Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A: Lipstick! Get it?

I suppose after having spent so much time and energy expounding on the state of legalization of same-sex marriage in Colorado, I ought to at least take a moment out of my busy schedule of doing nothing of value to give my thoughts on the state of the legality of same-sex marriage here in my own state of California. I was actually thinking I'd put in a longer rant covering all of the full dozen initiatives set to appear on our ballot come November, and maybe I still will, but experience has taught me that it doesn't matter much what I write, nobody seems to be reading.

Speaking of nobody reading, every time I receive my official Voter Information Guide, I take some time to sit down and read through the thing, wondering as I do what segment of the population I fit into by doing so. I find it hard to believe that many people actually do take the time to read the thing, partially because nobody I've ever asked about it has said to me, "Oh yeah, I totally read that thing, too." Of course, maybe it's not apathy; it could be a form of mental self-defense. The guide is confusing and often self-contradictory because there is no requirement that the pro and con statements contained within it be checked for accuracy. Also, there's the annoying fact that since the arguments for and against the propositions are not given the option of using boldface type, virtually every argument writer opts for the (annoying long before the advent of the WWW) use of ALL-CAPITALS STATEMENTS so that they can scream from the page about how much this proposition will COST TAXPAYERS, and how they URGE YOU TO JOIN US IN OPPOSING THIS FLAWED PIECE OF LEGISLATION. But that's a more generalized rant, and I was intending to focus on the single issue of Proposition 8, the "California Marriage Protection Act". (Although the issue of SHOUTING TEXT will come up.)

It's funny, because for myself, as well as a number of other Californians, this proposition comes with a sense of déjà vu. As is said repeatedly in the guide, this is essentially the exact same law that was passed by California voters in March of 2000 (then Proposition 22). As the supporters of the law love to point out, it's just 14 words, which allows me the easy luxury of giving the whole text right here: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Before I try to dissect that in any way, let me give the history supplied in the guide just in case you're not familiar. This law, having passed in March 2000, stayed on the books for about eight years until the California Supreme Court said in May of this year that the law violated the equal protection clause of the state constitution.

Law is a fascinating thing to me for various reasons, one of which is the fact that it has the tendency as it grows to become self-contradictory. We try to build systems that deal with such problems, one such system being the various courts of the land, which--despite the way it makes some feel--are in many ways the final authority on all things legal. When the courts make a controversial ruling like overturning Proposition 22, they're either "activist judges" or "doing their job", depending on how you feel about it. Yes, how dare the California Supreme Court interpret law? Who do they think they are? It's all part of that "checks and balances" thing we hear about now and again, but it works both ways: the Supreme Court can overturn laws, but since they answer to the Constitution, it's possible to go over their heads, which is why Proposition 8 is a Constitutional Amendment. (As far as I can tell, the difference between an "initiative statute" and an "initiative constitutional amendment" is the number of signatures needed on your petition.) If this passes, the Court pretty much just has to accept it.

I find it interesting that we're going this route for various reasons. I mean, on some level it's certainly no surprise that people who feel very strongly about those 14 words are miffed that they got shot down, and so are trying to push them just a little bit harder. I'm sure more than a few people are of the feeling that it's a little unfair that when we pass a law it doesn't just stay passed, but hey, when we vote in a Governor, he doesn't just stay Governor (even if the debate over this amendment trots out the gay penguins, I seriously doubt it will halfway meet the level of bizarre that the 2003 recall election gave us), so it shouldn't really be a surprise. The thing that's so odd about this path is that while I suspect it has a lot to do with indignation and moral outrage that surely Proposition 22 was right and the will of the people, the supporters of Proposition 8 seem to be giving a pretty soft sell for this one. The argument for it seems to be taking the confusing position that Proposition 8 will essentially change nothing, and yet in changing nothing, it is still of supreme importance. I quote:

"Proposition 8 is about preserving marriage; it's not an attack on the gay lifestyle. Proposition 8 doesn't take away any rights or benefits of gay or lesbian domestic partnerships."
So essentially, same-sex couples get everything except the word "marriage", and that's of supreme importance as it somehow "protects our children". Maybe more on that later if I can make any sense of it.

