Sixty years ago, California’s Supreme Court struck down the ban on interracial marriage because it deprived individuals of liberty and equal rights protected under the state constitution. This year, California’s Supreme Court decided the ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional for exactly the same reasons.
1. Civil rights: The high court, with its conservative majority, applied the most stringent legal standard to decide this case. “Strict scrutiny” of constitutional law, according to the opinion written by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, rejects tradition as a reason to exclude gays from “the most socially productive and individually fulfilling relationship that one can enjoy in the course of a lifetime.”
2. Tradition: Different traditions are important to different people. Equal rights are inherent, inalienable, and fundamental to citizens of a just society. Criminals lose the right to make personal decisions because their actions have infringed on others’ rights, but even prisoners can marry. Gays, however, were barred, no matter how much gay individuals contributed to society as business owners, employers, elected officials, teachers, firefighters, community volunteers, and loving parents.
3. Marriage, domestic partnership, and civil unions: Anti-gays warn that social and legal chaos will result if gays marry, not just in California or because marriage equality somehow threatens marriage. Fear is their weapon, but facts are their enemy.
Many legal differences exist between marriage and domestic partnership or civil unions. The federal government does not recognize a single right for gay couples, although more than a thousand benefits apply to other married couples. Whatever happens here next Tuesday, if I die the next day my spouse gets nothing from my Social Security benefits, though like most people I’ve paid into the fund my entire working life.
4. Business: More than $28 million from such groups as the Protect Marriage Arizona Coalition has been spent to put Proposition 8 on California’s ballot and persuade voters, through whatever means, that discriminating against gays is good. Another $32 million contributed to NO on 8 makes this fight the most expensive ballot initiative in history.
California’s wedding industry will earn $125 million each year from gay weddings, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA’s School of Law, which does not include related industries such as travel and tourism.
Next week the anti-gays behind Proposition 8 will pack up and leave, whether or not they succeed in preventing sustained income, tax revenues, and the thousands of jobs California residents will reap if gays retain the right to marry here.
5. Religion: The Utah-based Mormon Church generated almost half the money spent in California on Proposition 8. Mormons also largely funded Proposition 22, the ballot initiative supported by 61 percent of those who voted in March 2000, which injected the original ban into California’s Constitution.
The religious right wants everyone to believe the marriage ban was supported by “a majority of California citizens” and our Supreme Court is full of “activist judges.” The facts belie the hype. In 2000 California’s population was about 34 million, of which 4.6 million voted “yes” and 3 million voted “no” on changing the law so “Only marriage between a man and a woman will be valid or recognized in California.” That’s less than 14 percent of California citizens in 2000, and our population has grown by more than four million people in the past eight years.
The facts are that many gays are religious and many churches support the love, commitment, and marriage of gay couples.
6. Fear, loathing, lies: One of the nastiest lies promoted by anti-gays is that letting gay people marry equals letting people marry animals.
In 1975, the late Roswell Howard tried to marry his horse in Colorado. Boulder’s County Clerk, Clela Rorex, was the first public official in the country to issue a marriage license to two men. The Denver Westword reported the “notorious media hound” went to the courthouse with horse trailer and media in tow, asking the cameras, “If a boy can marry a boy why can’t this lonesome old cowboy get hitched to his favorite saddle mare?”
“He had it all staged,” Rorex told the paper. Speaking of animals, this is a red herring.
7. Biology and children: Gays have always been part of the human race, whether their particular culture celebrated or oppressed them. Many gay people have biological children and many non-gay people don’t. Some people would sentence gays to a prison of shame, fear, loneliness, and economic hardship. How does this help kids? And where did all the foster children come from?
8. Change: In 2000, only 40 percent of the population had access to the Internet. Today more than 80 percent are online, so the lonely gay in Bakersfield is no longer alone. And young voters, active in large numbers this election year, often have a more pragmatic view of marriage and equality than some of their elders.
Twice in the past three years, California’s Legislature has voted to strike down the ban. The governor vetoed both times because of Proposition 22, even while saying he does not support a ban on gay marriage.
Marriage is a fundamental legal right that must be applied equally under the law. Spiritual and cultural marriage rites remain the province of personal preference. As it should be.
San Luis Obispo businesswoman Terre Dunivant and her partner were among more than 4,000 couples who married in San Francisco in 2004 during the three weeks the option was available. Five months later those marriages were annulled when anti-gays filed a lawsuit challenging them under Proposition 22. On appeal, California’s Supreme Court decided this year that denying gay people the right to marry is unconstitutional. They married again in August and hope people vote no on 8 so they can get on with the rest of their lives.