American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Blog

Five years after the passage of Prop. 8

Photo by Stephen Rhodes

Between June 16 and November 4, 2008, an estimated 18,000 couples declared their love before their family and friends in the Golden State. The California Supreme Court had ruled that “equal respect and dignity” of marriage is a “basic civil right” that cannot be withheld from same-sex couples. At the time, the only other place gay and lesbian couples could get married in the U.S. was Massachusetts.

But hanging above that joyous time was a dark cloud known as Proposition 8. On November 4, 2008, a narrow majority of voters approved a 14-word constitutional amendment that took away the freedom to marry from gay and lesbian couples in the state.

In the aftermath, hundreds of thousands of people came together. Night after night, they took to the streets to express their disappointment, their anger, and their resolve to secure a nation where who you love does not determine what rights you have.

In the months after Prop. 8 passed, the American Foundation for Equal Rights was founded to take on a daring and bold task: a federal court case arguing that California’s marriage ban was in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution. We brought together Ted Olson and David Boies, former adversaries in Bush v. Gore, to lead our legal team. We took Prop. 8 to trial and proved, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that gay and lesbian couples are harmed by not being able to marry, that their children unjustly suffer in the shadow of that discrimination.  We showed that there is no reason to prevent the state from recognizing the freedom to marry for all, and that the right to marry is a fundamental right that should not be denied to anyone based on who they love.

We took our case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and today, Prop. 8 is gone. Gay and lesbian couples are able to marry in the Golden State.

The spark of Prop. 8 ignited a firestorm of change in the past five years.

Then, gay and lesbian couples could only get married in one state. Today, 33 percent of the nation lives in a state with marriage equality. Gay and lesbian Americans can get married in one of 14 states—including California—and our nation’s capital. And importantly, their marriage is recognized by the federal government. Then, only 40 percent of the nation thought it was okay for gay and lesbian Americans to get married. Today, poll after poll shows that a solid majority—as much as 58 percent of the nation—supports marriage for all.

But where you live, should not determine who you are able to marry. That is why AFER’s work in federal court continues in Virginia, a state with some of the harshest marriage discrimination laws in the nation. With briefing now complete in the state’s first marriage equality case, we are waiting for a hearing date.

Until every American is able to marry the person he or she loves, our work for full equality continues.