In the end it was largely a symbolic gesture, a measure of insurance against an event that is unlikely to occur anytime soon. But when Californians on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted into law Proposition 22, which recognizes marriages only between a man and a woman, the nation took notice. The results of a clamorous $16 million campaign left the state's conservatives claiming victory for family morality, while the gay community is complaining of bigotry and homophobia.
By explicitly not recognizing gay marriages performed outside of California, Proposition 22 serves as a preemptive strike against states, such as Hawaii and Vermont, which have been flirting with allowing same-sex unions. (Under existing laws, states are bound to recognize marriages performed in other states.) It is also a cushion against a possible striking down of the 1996 Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which outlawed same-sex marriages nationally but has never been tested by legal challenges. Though 30 other states have passed similar measures, the California vote was watched closely in part because it was a referendum most similar statutes have been enacted by state legislatures and also because of the state's size and its relatively large gay community.
The focus of the debate now shifts to the 20 states without Proposition 22-type laws, and in particular to Vermont, whose state supreme court recently ruled equal benefits must be allowed to all domestic partnerships, even if not under the union of marriage. "It all depends on what happens in Vermont," said TIME nation writer John Cloud. "If their legislature approves gay marriage, then maybe we could see more things like Proposition 22, but it doesn't look like Vermont is going to pass that." All hope is not lost, though, for those in favor of sanctioned homosexual unions. Proposition 22, also known as the "Knight Initiative," after the proposal's sponsor, State Senator Pete Knight whose gay son campaigned actively against the measure was largely a mandate of the older population, while exit polls showed the under-40 crowd as evenly divided.