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In California's Prop 8 battle, echoes of 1966 housing case

As Derald Granberg follows the legal challenge to Proposition 8 now before the California Supreme Court, he thinks back to 1966.

That year, in a case that divided Californians as much as same-sex marriage does today, the court overturned a voter-approved measure that had allowed housing discrimination based on race.

Granberg, now 80, recalls sitting in on meetings during which Thomas Lynch, then California's attorney general, decided to challenge that measure.

"Here's an attorney general who's so convinced that the right thing to do is to challenge something that's been approved by a 65 percent vote of the public," said Granberg, who was working back then as a lawyer in the attorney general's office. "To me, that was really politically courageous."

Just as Lynch did in the 1960s, Attorney General Jerry Brown is challenging a constitutional amendment approved by voters. But unlike the earlier case, Brown is relying on the state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution, to make his arguments for overturning Proposition 8.

Overwhelmingly approved by voters, Proposition 14 of 1964 invalidated the Rumford Act, which the California Legislature had passed a year earlier. The law had made it illegal for property owners to refuse to rent or sell to people because of their race. The ballot measure overturned the law.

A former actor named Ronald Reagan, who had opposed the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, was a campaign spokesman.

"If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house," Reagan declared, "he has a right to do so."

Two years after Proposition 14 passed, the state Supreme Court struck it down, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court later upheld the decision.

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