Will California protect gay marriage in its constitution?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Ben Christopher BY Ben Christopher February 15, 2023
Presented by UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Institute, Western States Petroleum Association, FIX PAGA: A Better, Fairer Way for Workers and Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership

Will California protect gay marriage in its constitution?

California Democrats want to change the state constitution to safeguard a right that is already firmly protected across the state, just in case the U.S. Supreme Court decides to do away with it. 

Oh, and putting it on the ballot will probably help Democrats in the 2024 election.

If that all sounds familiar, you might be thinking of Proposition 1, the highly popular ballot measure from last November that cemented the right to an abortion in the state constitution and that may have goosed liberal-leaning voters to the polls.  

This time, the right in question is same-sex marriage.

On Tuesday (yes, Valentine’s Day), San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener and Cupertino Assemblymember Evan Low, both Democrats, introduced a proposal to expunge language from the state constitution that defines marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman.

To become law, the measure will need the support of two-thirds of both the Assembly and the Senate and of a majority of voters on the November 2024 ballot.

That offending text comes from 2008’s Proposition 8. Passed by a narrow majority of Californians, the measure was later struck down in federal court. Even so, the language sits inert inside the state constitution.

But Wiener, Low and a coalition of civil rights organizations worry that the conservative majority on the current U.S. Supreme Court could breathe life back into those dead letters.

  • Wiener: “It’s absolute poison, it is so destructive and it’s humiliating that this is in our constitution.”

On abortion, gun regulations, religious freedom and the power of federal regulatory agencies, the nation’s highest court has indeed exhibited a recent habit of reversing earlier decisions on really big, really controversial issues.

There’s no indication, however, that the majority of justices have much appetite to do the same on gay marriage. The court deemed marriage a constitutional right for all adult couples in 2015. One cause of alarm for Wiener and Low: In his concurring opinion in the case that rescinded the right to an abortion last year, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the court, using the same legal logic, “should reconsider” its prior rulings on same-sex marriage. But his conservative colleagues on the court disagreed.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a prominent supporter of Prop. 1, said in a statement that he supports this constitutional amendment and that “Prop. 8 has no place in our constitution.”

A political play? As with Prop. 1, putting same sex-marriage on the ballot could gin up turnout among California’s Democratic-leaning voters. 

In January, the Public Policy Institute of California found that a whopping 75% of likely voters support a policy allowing gay and lesbians couples to marry. No matter how you break down the sample of respondents — by gender, region, income, education, and ethnicity — majorities favored the policy. The only exception was Republicans, though even 46% of the GOP voters surveyed supported same-sex marriage.

Dean Bonner, associated survey director at the institute, said it’s too soon to say whether a measure like this would affect voter participation. Presidential election years are already higher turnout years, the biggest supporters of same-sex marriage are most likely to vote anyway and this proposition — assuming it qualifies — will be competing with a lot of other contentious issues on the ballot.


Electric vehicles: CalMatters is writing a series of stories on California’s road to more electric cars and trucks. Starting in 2035, no gas-powered vehicles will be sold in the state. Do you have questions about this transformation? Submit them here.  

Also, if you’re an EV owner who lives in one of these zip codes (94022, 94027, 94301, 94028, 94024, 90402, 92657) and would be willing to talk to a CalMatters reporter about your experience, email   


1 Feinstein on her way out

Sen. Dianne Feinstein gives remarks at the US Capitol on Feb, 1, 2022. Photo by Graeme Sloan, Sipa USA via REUTERS
Sen. Dianne Feinstein gives remarks at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 1, 2022. Photo by Graeme Sloan, Sipa USA via Reuters

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein made it official: She won’t be seeking reelection in 2024.

The news comes as little surprise: The long-serving California Democrat has done little of the fundraising needed for a re-election bid and the campaign to take her place has been well underway for more than a month. 

Still, the announcement marks the end of a California political era:

In a press release, Feinstein vowed to serve out the remainder of her term. Now what?

Endorsement watch: U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank and Katie Porter of Irvine, both Democrats, launched their campaigns last month. Feinstein did not say if she would be making an endorsement, though her politics are closer to those of Schiff, who already has the backing of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Up next: Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland reportedly told colleagues last month that she was planning to jump into the race. Rep. Ro Khanna of Santa Clara has said he plans to announce his intentions soon. If either were waiting for Feinstein to bow out first, the floor is now theirs. 

  • Lee, in a statement: “While I hope we will keep the focus in these coming days on celebrating the Senator and her historic tenure in the Senate, I know there are questions about the Senate race in 2024, which I will address soon.”

No more for Newsom: The governor had himself an appointment bonanza in 2021, handpicking the state’s U.S. senator, secretary of state and attorney general. The possibility that Feinstein might not finish her term sparked a frenzy of political speculation, including that Newsom could appoint himself to the Senate. Feinstein plans to stick around until 2024, quashing those theories, along with the idea, endorsed by Porter of all people, that the governor fill the seat with a Black woman.

  • Newsom, in a statement: “Her lifetime of service and leadership has made our country fairer, safer and stronger, and I am proud to call her a mentor and a friend. California and the nation owe Senator Feinstein a deep debt of gratitude.”

2 Newsom sides with farmers on water

The Bidwell Bar Bridge at Lake Oroville on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo by Andrew Innerarity, California Department of Water Resources
Water supplies in Lake Oroville, shown here on Jan. 12, 2023, are 115.6% of its historic average as of Feb. 14. Photo by Andrew Innerarity, California Department of Water Resources

More water for reservoirs. More water for Central Valley farmers. Less for Chinook salmon, Delta smelt and, ultimately, the Pacific Ocean.

That’s the gist of an executive order signed by Gov. Newsom on Monday. 

