It’s a bright, sparkling Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, and about a thousand people of all hues and ages are flocking to the south lawn of City Hall. The majority of the crowd is Chinese, but there’s a sizable group of Latinos and pockets of South Asians, Koreans, Vietnamese and Indonesians. There are only a handful of black people, but they flow with ease through the throng. There are a few conspicuous white guys in suits too, cloistered around the stage where a band plays sing-along tunes. The mood is buoyant, affectionate. There are balloons and banners everywhere; a jolly Chinese mother cuts up a cake; snapshots are taken; cars honk. People gather in family clusters; grandparents play with children–who make up about half the crowd.
It’s the happiest, most diverse political event I’ve ever been to, and it’s not for Barack Obama. It’s for Proposition 8–the California ballot initiative that would eliminate the right of gays and lesbian to marry, which some 14,000 same-sex couples have exercised since the state Supreme Court ruled in their favor earlier this summer. Here and now at City Hall, where a good share of those same-sex weddings took place, there’s not a single Obama or McCain button in the mix. Instead, everyone is wearing red t-shirts that proclaim in both English and Chinese–Protect Marriage. Yes on 8. The toddlers’ shirts have an added touch: I Love My Mommy and Daddy.
When I ask people whom they’ll vote for, a few say McCain; a few more say Obama. But the vast majority say, "Yes on 8."
But who will you vote for? You know, like, for President?
"Yes! Yes on 8!"
It’s a mantra repeated like a drum beat all afternoon, and if there’s a scary, drone-like quality to the response, it’s by no means unique to this rainbow coalition of heterosexual marriage activists. With California in the bag for Obama and without a gubernatorial or Senate seat at stake, Prop 8 is the top of the ballot here, especially for the state’s right-wing, which has staked its power, prestige and, apparently, its hope for the future of America, on the outcome. As one of the apocalyptic slogans for "The Call"–a 10,000-strong prayer vigil and fast of white evangelicals on Saturday at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium–put it, "As California goes, so goes the nation."
Right now, polls show the measure as a toss-up. The money is dead even too. When all is said and done, both sides will have raised more than $35 million each–more than $70 million in all–making it the second most expensive race of 2008, second only to the presidency. A sizable minority of this money has come from out of state: from gay activists, celebrities and business leaders on the No side; and from the holy alliance of Mormons, Catholics (the Knights of Columbus) and Christian evangelicals (Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Concerned Women for America and Elsa Prince, mother of Blackwater founder Erik Prince) for the Yes team. As California goes, so goes the nation.