There are a number of issues on the ballot in November that have sparked debate and discussion, but none of them has been as polarizing as Proposition 8, also known as the California Marriage Protection Act.
If approved, Prop 8 would amend the California state constitution to add the line, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."
Gay and lesbian groups across the country set up a hue and cry over the proposition, stating that it would deny same sex couples equal rights under the law.
In the last several months the debate has grown with groups on both sides donating huge sums of money to the campaign. On the pro-side are many religious groups such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Focus on the Family and the Knights of Columbus. Opponents include Equality Now, No on 8 and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Service Center.
Here in Danville, streets are dotted with signs both for and against, in some cases right next door to each other. Such was the case for Chad Hales and Kathy Leonard. The casual friendship the two families enjoyed has cooled significantly since the introduction of Prop 8. Each family has a pretty different view on the issue.
For Kathy Leonard, the issue is a personal one. Her brother-in-law John has been in a committed same-sex marriage for years. "They've been married several times when they could. John and Kevin got married the first day that they could after the Supreme Court ruling," Leonard said.
The pair has adopted one child and is in the process of adopting two more. They are concerned about what could happen to their children in the event that something should happen to one of them. "I've read that they get all the same legal rights, but I wonder do they go to all the depths, all the second-generation rights. Those are the sorts of things that are uncertain to me," Leonard explained.
Those same sorts of concerns exist for Kathy and her husband Ken. They have named her two brothers-in-law as guardians of their children and are concerned about the legal rights Kevin would have as a "domestic partner" if the worst should occur.
Legalities aside, for Kathy Leonard and her family this also comes down to basic discrimination. "They (proponents) keep saying that John and Kevin would be covered under the domestic partner law. But they wouldn't be married. That is a segregated, 'Separate but Equal' group. They might as well just round them up, brand them and stick them in the back of the bus."
Leonard said there are two families in their neighborhood who have come out in support of Prop 8. Since the issue came up, things have been very strained with those families and she doesn't see that changing.
"We view this as a total attack on our family by a powerful, wealthy religious right who want to relegate our family to second-class citizens," she said. "It's an outrage and that relationship (with the neighbors) has changed for good."
Chad Hales feels the issue is personal because it impacts the basic identity of marriage. "Fundamentally, I think it's a good thing because it defines marriage as being between a man and woman." He added, "For me, what I think it comes down to is there's something unique ... that it's a biological fact that our human family has grown through the unique ability to bring children into the world."
Opponents of Prop 8 often ask what effect same sex marriage has on those who are against it. Hales said he agrees that there would not be an immediate result if Prop 8 fails. "The effects are difficult to calculate. My belief is that it will have more of a long term effect on the way society views the institution of marriage."
Hales said he disagrees with the assertion that Prop 8 is about discrimination. "The word 'discrimination' comes so loaded in a debate like this. It says you hate people, you want to oppress them. The reality is I don't feel that way. I have gay friends. I deal with gay clients. I'm glad to hear that there's domestic partnership law. I'm just trying to maintain the definition of union that has a special meaning."
He also denies charges of bigotry aimed at those in favor of the proposition. "I will not treat anybody with any less respect or care because they are a homosexual." Although he did say that he does not condone that lifestyle choice.
The divisive nature of the debate has made things difficult in his neighborhood. Hales said he is concerned about the relationship they have with the Leonards and the effect this has had. "We're trying to support the proposition in a way that's deeply respectful. I'm sorry about the way it's making them feel but it's not the intention."