From 2001 to 2004, public opinion on same-sex marriage barely budged. But it shifted sharply after the 2004 weddings, according to polls conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Nationwide, marriage advocacy surged from 31 percent in 2004 to 39 percent in 2008, while opposition fell from 60 percent to 51 percent. Despite the swift changes, those numbers were still a far cry from the support needed to defeat Prop. 8.

When the California Supreme Court found the state's 2000 anti-gay marriage ballot initiative, Proposition 22, unconstitutional in May 2008, it opened the floodgates for legal weddings — and for new enthusiasm within the movement. Some 18,000 same-sex couples were married in California before the November election, including many who'd hastily married in San Francisco in 2004.

After so much progress, voters' approval of Prop. 8 came like a bucket of ice water in the face. Even with growing support, it was suddenly clear that California didn't have gay couples' backs. But the state was also on the verge of a tipping point with respect to marriage equality. That's one reason the grassroots effort, with as many tools as a Swiss army knife, became so effective: Where one didn't work, another unlocked people's minds. But none proved better than good old-fashioned face time.

Hank Donat (left) and Jeffrey Halpern, married in 2008, 
found themselves on the front 
page of the New York Times.
Norma Cordova
Hank Donat (left) and Jeffrey Halpern, married in 2008, found themselves on the front page of the New York Times.
Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis got married in 2004, and then helped shape the current movement when their marriage license was revoked a month later.
Norma Cordova
Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis got married in 2004, and then helped shape the current movement when their marriage license was revoked a month later.

When activists went to places like Fresno and Modesto, it wasn't to shout, but to discuss, says Rebecca Prozan, who works in the San Francisco District Attorney's Office.

Prozan, as much as anyone, is aware of the shifting activist strategies that emerged post-Prop. 8: She organized the first public civil-union ceremonies in 1996 as Mayor Willie Brown's liaison to the LGBT community. The first 100 ceremonies were filmed in the Herbst Theatre; those videos gave the nation an early glimpse of same-sex commitment ceremonies. Hundreds of civil unions followed.

Sixteen years later, she emphasizes how a face-to-face meeting can spark larger transformations than watching something on a television screen. After Prop. 8 passed, and activists visited people in California's conservative strongholds, those conversations made a lasting impression. "You see that that kid was nice, that he didn't have horns on his head," Prozan says. Perhaps the movement's greatest success was in the activism of personal relationships.

Jessica Hopen had seen plenty of gay marriage in the media, but it wasn't until she encountered it in her everyday life that things changed.

Hopen was 20 when she converted to Mormonism to marry her Mormon boyfriend. Although she went through periods of distance from the church, she still went to temple, followed the Word of Wisdom, and tithed 10 percent of her income.

She later divorced her husband, but when she moved from Washington state to Sebastopol in the wake of Prop. 8, she sought out the local Mormon church. At the same time, she befriended a gay couple, Robert and Maben Rainwater, who had three kids, just like she did. They became close enough to drive Hopen home after a surgery and help her new husband with a backyard construction project. Their friendship made Hopen confront her stereotypes about gay men, but she still didn't think they should marry.

Last June, the Rainwaters invited her to a local production of Prop. 8 Love Stories, Brian Glenn Bryson's play crafted around interviews with same-sex couples. Those couples included Equality California's Molly McKay and her wife, and the Rainwaters. In one scene, a gay couple is portrayed by a man and a woman, and something clicked in Hopen's mind.

"It dawns on me that, 'Oh my God, they're just like me,'" Hopen says. "I had blown off the fact that my church had given $20 million towards Prop. 8. I realized, I can't ignore this anymore. This really hurts my friends. So I stopped going to church."

Hopen left the Mormon church in 2011 after explaining her feelings to her priest. She says there's still a huge hole in her life where that structure and support is missing, but she doesn't regret her choice. "It's wrong. It's not God's church," she says.

It's a significant gesture, considering that nearly $2.8 million of the $39 million backing Prop. 8 came from the Utah headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Heterosexual marriage is "at the heart of God's plan for His children," church spokesman Eric Hawkins says in an e-mail. Hawkins is untroubled by the dramatic shift in public opinion over the past four years; the church will continue to defend the idea of "traditional marriage," he writes.

For people like Hopen, that means leaving the church behind.

In the past four years, many people must have had similar changes of heart. In 2008, 39 percent of the nation supported same-sex marriage, and 51 percent opposed it, according to Pew polls. By 2012, the numbers had almost flipped; 48 percent backed same-sex marriage, while 44 percent opposed it.

In California, the shift is even more dramatic. In 2008, Field Poll reported that 51 percent of Californians supported same-sex marriage, and 42 percent opposed it. In 2012, support rose to 59 percent while the opposition shrank to 34 percent.

To some extent, the change in public opinion can be chalked up to demographics, according to Pew. Millennials, born after 1981 and known for their relative liberalism, show large numbers of same-sex marriage backers, increasing from 54 percent in 2008 to 63 percent this year. Perhaps surprisingly, 10 percent more of America's elder Silent Generation also endorsed same-sex marriage in the same period.

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My Voice Nation Help

I am a fervent supporter of marriage equality - I was the 'best man' for my dearest friend when he married his husband, once in a 'commitment ceremony' and once at City Hall when it was legal, and they are the most committed, loving couple I know, and I"m proud that they are the godparents for my teenage sons.  Moreover, like all good Jewish mothers, I secretly hope one of my sons turns out to be gay (because he'll never replace me with another woman, and he'll help me shop!)  So the stakes in this election are high (particularly since as a woman, a Jew, and an advocate of marriage equality, I feel triply dissed by the right . . . , which is why I recorded, "It's A Scary Time To Be A Jewish Mother", the first in my series of youTube political comedy songs . . .  enjoy!


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