Gay marriage activists rally outside California's Capitol building.
Just when you think you've got your arms around Proposition 8, you realize that there's much more to it then love, marriage and the definition of family.
Supporters argue the ban on gay marriage was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.
Opponents argue prohibiting gays from getting married violated the constitutional guarantee of equality.
The basic premise of Proposition 8 defines marriage as an act between a man and a woman. That's simple enough. Indeed both sides have argued at length at the intersection of values and questions of morality.
Another level of the debate centers on economic issues. The "no on 8" group argues that anything less than the right for any two people to marry discriminates against shared medical insurance, retirement packages, joint income tax declarations, and a host of other economic arrangements between two people. The "yes on 8" people counter that such concerns can be addressed by "civil unions" but few states have been so complete and the federal government has not accepted such claims on income tax statements.
But if you continue to drill down it becomes clear that the root of the entire discussion is a debate on federalism, the relationship between the states and the national government. If California and the other 49 states are allowed to go in whatever directions they choose on the marriage issues, several versions of the definition of marriage are sure to emerge. That's more than satisfactory to traditionalists.
On the other hand, is it fair for such a basic concept of marriage to be defined in so many ways that your status is determined by where you live rather than who you are? That's where discussion of the 14th Amendment comes in.
The "no on 8" folks argue that if left in place, the law provides a different set of guarantees for heterosexuals than homosexuals, and thereby violates the "equal protection under the laws" concept of the 14th Amendment that is vital to guaranteeing the same treatment for all.
In the end, this issue will land in the laps of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court who will judge the proposition on its constitutionality or lack thereof. But in doing so, they will either strike a blow for states to define marriage on their on terms or declare that such definitions deny equality, which is an essential cornerstone of the Constitution.
Don't be surprised if the Court ultimately upholds the proposition not because of any values related to marriage but because this Court has a record of deferring to the states on social issues. And if that takes place, expect yet another gay marriage proposition on the ballot in 2012 or 2014, depending upon when the current case is finally adjudicated. Either way, we're in the early rounds of a very long fight that speaks more to interpretations of the Constitution than anything else.