Nov. 4 may have been a joyous day for liberals, but it wasn't a great day for lesbians and gays. Three big states Arizona, California and Florida voted to change their constitutions to define marriage as a heterosexuals-only institution. The losses cut deep on the gay side. Arizona had rejected just such a constitutional amendment only two years ago. It had been the first and only state to have rebuffed a constitutional ban on marriage equality. In Florida, where the law requires constitutional amendments to win by 60%, a marriage amendment passed with disturbing ease, 62.1% to 37.9%.
And then there was California. Gay strategists working for marriage equality in this election cycle had focused most of their attention on that state. Losing there dims hopes that shimmered brightly just a few weeks ago hopes that in an Obama America, straight people would be willing to let gay people have the basic right to equality in their personal relationships. It appears not.
The California vote was close but not razor-thin: as of 10 a.m. P.T., with 96.4% of precincts reporting, gays had lost 52.2% to 47.8%. Obama did not suffer the much-discussed "Bradley effect" this year, but it appears that gay people were afflicted by some version of it. As of late October, a Field Poll found that the pro-gay side was winning 49% to 44%, with 7% undecided. But gays could not quite make it to 49% on Election Day, meaning a few people may have been unwilling to tell pollsters that they intended to vote against equal marriage rights.
Gays are used to losing these constitutional amendment battles as I said, Arizona was the only exception but gay activists cannot claim they didn't have the money to wage the California fight. According to an analysis of the most recent reports from the California secretary of state, the pro-equality side raised an astonishing $43.6 million, compared with just $29.8 million for those who succeeded in keeping gays from marrying. The money the gay side raised is surprising for two reasons: first, the cash-Hoover known as the Obama campaign was sucking down millions of dollars a day from the nation's liberals. Many gays expected it to be difficult to raise money to fight Proposition 8 and its plan to outlaw same-sex marriage from Democrats eager to give to Obama and to the outside 527 groups supporting him. As recently as August, one of the nation's top gay political givers told me that he expected the gay side to raise no more than $25 million.