California Proposition 8
Let's get right down to business here. I want to know why Californian voters are willing to use constitutional amendments to eliminate protection for what I think is one of the most important values the California Constitution has to offer, equal liberty and justice, for the sake of legislating a religious definition of marriage.
I understand that marriage is one of the most important aspects of social life and I respect the views that people have regarding this very special union between a man and a woman that serves as a solid foundation for building a family. I understand this through first hand experience as a man who chose this path by marrying a woman and building a family with her. I also understand out of experience that religion can be harsh about who can and who can't marry because the woman I chose to marry is Roman Catholic and her church refused to marry us because I am Protestant.
When we decided to get married by a Protestant priest, who provided a non-denominational ceremony, the Roman Catholic church told us that they would not recognize our marriage, but fortunately for us, the state of California didn't get involved in religious discrimination and granted us legal recognition and we went on our way to raising a perfectly normal family together.
I think this is one of the great arguments for separation of church and state. Obviously religions have their disagreements and a secular state simply stays out of the argument; it's the only way to avoid one religion using the state to overrule all the other religions and personal paths, which was precisely the reason why the forefathers of our nation came to the New World; to escape religious persecution by the state, to live in a world where people have the freedom to make personal choices about their spiritual path, where the state doesn't stand in the way of anyone following the guidelines of their chosen path but doesn't allow such guidelines to be forced on others who choose something different.
Battle for the Constitution: Equality vs Discrimination
In 18th century Europe, religion dominated the state to a large extent on the ideas put forth by the "Divine Right of Kings" to which Thomas Jefferson responded with the phrase "All men are created equal". It's on this pillar of American principle that the California Constitution has NEVER before drawn a line between people based on religious ideas but Proposition 8, if allowed to pass, will change that for the first time ever. This isn't about whether gays are loosing their rights, this is about introducing legal discrimination. Discrimination IS a black and white issue. Either we believe that all men are created equal or we don't. Is it so important that the state endorse a religious definition of marriage that we should turn our backs on what America stands for?
In this article I try to find an answer to that very question.
In 2000 over 61% of those Californians who voted pushed Proposition 22 into California Code, making same-sex marriage unrecognized, but California is a constitutional democracy where it takes more than a mob of prejudiced voters slapping laws on the books to violate the moral values that a constitution is established to protect and in May of 2008 the Supreme Court in Sacramento did their job and overruled Proposition 22 because it violated the equal protection clause in the California Constitution. So at this point, if people are still hell-bent on introducing discrimination into law they need to seek an amendment to the Constitution in order to disable that protection and this is precisely what Proposition 8 aims to do.
The argument in favor of proposition 8 opens with this passage...
Proposition 8 is simple and straightforward. It contains the same 14 words that were previously approved in 2000 by over 61% of California voters “Only a marriage between and man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
California voters should be aware that despite the simplicity of these 14 words, Proposition 8 is NOT the same thing as Proposition 22.
Proposition 22 was only concerned with a legal definition of marriage which may explain why it got a 61% vote. Proposition 8 however is very different in that it seeks to change the Constitution, the very guardian of equality, justice and liberty. Same definition of marriage yes, but escalated to the constitutional level in direct conflict with the equality clause. This IS discrimination and once ratified, Prop 8 will compromise the integrity of our constitution in defending the principles of equality described in the constitution as inalienable rights. So let's look at what reasons could possibly validate this aggressive move.
What Could Possibly Make it Worth It?
Let's look at the reasons provided ballot. (I’m providing direct quotes from the Argument in Favor in the interest of integrity but I am also paraphrasing so that I can cut through the crap and say it straight).
#1: “It restores the definition of marriage to what the vast majority of of California voters already approved and human history has understood marriage to be.”
#1: It amends the California Constitution by adding its first definition of marriage. This definition has been approved for state code by a 61% majority in 2000 and is similar to many other understandings of marriage throughout history.
#2: It overturns the outrageous decision of four activist Supreme Court judges who ignored the the will of the people.
#2: It eliminates the constitutional basis for the Supreme Court decision to overrule Proposition 22.
