Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Tolusa Press, SLO, CA for Nov 21, 08
I Do! I Do! Not You! Part 8
On November 4th, California voters helped put a black man into the White House then voted to remove equal civil rights from gay citizens, thereby returning them to a second class closet.
The State Supreme Court had previously ruled that to deny gay citizens the fundamental right to marry, just like their straight fellow citizens, was unconstitutional. After the ruling, thousands of gay people happily got married.
Apparently those weddings so threatened the republic that several religious groups funded a huge war chest and ran a constitutional amendment campaign full of the usual “Save the Children” fear and smear tactics, always a sure sign that everyone had better hide the silverware. It didn’t matter that the media debunked these lies. Such fear-based campaigns appeal to already existing prejudices and cannot be countered by mere facts.
While California took a step backward in this country’s difficult struggle to live up to its stated ideals, this campaign was not without some astonishing ironies and a touch of absurdity.
First, the absurdity. Many supporters of Yes on 8 claimed that if this initiative failed, they’d start teaching gay marriage in school. How to you “teach gay marriage?” Marriage is marriage, unless you plan to set up lessons in Stereotype 101. “Now class, ‘Gay Marriage’ is when gay people get married they register at Macys and ask for Broadway Show Tune CDs.” Oh, pluueeeze.
And then there were the ironies. The media reported that “Blacks strongly voted for the ban while whites leaned slightly toward opposing it. Latinos and Asians were split.” My guess is that bias was based on the traditional Christian church teachings in the black community, but how ironic that the one people who know first hand the worst ugliness of being denied full civil rights would vote to impose the same fate on a group of their fellow citizens. And irony of ironies: Traditional Christian church scripture had once been used to justify slavery and uphold anti-miscegenation laws, among other past atrocities.
As for pots and kettles, the campaign was heavily funded by the Mormon Church. Mormons are another minority who have felt the lethal consequences of being denied their civil rights. They were driven out of their homes by howling, bigoted mobs. If ever there were a minority who understood what being denied full civil rights meant, and how fearsome bigotry can be, it should have been them. Not to mention that, given their own historical “peculiar” marriage traditions, they above all others should have been the last people on earth who would lead the charge to define “marriage” for others.
It’s not known just where this will go at this point. Lawyers have been called. At issue, however, is a critical overriding principle: Can a majority of the electorate vote to remove or deny equal civil rights and protections for any disfavored minority du jour?
Frankly, I think the state should simply put an end to this attempt to impose certain religious beliefs on secular/civil issues and short circuit the latest run-of-the-mill, anti-gay bigotry by getting out of the “holy matrimony” business altogether. Instead of issuing “Marriage Licenses,” the state should rename them, “Civil Domestic Partnership Licenses,” and issue them to all people who qualify. The CDPL’s could be signed and the deal sealed at the (civil) County Clerk’s office, just like many “marriages” are today. Or couples taking out CDPL’s could take them to a church or synagogue of their choice and engage in whatever religious ceremony is offered or wanted, after which they would have the documents witnessed and signed, just like they now do with their civil “marriage licenses.”
Then they can call themselves anything they want. It will make no difference. But what will make a huge difference is that all citizens will be treated equally, under civil law. In a secular, multi-cultural, multi-religious civil society, removing rights from citizens based on the beliefs of certain religious groups is never a sound policy. The founders of this country understood that far better than the voters do today. They knew first hand how critical it is to keep the line that separates church and state bright and shining. That line protects each from each, and ultimately protects the citizens from the excesses of both. It’s a civics lesson we forget at our own peril.