Prop 8 now constitutional, but still morally wrong
Last night I had a dream in which, against all expectations, the California Supreme Court struck down Prop 8, recognizing the legitimacy of marriage equality and saying a referendum cannot be used to remove a minority’s civil rights. It ended with the unpleasant realization that my alarm clock hadn’t yet gone off, so they couldn’t have ruled, meaning none of what I had seen was real. I’m not one to claim my dreams are prophetic, and I awoke dreading another blow to the gay rights movement.
Today, the state Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, which denies same-sex couples the right to marry, as constitutional, but said the state must recognize the approximately 18,000 marriages performed before the referendum passed 52%-48% last November. You can read the entire (extremely lengthy) decision here. The easier-to-digest New York Times story on the ruling can be found here, and explains:
The court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George for a 6-to-1 majority, noted that same-sex couples still had a right to civil unions. Such unions, the opinion said, gives those couples the ability to “choose one’s life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.”
I’ll admit that it certainly represents progress from a decade ago, or even a few years back, but for those of us (like New Jerseyans) who’ve already seen that “civil unions” don’t work, it’s cold comfort and another reminder of our second-class citizenship. One of the anti-Prop 8 attorneys the Times spoke with summed up my opinion pretty well:
Karl M. Manheim, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles who had filed a brief with the court opposing Proposition 8, called the decision a “safe” one from justices who can be recalled by voters. The change wrought by Proposition 8 was anything but narrow, Professor Manheim said, and claiming that the word “marriage” is essentially symbolic is like telling black people that sitting in the back of the bus is not important as long as the front and the back of the bus arrive at the same time.
While the particular matter at hand is LGBT rights, the issue goes far beyond that, since this makes it much easier to legally discriminate against the disliked minority du jour. (The California court’s opinions have power beyond the state line—their earlier ruling, before Prop 8, that gays and lesbians had the right to marry was cited in the Iowa Supreme Court’s similar decision last month.) As the sole dissenting justice put it:
Justice (Carlos R.) Moreno wrote that Proposition 8 means “requiring discrimination,” which he said “strikes at the core of the promise of equality that underlies our California Constitution” and, he added, “places at risk the state constitutional rights of all disfavored minorities.”
I acknowledge that the court’s task was not to judge whether the law was right or wrong, just if it was within the scope of the state constitution. But my heart breaks for the couples who hadn’t yet arrived at the point where they were ready to wed, who will now be plagued by guilt along with the pain of knowing they can’t marry the one they love. I’m equally sad for those who aren’t in a relationship, and now have the path to marriage cut off. Lesbian and gay children will face yet another obstacle in growing up to accept themselves. And even those couples who got married in time for it to be recognized will still face endless questioning and doubt about the legality of their relationships, and will no doubt have to carry around copies of their marriage certificates to prove the state recognizes them as a pair, something that would never be asked of a heterosexual couple.
While it was an extremely disappointing day for those of us who believe same-sex couples have the right to live as full citizens, it’s certainly not the end of the story. Groups like the ACLU and the Human Rights Campaign have pledged to keep fighting. In fact, the San Francisco Chronicle already has an article on the push to put an pro-marriage referendum on the ballot next year. And The Courage Campaign plans to run a heartbreaking ad on television in California, a shorter version of their popular YouTube video. Watch it and see if you don’t think it’s worth a few dollars to help put and keep it on the airwaves: