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All Eyes on California

The presidential contest there is predictable, but the state's marriage proposition is closely contested.

The hotly contested presidential election is predicted to go to Obama by a wide margin in California today, but polls show voters still closely divided on another ballot issue.

Proposition 8 would amend the California constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, overthrowing a California Supreme Court decision earlier this year that allows homosexual marriage in the state.

Robert Cochran, director of the Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics at Pepperdine University, said he thinks the reason the state is set on the presidential election but divided on Proposition 8 is because of Obama's focus on specific issues.

"Senator Obama has been able to keep the election focused on economic issues, rather than social issues," said Cochran, who supports Proposition 8. "There are a significant number of voters (including a lot of Christian voters) who agree with Senator Obama on the war, health care, and taxation, but believe that the traditional family is an important social institution and should be preserved," he said in an e-mail message.

The proposition is unique in what it attempts to do and in the amount of attention it has received. Over $60 million was raised by supporters and opponents of the proposition; supporting donors included Focus on the Family and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Amy Black, professor of politics at Wheaton College, said the proposition is noteworthy because it attempts to change an existing definition of marriage instead of defining an unspoken norm that already exists. As for San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom's statement, "as California goes, so goes the nation," Black said that could be true.

"California is a bellwether state on the progressive side of social issues," Black said. "A lot of progressive movement on social issues comes out of California."

Proposition 8 supporters say it would protect religious liberties and give voters an opportunity to strengthen the family.

"God begins the Bible with a marriage and ends it with a wedding," said Jim Garlow, senior pastor of the Skyline Wesleyan Church in La Mesa, California who is spearheading an effort to pass the proposition. "Through marriage, two becoming one, Adam and Eve joining together, [God's] image is placed on earth. And so the destruction of marriage is the destruction of the image of God."

There are also some legal concerns if the proposition fails.

In one advertisement supporting the proposition, Pepperdine University law professor Richard Peterson warns that churches could lose their tax-exempt status if the proposition does not pass.

Carl Esbeck, law professor at the University of Missouri, said the concern is that the federal government could use precedent from a 1983 case in which it denied tax-exempt status to Bob Jones University because of the school's policy against interracial dating.

But those concerns would take several steps to be realized, Esbeck said. The federal government would first have to overturn the Federal Marriage Amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and would then have to redefine marriage in support of homosexual unions.

"In the near term this is quite remote, that a church would lose its 501(c)3 status because it refused to perform a same-sex marriage. But surely these people are rational enough to say, 'yes, but these things happen and evolve with time,' in that we are looking long term," Esbeck said. "One way to stop the evolution would be to pass Proposition 8."

Related Elsewhere:

For more ballot measures to watch, see "Life, Death, and Chicken Cages."

For more politics coverage, see Christianity Today's campaign 2008 section and the politics blog, where you can join in conversation about tonight's election returns.

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