Following the passage of California's Prop 8 in 2008, a lot of people agreed, myself included, with the sentiment expressed by Judge Vaughn Walker yesterday that, "Fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections." I had a hypothesis last week when I was thinking about our California results, and I was reminded again yesterday after the district court ruling on Prop 8 came down, that there must be a lot of gay marriage supporters who are unhappy with the proposition system that took away equal marriage rights from gays in California. But a closer look at our results doesn't bear that out quite to the extent I imagined.
As well as asking whether they think gay marriage should be legal or illegal, we asked Californians, "Do you think Californians should keep the right to vote on ballot propositions, or should props be eliminated from the California ballot?" Voters, by a 74-13 margin, overwhelmingly still support their right to have a say on the myriad props that appear on their ballot every election. And that apparently includes supporters of gay marriage, 68% of whom still support props, to 18% who want the practice to end. The possibility of repealing Prop 8 in 2012 through yet another prop may be in the back of some of those folks' minds.
Now, 82% of the narrow plurality who think gay marriage should be illegal also support props, with only 8% opposed. So there is a disparity between proponents and opponents of gay marriage on the issue of props, but it's not huge, with overwhelming supermajorities on both sides of the marriage issue in favor of props. And what disparity there is can partly, if not mostly, be explained by ideology. 63% of liberals support keeping props, versus 86% of conservatives.
Despite the heartache Prop 8 caused for a lot of people in California and sympathizers around the country, and despite the problem props in general have created for California's massive budget headache (to put it mildly), the state's voters evidently, though probably not surprisingly, still like having some measure of direct democracy (or mob rule, depending on your view) overall. Now, in a few years, if a repeal-Prop-8 prop doesn't get on the ballot or, if it does, doesn't pass, and if the Supreme Court still has the same 5-4 ideological balance and doesn't uphold Walker's decision, I wonder if we come back and ask the same questions, how frustrated gay marriage supporters might be then, and how resentful they may be of props.