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No on 8

I hadn’t done much thinking about CA State Proposition 8, the ballot initiative titled “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry”. I knew which way I was going to vote and I knew that its support statewide would be lopsided: little support here on the coast, big support in the vast conservative Central Valley.
But the other day I was in a public place and I spied a woman I know casually — her kids and mine have been in activities together. On her shirt she had pinned a button: “Yes on 8”.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, a yes vote on Proposition 8 would take away the right for same sex couples to legally marry in the state of California. Prop 8 supporters went to court to try to get the title changed, because they knew that even people who disapprove of homosexuality are hesitant to vote to “take away” a right. But the court upheld the description as valid.
I was shocked and taken aback when I saw this woman’s opinion pinned on her shirt. Santa Cruz is a notoriously liberal place, and this woman doesn’t seem at all out of place here. In fact, without revealing details about her because my intention isn’t to rail at her personally, one aspect of her personal biography is likely to make her more unwilling to take rights away from people who aren’t like the majority. Had she been born in a previous generation, she would have been victim to similar laws.
Seeing that button made me consider the reasons for my opposition to Prop 8. Obviously, it has a lot to do with my general political leanings and with the company I keep. From my earliest memories, I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I never had to consider whether I thought homosexuals “deserved” equal rights, because the idea fundamentally made no sense to me.
But that part of my reasoning wouldn’t be particularly persuasive to people who are members of churches that tell them weekly that homosexuality is evil, or who fear the “otherness” of the gay people they see in the news, getting “illegally” married in San Francisco or marching outlandishly dressed in gay pride parades.
The other half of my reasoning, which has nothing to do with feelings or morality, is that civil marriage, despite the fact that we connect it with religious marriage, is really unconnected. We have religious marriage for reasons that differ slightly depending on the religion that performs it. Some religions choose to “sanctify” any relationship, and thus choose to perform same sex marriages. Some religions only perform heterosexual marriage, and may even impose other restrictions. At least one religion practiced in this country sanctified marriages between one man and multiple wives.
This is the right of every religious group, to decide what sorts of relationships to accept amongst their followers.
This sort of preferential giving out of rights, however, is not something that our government is allowed to do. Our Constitution very clearly states that all citizens have the same rights. The interpretation of equal rights has changed as our society has changed — this is natural. But the basic fact that we all get the same rights has not changed.
A good example of how the interpretation of “equal rights” has changed with our society is in voting rights. When our country was first established, only land-owning men of European descent were allowed to vote. Slowly, as our society has changed, we have included more and more people as having that common right.
In the case of civil marriage, despite what churches were willing to sanctify throughout our history, our government has applied a consistent standard to who can marry: We have civil marriage solely for the purpose of setting up a legal relationship between two people who are not related, who want to become family members.
The purpose of civil marriage has never been to sanctify, or give approval, or assert any sort of morality. The state has an interest in having civil relations set up so that the process of dealing with family issues is easier. When parents are married, it’s clear who is responsible for the children after a divorce. When two adults are married and legal decisions need to be made for one of them, it is clear who gets to make those decisions.
Because same-sex relationships have gone from being hidden to being acknowledged in most places in our country, our law needs to follow suit. It’s got nothing to do with morality or choice. We have kids who need the law to offer them the same protection it offers the kids of heterosexual marriage. And a legal relationship between adults makes it clear who is legally allowed to make decisions in the case of death or sickness.
Our courts now recognize that a change in society has renewed the meaning of equal rights, once again, as it has been renewed over and over as our society has evolved. This attempt to roll back the inevitable is not only unfair and discriminatory; it’s just not good law.

Posted in Culture.

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