Not long ago, a cartoon appeared in The New Yorker showing a middle-aged couple at the breakfast table. "Gays and lesbians are getting married!" barked the husband from behind his newspaper. "Don't you think they've suffered enough?"
I was reminded of this gag on Sunday when I spoke to Alicia Barocio, a successful Mexican-born artist based in West Hollywood, who recently married Maria, her girlfriend of 14 years. It was the second time they had tied the knot: their previous wedding in 2004 had been swiftly annulled after a legal challenge to the decision of the San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom, to legalise same-sex marriage in the city earlier that year.
Now lightning seems poised to strike twice: on election day, California votes on a Proposition 8, a ballot measure to amend the state constitution and officially "divorce" all 11,000 couples who rushed to get hitched when the State Supreme Court re-legalised gay weddings in June.
Given California's liberal credentials and high-profile gay community, not to mention the injustice of denying homosexuals the chance to take part in weddings (which are, surely, the gayest events ever created) I had always presumed that Proposition 8 would fall on stony ground.
But actually, the reverse seems true. Helped by a war chest of $30 million, much of it provided by the Mormon Church, the "Yes on 8" lobby has flooded the airwaves with adverts that have suddenly garnered them a 47-42 per cent lead in the polls.
The attack ads are unpleasant and misleading (they show a schoolgirl saying "Mommy, mommy, today I was taught that a prince can marry a prince and I can one day marry a princess!") but they've nonetheless convinced middle-class voters that gay marriage turns their children into raving poofters.
By contrast, the "No on 8" lobby has run a lacklustre campaign, making little use of its core support until this week, when (rather late in the day) a couple of celebrity fund-raisers were arranged and Ellen DeGeneres agreed to front a TV ad.
This looks like being too little too late, which is a cause of immense personal sadness for Alicia. If Proposition 8 passes, she now plans to take Maria back to Mexico, which – despite its devout Catholicism – has successfully legalised gay marriage without the sky falling in.
For the rest of LA's gay community, there is a final irony: their plight is actually the fault of Barack Obama, whose presidential candidacy will ensure a huge turnout of socially conservative African-American voters. As one recent headline put it, California can have Barack Obama, or it can have gay marriage – but sadly, it cannot have both.Reuse content