The California Supreme Court today upheld Proposition 8, meaning the ban on gay marriage passed by California voters last November will stand. The ruling comes as public opinion appears to be shifting on gay marriage, but those movements have yet to translate into electoral wins for supporters of same-sex marriage.
Prop. 8 passed in November with 52 percent in favor, 48 percent opposed. And a Public Policy Institute of California poll (PDF) conducted in March of this year found residents of the Golden State still about evenly split on whether gay and lesbian couples should have the right to marry legally (44 percent said they favor it, 49 percent were against).
The same poll showed that opponents in California were far more likely than supporters of same-sex marriage to say the Supreme Court's ruling on Prop. 8 was "very important" to them, placing political intensity with the opponents. But time has been on the side of the supporters of gay marriage: opposition to gay marriage was significantly higher at the start of the decade, when 55 percent of Californians were against legalizing those unions.
Nationally, public support for legal recognition of same-sex couples has also been on the upswing, with a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showing for the first time more in favor of legal marriage than opposed.
Underneath the overall trend is evidence the tide toward greater acceptance may continue: support for legal marriage of gay couples is significantly higher among younger adults - particularly those under age 30, nearly half of whom "strongly support" legal marriage - than it is among older Americans.
Despite the shift in public opinion, it's unclear whether the movement can gain success at the ballot box going forward. Initiatives or referenda seeking to ban gay marriage have won passage in 26 states since 1998, when Alaska voters approved the first such ballot measure, and in most cases these measures have succeeded by large margins, even in states with a more liberal bent such as Michigan and Oregon.