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Why California's Discriminatory Proposition 8 Might Not Stand

New legal actions from businesses like Google to civil rights organizations are threatening to get Prop. 8 off the books.

The anger over the passage of Proposition 8 has not abated. New groups of young activists have sprung up across the nation decrying the constitutional amendment that eliminated marriage rights for same-sex couples in California. In addition to ongoing protests against pro-Prop. 8 evangelical pastor Rick Warren, the new activists are finding creative ways to stay engaged.

The twentysomething co-founders of Equal Roots, for instance, shocked and embarrassed by their own complacency during the battle over Prop. 8, sponsored a rally in West Hollywood of more than 750 people on Jan. 10, the day the new online group Join the Impact called for a national rally to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. The group held a four-hour "action fair," where new activists met older organizers, signed petitions and joined new efforts.

Equal Roots advocates art as activism and prominently displayed an original poster designed for them by Shepard Fairey -- the artist whose posters of Barack Obama have become iconic. Fairey created a special "Defend Equality -- Love Unites" poster for the group, with a hundred or so first-runs expected to be auctioned off later to help support the effort.

But the highlight of the artistic advocacy was an inspired "live" version of gay composer Marc Shaiman's online skit, "Prop. 8: The Musical," at the end of the rally, featuring gay actor Wilson Cruz as Jesus.

"Today in Los Angeles, and across the state of California, the LGBT community is united and engaged like never before. We're coming together, strategizing and taking action to secure full equality for our community here in California and, ultimately, across the nation," says Equal Roots co-founder Matt Palazzolo.

And the LGBT community is getting a lot of help, starting with California Attorney General Jerry Brown. In his brief filed in December, Brown, who is considering a run for governor, said Prop. 8 is unconstitutional and announced that his office would not defend it in the lawsuit currently before the California Supreme Court.

"The amendment-initiative process does not encompass a power to abrogate fundamental constitutional rights without a compelling justification," Brown wrote. "Proposition 8 lacks such a justification."

A slew of straight allies and organizations, from labor to religious groups (including the California Council of Churches) to business and civil rights organizations, filed or signed on to legal briefs filed with the high court Thursday.

During a conference call with reporters before filing their lawsuit, SEIU-UHW's Sal Roselli, and Art Pulaski, the executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, explained why their organizations and more than 50 other labor organizations representing more than 2 million California workers filed their amicus brief.

"When you look at health-and-welfare benefits provided by legislation," Pulaski said, "those are available in traditional marriages -- but not domestic partners. Unions can negotiate with employers to be sure that domestic partners get included, but that's only a negotiating point -- it's not guaranteed. We're saying that's not fair. Benefits should be available."

Additionally, Roselli noted, if Prop. 8 is allowed to stand, no group -- including labor -- is safe from a "popular" vote.

Renown constitutional scholar Tobias Wolff, an openly gay professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, filed an amicus brief on behalf of civil rights organizations.

"This lawsuit is about the rights of all minority communities in California," Wolff said. "If a ballot initiative and simple majority vote could be used to take away the rights of one unpopular group, then the rights of any group could be subjected to a popular vote. That is why some of the nation's leading civil rights organizations have joined together to support the challenge to Proposition 8."

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