#3: It protects our children from being taught in public schools that same-sex marriage is the same as traditional marriage.
#3: (No paraphrases required)
The first and second reasons amount to the same thing, a reinforcement of Proposition 22. But that doesn’t really answer my question… a law is just a law. What is the reason for this law? Why is it so important discriminate against a certain class of people that it’s worth changing the constitution itself to allow for it?
The third point seems to at least make an effort to justify this insanity, but it seems to lack the slightest bit of substance. Both my kids went to public school in California and neither of them can remember ever being taught anything about marriage.
I also went to public school in California and I don’t remember any such instruction either, nor does my wife or anyone else that I know who went to public schools in California so what are they talking about? Here’s what the ballots pro-argument says…
“State law may require teachers to instruct children as young as kindergartners about marriage.”
At this point, the argument references (Family Code 51890)
which is actually the section of California Education Code that defines the “comprehensive health education programs” as all educational programs offered in kindergarten and grades 1 to 12, designed to ensure a list of things including instruction for aiding them in making decisions in matter of personal, family and community health including…
(D) Family health and child development, including the legal and
financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood.
I somehow doubt that teachers are going to teach 5 year old children about the financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood, this is clearly an item on the list intended for older students. But go ahead and read it code, it's not hard, then ask yourself how in the very next sentence the Argument In Favor comes up with....
“If the gay marriage ruling is not overturned, TEACHERS COULD BE REQUIRED to teach young children there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage.”
Like That'll Ever Happen...
be... So, this isn’t about something that is actually happening because there is NOTHING in the code that "requires teachers to teach young children there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage." This is clearly about what people imagine COULD happen. OK, so there's a risk that after 150+ years of California history a new rule COULD be added that requires teachers to teach young children there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage and I understand, this is what constitutional law is about, protecting people from what COULD happen, but there's a lot of stuff that COULD happen... what makes this particular issue worth a constitutional amendment? Is the threat THAT dangerous?
First of all, is it even that likely? It's never happened before and it would be a PTA disaster if they tried. Schools already know about the dangers of approaching certain subject areas with children and gay marriage is one of them. I think it would take a very determined school district to overrule parent objections just to tell children that there is no difference between a gay marriage and a "traditional" marriage. Their dogged persistence would then have to battle state hearings that would result from overruled parents appealing to the state. Is it really worth compromising our equality clause for such an unlikely event?
So What if it Does Happen? Can't Parents Handle It?
Well, as unlikely as it is, something like that COULD happen, maybe some virus from outer space will make teachers crazy, who knows... Well, the next thing to consider then is... so what if it does happen? What harm would result from a young children being taught in school that gay marriage and "traditional" marriage are no different? (As if they don't already know that...)The Argument In Favor states that this issue is... “for parents to discuss with their children according to their own values and beliefs. It shouldn’t be forced on us against our will.
Well, I read the referenced code and ironically, the only definition being forced by law is the definition that Proposition 22 established and Proposition 8 is taking to the constitution.
But let's talk about that... Supporters say that this issue is for parents to discuss with their children according to their own values and beliefs. So what's stopping them? What does it matter what the teachers at school say? When my son was in 3rd grade he brought a book home from school that said people who smoke cigarettes are bad. My father-in-law used to smoke cigarettes then. I felt the message he was getting from the school book was misleading and so I sat down with him and explained that grandpa isn't bad, he just has a bad habit. He also learned that teachers aren't always right and I believe that he eventually learned to find truth beyond the lesson. Easy. Simple. So why isn't that sufficient? Do supporters lack so much confidence in their parenting skills that they feel they need to gag alternate views with laws? That's pathetic.
Don't Use My Constitution to Teach Your Kids Intolerance
So, what this amounts to is the subtraction of a fundamental tenet of American values, equality, from the constitution to enforce a popular but specific definition of marriage in the the state code so that teachers can't tell children that there is no difference between gay marriage and "traditional" marriage and I guess this is important because alternate views are dangerous? I dunno, I loose it about there. I just think Prop 8 supporters need to stop trippin' on gay people for a moment and consider the bigger picture here.