Just Words?

In November, California will vote on a constitutional amendment to "eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry." Or, they'll vote on an ...
by | July 30, 2008

In November, California will vote on a constitutional amendment to "eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry."

Or, they'll vote on an amendment "to provide that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

They're the same amendment, of course, but only one description can appear on the ballot. That's why supporters of the amendment (who favor the second wording) and opponents of the amendment (who favor the first one) are squaring off in court, as Alan points out.

The cynic in me says that this debate differs from most other political disputes only in that it is overtly about semantics. But that doesn't mean the debate is trivial.

Supporters of gay marriage (opponents of the amendment) are likely to spend millions of dollars in the fall campaign to frame the issue as being about fundamental rights. Opponents of gay marriage will make just as much of an effort to frame the issue as being about preserving traditional marriage.

In effect, the ballot will be anything but agnostic on this dispute. Depending on how the legal challenge plays out, the wording will either spur Californians in the voting booth to think of the constitutional amendment as being about gay rights (the first wording I listed) or about traditional marriage (number two). That's significant because in politics a word can be worth 1,000 -- or 10,000 or 100,000 -- votes.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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