the race has tightened. USC's John Matsusaka says ultimately whether Prop. 8 passes or fails may depend on the undecided voter.
Professor MATSUSAKA: I think you have a bunch of people in the middle who are the ones that are really going to swing this election, who aren't passionately committed to it but don't see a reason to be concerned about it either.
(Soundbite of same-sex marriage ceremony)
Unidentified Woman: I now pronounce you married.
(Soundbite of cheering)
GRIGSBY BATES: In the interim, more than 11,000 same-sex couples have married in California since that became an option in June. More weddings are planned, but that could change depending on what happens at the polls in November. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.