Last fall, the theocratic wing of the California Republican Party took solace in a narrow victory on Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment eliminating the right to marry for same-sex couples. They cobbled together a coalition with just enough Latino, African-American and older voters to write the law into the constitution. But as minorities, the groups that passed Proposition 8 – including California Republicans – should hope that the law is struck down.
At some point between now and June 1, the California Supreme Court will render its decision on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. While the decision will impact whether the right to marry is restored to all Californians, it will have little to do about gay marriage as an issue. Instead, the court will be weighing a broader constitutional question: Who is the ultimate arbiter of fundamental freedoms in California?
“Rights are in the power of the people,” argued Proposition 8 defendant Kenneth Starr, claiming that rights may be granted or taken away by simple majority votes, regardless of their status in the Constitution.
If the court overturns Proposition 8, it will be because, historically, the role of the state’s courts is to protect the constitution freedoms of California from the over-reaching arms of the other branches of government – the executive, the legislature and the electorate. On the other hand, if the court upholds Proposition 8, it will abdicate its authority to the so-called “will” of the people to decide questions of civil rights by moving that power out of the courts and to the ballot box. As their numbers shrink, California Republicans should be worried if Proposition is upheld. The Grand Old Party’s membership is a minority of California voters – and its falling.
Republican registration efforts in California have gone bone-chillingly cold. Registered Republicans number but 31 percent of the state’s electorate. According to political guru Allan Hoffenblum, these precipitous drops are happening statewide, even in Republican districts. “Back in 2001, when the redistricting mapmakers gerrymandered the 80 Assembly districts in an attempt to keep the status quo of 50 safe Democratic districts and 30 safe Republican seats, five of the assembly districts had solid Republican majorities and an additional five had a GOP registration of between 48 – 50 percent. Today, it’s zero majority districts and only two with GOP registration over 48 percent.”
As more immigrants are naturalized, the California Republican Party’s anti-immigration posturing will only alienate these new voters and shrink the Republican registration numbers further.
Compare Republican registration at 30% to the 5% of California voters who identified themselves as gay or lesbian in 2008, and you see that California Conservatives are as much at risk of being the target of a ballot initiative as any other minority group in the state.
While it is unlikely that voters would try to target straight white Christian men – also known as what is left in the California GOP – for any ballot initiative, the values and freedoms that Republicans hold dear could easily come under attack if the court upholds Proposition 8. It is not far-fetched to think that the powerful California Teachers’ Unions might pass a constitutional amendment forbidding home-schooling. Nor is it a stretch to see the majority of Californians voting for such a ban. And while it might seem ludicrous to propose a “Traffic Mitigation and Freeway Safety Amendment” which would, for instance, ban Asian women from driving, that measure, too, under Starr’s theory, be constitutional as long as the measure were approved by a majority of voters.
This is anarchy. When rights are subject to the whims of the voters – as suggested by the backers of Proposition 8 – no right is secure. As a rapidly-shrinking minority, this should scare California’s Republicans.