The California Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a statutory ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. Barack Obama does not favor gay marriage, so he issued a nonresponsive statement saying all sorts of nice things without saying he liked the idea of gay marriage. He was, of course, silent on the notion that clever judges could trump the will of the elected legislature.
John McCain does not favor a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage, so his response was not everything social conservatives would have liked. But he was smart enough to see the real issue here: judicial activism. His campaign released a statement saying: “John McCain supports the right of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution sanctioning the union between a man and a woman, just as he did in his home state of Arizona. John McCain doesn’t believe judges should be making these decisions.”
What does this mean? It means there will be an initiative on the California ballot in November seeking to amend the state constitution and ban gay marriage. Hmmm. Didn’t something similar happen in Ohio in 2004? But before conservatives get too excited about flipping California from Blue to Red, they should keep in mind that California isn’t Ohio.
That said, I still think this matters. Any development connecting activist courts and results that offend social conservative and many independent voters is going to hurt Obama. McCain’s view is that activist judges make bad law and will impose results most Americans don’t like. Obama would rather not have too many specific examples of social policy by judicial fiat and keep the discussion of the courts on a lofty and vague basis.
The conservative base may not be too thrilled with McCain’s talk about global warming or with his emphasis on bipartisanism, but they understand that their goals are threatened by a liberal judiciary. Events like this help McCain calm frayed nerves on the Right and give conservatives a reason to turn out in November. So bottom line: this is bad for Obama and good for McCain.