Back in 1964, California voters pondered a constitutional amendment. After long debate, the legislature in Sacramento had approved a measure the previous year to outlaw discrimination by race or creed in housing sales and rentals. Governor Pat Brown had signed the law. Residential segregation was now illegal.
The California Real Estate Association quickly gathered up signatures to repeal "open housing" -- their measure became Proposition 14.
In 1964, like most of the country, Californians repudiated right wing Republican Barry Goldwater in the Presidential election. On the same ballot, voters passed Proposition 14 with a 65 percent share. They liked their "right to segregate" and wanted to keep it.
Despite the will of the voters, Proposition 14 did not stand. Very practically, the feds cut off all housing funds for California. And eventually the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the measure violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing equal protection of the law to all citizens.
The argument over Prop. 8 is an argument over whether gay people will have full, equal citizenship -- or the constrained, half-baked citizenship that some religious traditions would confine us to.
Kermit Roosevelt, in the Christian Science Monitor, takes a very lucid look at the legal context in which lawsuits against Prop. 8 are now being pursued. He argues that in U.S. experience, expansions of rights to new classes of persons have always begun facing majority opposition -- that is why successive struggles to assert full human rights have been necessary. If the persons asserting equality can whittle away at the majority against them enough to make their asserted right more "controversial" than "unthinkable" -- but still not yet universally accepted -- courts step in to protect what has functionally become a recognized minority. As this point, a majority could still repudiate the minority's rights by a majority vote -- but at the federal level, U.S. Constitution makes it very cumbersome to do that. (Note, there is no federal anti-gay marriage amendment.) The lawsuits argue that the California Constitution doesn't allow this either, requiring not the ballot measure procedure we've just witnessed, but the much harder "revision" procedure to take away rights. We'll see.
Do read the complete Roosevelt article -- it makes some basic issues extremely clear. H/t to Rev. Susan Russell for the reference.