There is a controversial but important initiative on the ballot for California voters to consider tomorrow. It is called Proposition 8. Prop 8’s purpose is to overturn a recent California State Supreme Court decision that determined that gays and lesbians deserved equal protection and rights under the state constitution and that includes the right to avail them of state sanctioned marriage. Prop 8 would amend the state constitution and eliminate the right to marry for these citizens.
This is an extremely important issue and it has gotten a lot of attention in California. Almost anything that happens in California can be important given the fact that the state represents more than 10% of the US population, but important principles are also at stake for all Americans.
In my view, the most important reason to oppose this initiative is the concern about fairness. When voters are given the opportunity to take away another citizen’s constitutional rights, aren’t we all at risk? Why should the government be empowered to interfere in the privacy of someone’s relationship?
Let’s look at a few more of the arguments those urging support for Prop 8 are making.
1. “We must protect traditional marriage” – with all due respect, traditional marriage is in a lot more trouble than a few gays and lesbians getting married threatens. More than one in three heterosexual marriages in this country end in divorce. The leader of the Republican Party is on his second marriage – and we know about that messy divorce! So which traditional marriage needs protecting? Someone’s first? Their second? Their third? It makes no sense to conclude that same sex couple seeking the commitment that the institution of marriage offers, could possibly do any worse with it than heterosexuals have done.
2. “It’s against my religion to support same sex marriage” – Your church doesn’t have to perform any marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. The law allows all religions to continue to have their own rules. But legal marriage is not a religious marriage. It is essentially a license by the state that has nothing to do with religion. Same sex couples are happy to get married in the courthouse and not the church – though there are clearly some religious denominations that welcome the chance to celebrate such unions.
3. “I don’t want my kids to hear about same sex marriage schools” – Nothing in the Constitution provides for education in the schools about same sex couples. Local school boards would still make education curriculum decisions and schools would still be able to have any curriculum they choose. Even the fact that many children of gays and lesbian couples are already in school doesn’t change the need for much of the education about ALL relationships to remain the responsibility of parents.
4. “Why do you need the word Marriage?” – Unfortunately that is the word that defines in both state and federal law all of the benefits and legal responsibilities that a legal union require. “Separate but equal” is a failed concept of justice in this country. We tried it with race only to determine that integration served the nation’s goals much better. . It is impossible to confer access and equality with a new category of relationships. And based on constitutional reasoning, we shouldn’t have to try to change each and every separate law when the whole point of a constitution is to afford sweeping protection for all of its citizens under all laws.
It seems odd that this issue should even be on the ballot for a vote Tuesday. After all, how many of us would really want our relationships put up for a vote? It is hard enough to get the approval of your family and friends of the person you want to marry, imagine if you had to get the approval of 15 or so million voters in your state.
In the midst of this most important Presidential election, the nation will also be watching California Tuesday to see whether reason and compassion prevails and Proposition 8 is defeated.
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