Thoughts on the Passage of California's Proposition 8       [November 9, 2008]

So, how does it feel to have Californians pass Proposition 8? It feels like I'm back in elementary school and the class bully has just snatched something out of my hands and screamed, "GIMME THAT! IT'S MINE! YOU CAN'T HAVE IT! I DON'T CARE WHAT THE TEACHER SAYS - IT'S MINE!" Then, after shoving me backward, the bully adds, "AND DON'T GO AROUND TELLING EVERYONE I'M MEAN OR I HATE YOU, BECAUSE IT'S NOT TRUE!"

Over the few days since the election I have felt depressed, angry, frustrated, bitter, and sad. Perhaps it was easier for people who are pessimists, who have no faith in their fellow human beings. They were expecting defeat and were not disappointed. I have always believed that, given the opportunity, people will do the right thing. So I was disappointed.

What did Proposition 8 actually say? For those never read the full text, it says: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." There is nothing in it about same-sex couples specifically, but the goal was always to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California. The supporters can smile and shout "Halleluyah" all they want about saving traditional marriage – the goal was always about excusing gay and lesbian citizens from the table. "Sorry, but you're not welcome here."

Did you see that word "citizens" in the last paragraph? It was deliberate. This proposition was about barring one specific group of law-abiding, taxpaying citizens from gaining access to a government-sponsored program.

Government-sponsored program? But what about religious marriage? What about all those churches and their religious freedom? This much should have been made much clearer from the start – marriage is a civil right.

The state issues licenses to marry and registers the marriages and grants benefits to those who are legally married. Churches don't grant anything - no rights, no benefits, no responsibilities. If you have your church perform a ceremony and neglect to obtain a marriage license and/or mail it to Sacramento, you're not legally married.

Churches can marry or deny marriage rites to anyone they like and bless whomever they feel is deserving. They can quote passages from the Bible to the people who come to their institutions. They get to dictate to the people who accept their religious beliefs – not the entire population. This is supposed to be a democracy, not a theocracy.

COMMENT FROM MY FRIEND DAVID: Actually – this is a democratically elected constitutional republic, and I am not splitting hairs.

A democratic constitutional republic ensures that all people are represented equally with inalienable rights, which allows for majority rule – with protection of minorities to ensure their rights. (or more specifically: [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_democracy])

It is particularly painful that Prop. 8 supporters lied and got away with it. "Churches could lose their tax-exempt status if they refused to marry a same-sex couple." Catholic churches are not losing their tax-exempt status now when they refuse to marry a Catholic to a non-Catholic. Ditto for Mormon churches. Churches don't have to marry anyone if they don't want to.

"Parents will not be able to prevent the schools from teaching their children about same-sex marriage." Parents have always had and will continue to have the right to opt their children out of certain controversial topics, such as HIV/AIDS education and sex education.

"Schools will be required to teach about same-sex marriage." The Education Code section that the Prop. 8 supporters loved to quote actually says schools shall teach about "Family health and child development, including the legal and financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood." See anything in there about same-sex couples? And what if it did? There are children in schools today who are being raised by same-sex couples – as well as adoptive parents, grandparents, guardians, foster homes, etc. "Family health" should be about honoring all families.

Let's not forget that children today don't live in a vacuum. If they watch television or go to the movies or read magazines or newspapers – they know there are same-sex couples. The concept of same-sex couples and same-sex marriage is not news to today's children.

But gays and lesbians get all the same rights and benefits and responsibilities with domestic partnerships! Sorry, but that's another lie. Being domestic partners does not grant (among other things) --

* the right to sponsor a partner for immigration purposes;
* the right to family-related Social Security benefits;
* the right to federal income and estate tax breaks; and
* the right to purchase continued health coverage for a partner after the loss of a job.

Right now, the federal government won't let any state extend federal benefits to same-sex couples, no matter what the relationship is called. Domestic partners cannot file joint state income taxes and state employees are not entitled to the same benefits under the states long-term care benefits package.

In addition, if you enter into a California domestic partnership, many of the protections will not exist outside California. For instance, if a member of a same-sex domestic partnership is injured in another state, the uninjured party could be barred from hospital visitation or the right to make emergency medical decisions on behalf of injured party.

The truth is that domestic partnerships do not grant all the same rights and responsibilities of marriage. And don't you think if domestic partnerships and marriages were equal in every way that lots of straight couples would be opting for them? Do you really wonder why they don't?

The bottom line: If all other factors are equal, and one group has the right to something and a second group does not because of a choice of mate, it's wrong. It's discrimination. If there isn't equal protection and equal access – it's discrimination.

Separate but equal – isn't. Imagine the following argument being used today. Blacks are not being discriminated against or harmed in any way just because they have to sit on the back of the bus! They are paying the same fare and they get to their destination the same as all the other passengers. Feeling discriminated against because of where you sit on the bus is – silly! And that water fountain that says "White Only"? You can get the same water out of your own water fountain. Feeling discriminated against because you can't drink out of this water fountain is – childish! And if you can't buy this house in this part of town, you can live in the same house in another neighborhood. Stop being petty and be glad you have enough money to have a house!

Do those arguments make you just a little squeamish? Hard to believe people in this country actually made statements like that? Denying same-sex couples access to the institution of marriage by saying that they should be content with domestic partnership is no different.