As CalMatters water reporter Alastair Bland explains, in the forever water war that pits California’s major agricultural interests and water agencies against wildlife conservationists and other environmental advocates, Newsom has sided with the former.

Californians have historically depended on the Sierra snowpack to serve as a natural reservoir that slowly melts through the spring and summer, releasing fresh water in the months when the state most needs it. But warmer temperatures and wildfires burning at higher elevations are leading to an earlier “melt season,” according to a new study summarized in the Los Angeles Times

California’s water crisis, explained: Despite last month’s deluge, the state is gripped by a deep drought. CalMatters has a detailed look at how California might increase its water supply. And you can read and share it in Spanish

3 Another food fight

A prep cook works in the kitchen of a San Francisco restaurant on May 14, 2020. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo
A prep cook works in the kitchen of a San Francisco restaurant on May 14, 2020. Photo by Jeff Chiu, AP Photo

From CalMatters’ California Divide reporter Jeanne Kuang: 

More than a decade ago, California lawmakers passed a bill mandating a variety of restaurant workers to take a training course and get a certificate in food safety to work.

The simple requirement — familiar to anyone who’s flipped burgers, tended bar, served diners or bussed tables — usually costs the worker $15. The certificate must be renewed every three years. 

Now, lawmakers and labor groups want to require employers to pay for the training instead, accusing the restaurant industry of using the arrangement to funnel workers’ money into lobbying efforts against labor interests.

That’s because the primary company that offers the training, ServSafe, is a subsidiary of the National Restaurant Association, a trade group that has for years lobbied against increases in the federal minimum wage and the even lower wage that’s allowed for workers who get tips. 

This was unknown to many workers and labor advocates until a New York Times report in January revealed the arrangement, prompting a lawsuit over the practice in federal court in New York as well as the new California bill introduced Tuesday by Sen. Monique Limon and sponsored by the restaurant worker group One Fair Wage. According to the newspaper, California is one of four populous states where the group lobbied to mandate the training for most food service workers, not just managers, creating a steady flow of paying workers. 

Maricela Gutierrez, a former cashier, server and bartender who worked for five years in full-service Bay Area restaurants, said she paid the $15 more than once to get her ServSafe certificate and did not realize the money was going toward a restaurant industry group until she became a labor organizer. 

The minimum wage for all workers is $15.50 this year in California. Last year, the National Restaurant Association put $405,000 toward the campaign to overturn the state’s new fast food law, which would create a state-run council to set industry standards governing wages and working conditions. The law is on hold until voters decide whether to keep it on the books in the November 2024 election.

The national group did not respond to a request for comment. Its state affiliate, the California Restaurant Association, released a statement from president and CEO Jot Condie saying its own “advocacy expenses are covered by our membership dues.” 

The CRA sponsored the 2010 bill that mandated the training for all food service workers.

From CalMatters Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal:

In another effort to help workers, Sen. Lena Gonzalez plans to introduce a bill today to make permanent a pandemic-era policy that extends the number of paid sick leave days from three to seven — or 24 hours to 56.

Anyone who has worked 30 days within a year of being hired would be eligible, according to the bill language.

Gonzalez said the pandemic highlighted the “lifesaving impacts” of paid sick leave policies, but also exposed gaps in the safety net for working families. Those who work in the service sector — traditionally dominated by women and Latinos — are especially at a disadvantage, said the Democratic lawmaker from Long Beach. 

  • Gonzalez: “Ensuring the health and safety of workers should be just as important now as it was when we were at the height of the pandemic.

Gonzalez also argues that allowing workers time to recover will help companies maintain productivity by reducing the number of people who have to call out sick.

The bill is sponsored by the California Labor Federation, now led by Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a former Assemblymember who authored California’s original sick leave law in 2014. Past efforts to extend COVID-era sick leave policies have met opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, which noted that many employers offer their own sick leave benefits.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Gov. Gavin Newsom will soon lift the state of emergency he declared nearly three years ago due to COVID-19, but the negative effects will linger on for many years. 

Gov. Newsom’s proposal to cut public transit money will undermine California’s climate goals, writes David Weiskopf, senior policy advisor for climate and environmental issues at Next Gen Policy.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

First hearing set for California special session on gas prices // KCRA

Utah governor tells Californians to ‘stay in California’ // Los Angeles Times 

Winner of California’s $2B lottery gets largest U.S. jackpot // AP News

New bill asks transit agencies to begin collecting data on rider harassment // CapRadio 

Biggest minimum wage bump since 2015 coming to San Francisco // San Francisco Standard

Consultant who admitted trying to bribe Irvine council members worked all over OC // Voice of OC

San Francisco supervisors eye ending contract ban of states with anti-LGBTQ laws // Bay Area Reporter 

Culver City passes ban on homeless encampments // ABC7

Black developer, husband of Assemblymember, sues Fresno mayor over alleged discrimination // Fresno Bee

Aggressive New York housing plan borrows ideas from California, other states // New York Times

Sufficient evidence of fraud at Stockton Unified, auditor report finds // The Record

Neighbors fight pricey S.F. plan to build tiny homes for the homeless // San Francisco Chronicle

Proposal could make undocumented drug dealers in S.F. easier to deport // San Francisco Chronicle

How a Madera County farmworker community got state support for better streets, cleaner air // FresnoLand

How a San Diego anti-Semitic extremist evaded hate crime prosecution // inewsource

Mayor Bass’ chief of staff will avoid Olympics issues for a year // Los Angeles Times

Newsom says ex-wife Kimberly Guilfoyle ‘fell prey’ to culture at Fox News // SFGate

Mountain lion cubs Holly and Hazel build their fan base // Los Angeles Times

See you tomorrow


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