Comment: Forget Obama, in California it’s all about Proposition 8

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Here in San Francisco- almost no one is talking about the Presidential election. The focus is on Proposition 8, the voter initiative ballot that seeks to make a constitutional change to effectively ban gay marriage in California, defining marriage as an act of union between a man and woman.

In the UK, we’re not used to political advertising on television or radio- indeed they’re actually illegal. Parties are given free airtime dependent on the number of candidates they field at set intervals; primarily centred around the Budget and elections.

But turn on any tv or radio here in California and you’ll hear arguments either in favour or against the proposition. They even seem to outnumber the adverts for extortionate “pay day loans” and prescription drugs. And as a Brit abroad, it’s a rather odd experience.

The proponents are arguing that children will be taught that gay marriage is equal to straight marriage in school, and of course that’s a bad thing. They also point to the “problems” of children being adopted by same sex couples.

But, they also admit that money has a lot to do with it. They claim that churches that continue to oppose gay marriage and refuse to allow ceremonies to take place could lose tax exemptions- as their actions become political. They also claim that their religious leaders could face prosecution for hate speech if they continue to oppose gay marriage.

Those opposing the proposition are airing glossy tv adverts endorsed by celebrities including Barbara Streisand, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Bridget Fonda, Melissa Etheridge, Mary J Blige, Brad Pitt and Ellen DeGeneres.

They are arguing that those behind the proposition are lying- that there is no impact on the way that children will be taught about relationships in school. They cite the fact that Californian law allows parents to exclude their children from lessons about health and family issues at school.

The state admits that if passed, the amendment will cost the tax payer millions of dollars of lost revenue.

Walk down any street in San Francisco and you’ll find a dozen houses proudly displaying posters saying “Vote No on Prop 8- Unfair & Wrong”. Far less than the houses displaying “Obama- Biden.”

But after four days of wall to wall “Vote No” signs- as we started to drive through the outlying suburbs of the city and past smaller towns, we started to see a few “Vote Yes” posters. Some were outside nice houses, but others outside rather run down shacks.

Yet, even in smaller towns, there is no one on the street corners urging you to vote for the proposition. But there are supporters of the no vote out in force. I think we’ve been asked about 10 times if we’ve voted yet.

After I’ve explained that we can’t vote, I ask them how they think they’re doing. “Not sure, we’re hopeful,” one lady said. Another: ” I don’t know, we’ll be fine here [San Francisco] but the weather can swing things.”

But, the owner of Worn Out West, a shop in the gay Castro district of the city said he’d been doing brisk business because of the vote.

While we were there a rather frantic young man was trying to work out the the ring size of his partner who was at home oblivious that he was going to be proposed to in an hour. “Don’t worry,” the owner said. “Just get it on his finger and come back and exchange it for one that fits.”

As the hours tick away before a day that could see the first black President of the United States, there is an eerie degree of nervousness within the gay community.

They may yet get a President who is making positive moves towards LGBT rights but also lose the right to marry the partner of their choice. If the Yes votes win, a precedent will be set which could see further moves to make federal constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. But if the No vote wins, the city’s 100,000 odd gays will have one massive party. .

Benjamin Cohen is the founder of and a Correspondent for Channel 4 News