Commentary: Gay marriage's inevitability isn't a foregone conclusion

No matter what happened in court this week, gay marriage will be the law in California one day.

At least that's what many gay marriage proponents were saying after Tuesday's state Supreme Court ruling.

"History shows us that prejudice and inequality diminish with time and struggle, and so it will be in the case with marriage freedom," State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in a prepared statement.

Steinberg expresses nice sentiments, but that doesn't make him right.

Gay marriage is like no other civil rights struggle in this country, because it shakes up old political assumptions, divides friends and families.

And gay marriage opponents are not ready to lay down their arms.

They firmly reject the contention that their opposition is rooted in prejudice. And they disagree that a younger, more progressive voting base inevitably will step up to make same-sex marriage the law.

They vow to hold the line, and to defeat gay marriage supporters at the ballot box in 2010, 2012, or whenever the battle is joined again.

"I honestly think if (gay marriage supporters) push and we win again, that will be the end of the line," said Frank Schubert, the Sacramento-based consultant who was the lead strategist in a winning campaign to defeat same-sex marriage at the polls last November.

"There is no evidence to suggest that same-sex marriage is just a matter of time."

The prophecy of legalized same-sex marriage is rooted in exit poll numbers from last November which showed that 61 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds voted against Proposition 8 , the ballot measure that banned gay marriage.

You hear it on the street all the time – how the bigots will die off and be replaced by young progressives. But the traditional marriage movement is banking on young people switching sides.

"Young people mature as they grow older. Their views change when they marry and have their own children," Schubert said.

What traditional marriage supporters have in their favor is the fact that gay marriage has not been approved by voters in any state. It's the law in a handful of states – as it was briefly in California – by virtue of court orders or legislative action.

California's highest court on Tuesday declined to undo the will of the people at the ballot box. So now Schubert waits for the inevitable next ballot box challenge. He's readying big-money donors to maintain the support of Latinos and African Americans, who voted against gay marriage in a big way last November.

Put bluntly, Schubert's side won last time because they wanted it more. So the question to gay marriage advocates is: How badly do you want it?

If the answer is a campaign of political rhetoric about inevitability, gay marriage will never become law in California. The other side is too strong for that.