Now the thing I find interesting in particular about those who stand against Proposition 8 is a single statement in their rebuttal to the argument for the proposition--a statement that stands in direct opposition to the point above--that was apparently worth putting into caps:
Wow. I mean, that's significant, isn't it? You might wonder what these nine differences are. I know I do, because nowhere in their rebuttal do they list a single one. Really, I was curious enough to visit, feeling surely such a list would be posted there prominently. If it's there, I can't find it, nor did any Google search terms I could think of turn up such a list. (Maybe if there is someone who actually reads this who knows something I don't about these "NINE REAL DIFFERENCES", they could give me a heads-up. [EDIT: Found them!]) Really, if such a list exists, I think it would be excellent ammunition in this debate, so why hold it back? Even Republicans can list at least one real difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull, and I wasn't aware that anyone was even asking.

What are we asking? We're asking for the law to protect us, aren't we? But from what? Those in favor claim that if Proposition 8 fails to pass, the public school system will start "to teach young children that there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage." The detractors deny this, but neither side says why this is significant. Maybe to you, my theoretical reader, the answer is obvious, but I suspect that if you're a person who finds the answer obvious, you're not a person who needs to be convinced that same-sex marriage should be disallowed. Aren't both arguments here really "preaching to the choir"? It's weird, because while I do feel it's the case, at the same time I wonder why if it's so, it's done so subtly.

Contrary to popular opinion concerning the fervently rabid homophobia that runs through evangelical churches, homosexuality is not a topic that's talked about much in church as far as I've experienced. I've been a Christian for over 13 years, and in all that time, I think I've experienced less than five sermons on the specific topic of homosexuality, and the topic has come up tangentially at most maybe a dozen times, but I doubt it's even that much. That being said, within the confines of the church walls, you won't find pastors pulling punches on the subject when it does come up. Sure, all sermons are (rightly) tempered with the admonition to remember that God loves everyone, regardless of sexual preference or any other characteristic, but most pastors will come right out and say that same-gender sexual relations are sinful, period. Meeting up with the average congregant on the street, ask their view on the matter and they will probably say likewise without reservation. Does anyone really believe that Proposition 8 is about anything else but moral indignation? Aren't there really only two types of people who oppose same-sex marriage? There are people who feel that God has said "no" to it, and people who just personally think it's gross, I guess. (Yes, there's overlap between the two groups, but in my opinion, it's a long way from total.) Yet nowhere in the arguments (for or against) will you find the words "morality" or "sin".

Do the supporters think that if they don't put the thought into words, that people won't know it's there? On the other hand, if it's not there, then what's the point of the argument at all? Aren't we left with the nonsensical line of "reasoning" that since things have never been the way they've been since the Supreme Court ruling in May, then they should continue not being that way? The "for" argument mostly stays away from using all caps, but does have one sentence, "CALIFORNIANS HAVE NEVER VOTED FOR SAME-SEX MARRIAGE." See, it's not about morality, it's about how since we never voted FOR same-sex marriage, we therefore obviously ought to vote AGAINST it.

It was very entertaining for me to try and put myself in the fantasy neutral mindset of someone who's been living in a cave* and has no opinion whatsoever on gay marriage, but now finds himself beset with the task of sorting out how to vote on this proposition. (After all, I can't imagine who else is supposed to be swayed by these arguments.) PRO: Apparently, this law was considered to be a good idea by most people, but the courts said that it wasn't, so we have to make it a good idea, or else our children will suffer the consequences: being taught that same-sex relationships are okay, not that we're saying that they aren't okay. Basically, gays don't have the right to redefine marriage, so we're going to instead, and if they wanted that right, they should have excercised it. CON: Everyone should be treated the same, but if this passes, everyone won't be treated the same, because this treats people differently, in different ways. Domestic partnerships are different in many ways; many, many ways indeed. Different people are different, but that doesn't mean they're different and should be treated like they're different, which this law does, and that's not what we need.

Who knew 14 words could say so much and yet say nothing of substance whatsoever? You'd think the California Constitution was written by bloggers.

(*Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart said, "For anybody who has been living in a cave, let me just say this: congratulations! You've apparently made the soundest real estate investment possible. Once again, bin Laden wins.")

1 comment: said...

I read the Voter Guide cover to cover, and then I seek out additional information. People have died for the right to vote and I take the responsibility seriously.

If we do not vote with careful consideration, the government would be run by crazy, crazy people, who implement horrible laws. We make our country and our city what it is.