By Erin Yazgan
Gender/Sexuality Reporter

The array of yard signs and bumper stickers around town hint that many Santa Cruzans have established a strong stance against Proposition 8, which if passed, would eliminate the right of same-sex Californian couples to marry. However, the complex history of same-sex marriage in California has left many confused.

On Oct. 1, 1948, the California Supreme Court overturned the ban on interracial marriage, declaring “the essence of the right to marry is the right to join in marriage with the person of one’s choice.” Since the court did not specify who constitutes “one’s choice,” opponents of Proposition 8 consider this ruling to be applicable for same-sex couples as well.

Yet in 2000, voters passed Proposition 22, which changed the California Family Code to formally define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Then, on May 15 of this year, the court struck down Proposition 22, making same-sex marriage legal in California.

Last week, a marriage equality teach-in took place at College Nine’s Namaste Lounge. It featured the Rev. Deborah Johnson, founding minister and president of Inner Light Ministries, and Glen Schaller, campaign manager for the Santa Cruz County No on 8 Campaign. Representatives from the Yes on 8 campaign were invited to attend but did not respond.

Wendy Baxter, the associate college administrative officer of co-curricular and college programs, helped organize the marriage equality teach-in.

“Proposition 8 doesn’t have to be about whether you approve of homosexuality,” Baxter said. “The issue really comes down to constitutional rights and access to legal recognition.”

Proponents of Proposition 8 say that the court “ignored” the will of the people by striking down the voted-upon Proposition 22. In response, both Johnson and Schaller addressed what would have happened if issues such as black voting rights or interracial marriage rights were put through a popular vote at their respective times.

“I shudder to think what would have happened at times when the judiciary and the legislature were moving ahead of popular opinion,” Schaller said.

Johnson agreed that Proposition 8 would constitute a step backward for equal rights.

“This is a dangerous legal tactic, to put on the chopping block guaranteed constitutional rights,” she said. “Prop. 8 is trying to change the constitution to gut out the part that makes everybody equal.”

Schaller also pushes for constitutional equality through his work with Santa Cruz No on 8.

“We’re asking them to look into their hearts to make up their minds,” Schaller said. “That they support fairness and don’t want to have rights taken away for someone else.”

To Nathaniel Bowers, an East Bay resident who supports Proposition 8, the controversy is mostly a religious one.

“I think it will be a door to a lot of legal suits against churches,” Bowers said. “They’ll lose the ability to practice their faith as they want to because people will argue that they’re now being discriminated against.”

Johnson dismissed this claim.

“You can’t force a Catholic church to perform a Jewish wedding,” Reverend Johnson said. “Churches still have the right to reject performing same-sex marriages if they don’t want to perform them.”

More religious institutions are standing up against Proposition 8, Schaller said, as a fight for civil rights.

“The struggle around civil rights is continuous, and it’s been there since the founding of the nation,” Schaller said. “We’re always pushing to include more people in the American dream.”