They say that people who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It appears this country learned nothing from the Jim Crow laws, and we are repeating the same mistake with another minority group.

Why was this put to a vote anyway? This vote feels like 4 wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner (to paraphrase Ben Franklin). Who said it was a good idea for the majority to vote on the rights of a minority?

Misc. arguments against same-sex marriage and thoughts

What about tradition? Don't traditions mean anything anymore? A hundred years ago, blacks and women could not vote. Wives and their children were the property of their husbands. Women were not allowed to wear trousers. Marriage was permitted only if both parties belonged to the same race. Shall we go back to those traditions too? Or just this particular one having to do with marriage?

But what about the dictionary definition of marriage? The dictionary is a compilation of definitions for words that exist. It reflects current conditions; it doesn't and cannot change current conditions. If we change the definition of a word in the dictionary, it doesn't change reality. If we change reality, the dictionary will change to reflect that change.

When the first dictionary was compiled there were no entries for automobile or computer or electricity or light bulb. There are words that were dropped from the dictionary because they are no longer in common usage. Definitions change over time. "Gay" does not mean what it meant in 1920. The word "server" only came to mean a location for data storage in a computer network in the past 15 years. When we change the definition of marriage, it will be reflected in the dictionary definition. Insisting that the dictionary definition is somehow sacrosanct and immutable will not change reality.

Some Prop. 8 supports say being homosexual is a choice, which justifies denying gays and lesbians benefits and rights because of that choice. I know most gays and lesbians will argue with that concept and I personally happen to be in the "born that way" camp but, for the sake of argument, why would choosing your sexuality be wrong?

This country has prided itself on its tradition of protecting individual freedom and choice. We are allowed, even encouraged, to make choices all the time, from what we wear and the color and style of our hair to the people we vote to represent us.

We choose where we live; we choose our jobs. We are even permitted to make foolish choices -- to live on flood plains and on earthquake faults, or to work in dangerous jobs and engage in dangerous hobbies. After reading reams of information from health professionals about fat, calories, cholesterol, alcohol and nicotine, we can still choose a lifestyle that includes daily cheeseburgers, gallons of malt whiskey, and cigarettes.

We have freedom of religion, and some folks make awful decisions in that regard. Remember the folks who joined what was loosely called a cult and ended up drinking cyanide-laced Koolaid in jungle in Guyana? Yet, while those followers of Jim Jones were still around, they had civil rights that could not be violated based on their religious beliefs and choices.

So what’s the big deal with sexuality? So what if someone makes what you consider to be a bad choice in that department? We can choose to get sloppy drunk in the privacy of our homes, but getting behind the wheel of a car and causing an accident is another thing entirely. By the same token, until someone is directly harmed by another person’s sexual choices, the government and society ought to keep their laws off.

You don’t have to like any of the choices I’ve made in my life; I don’t have to like your choices. However, the basic civil rights of one group should never be legislated away by a second group simply because the second group finds the first group’s “choice” objectionable.

What I have wanted to do.... Okay, I will confess I spent a few hours lying awake at night plotting some sort of revenge. I wanted to lash out, share my pain and grief and sense of loss. I wanted to teach "them" a lesson or two or three.

I wanted to start a campaign to have all the same-sex couples who got married over the past four and a half months collect their wedding rings and mail them in one big package to the "Yes on 8" folks with a "I guess we won't be needing these anymore...." note - with lots of cameras to record their reaction. (As if they would even care....)

And then I wanted to start a process whereby all the same-sex couples would be refunded the money they spent on those worthless marriage licenses.

I wanted to have a sweatshirt made with "SECOND CLASS CITIZEN" printed on the front and back and start wearing it regularly. Or maybe a big pink button to wear on my collar.

I wanted to stand outside a few churches, a la Fred Phelps, with a big sign reading "Jesus didn't say anything about homosexuality because he was GAY!"

I wanted to confront some of my friends who I suspected voted Yes, get them to confess that they voted Yes, and then tell them I never wanted to speak to them again.

I wanted to start a petition to qualify an initiative on the California ballot that would allow marriage only between a man and woman who belonged to the same religion. For the good of the children, of course. No sense in confusing them with conflicting religious beliefs. That would teach them! (And it would retroactively annul all the mixed-religion marriage done in the last 15 years – that hadn't already ended in divorce.)

And I wanted to start another petition that would outlaw divorce, on the grounds that this would strengthen marriage.

But I got past all that. I think.

Was there any good news? I suppose so, but it is hard to stay focused on it. In 2000, Prop. 22 (which was a change in statutory law barring same-sex couples from marriage, as opposed to a constitutional amendment like Prop. 8) passed by 22 percentage points. A mere 8 years later, the difference was only 5 percentage points. That's roughly two percentage points change per year. The tide is turning.

Young people voted against Proposition 8 and voters over 65 voted for it. To put it bluntly, as the more conservative voters who are uncomfortable with gays and gay rights die off, and young people who are comfortable with gays and gay rights grow up and become voters – well, the tide is turning. I try to keep my eye on the prize. It may have been cruelly snatched away this time around but someday, someday...

Last thoughts:

I am your sister and your brother.
I am your daughter and your son.
I am your neighbor and your friend.
I am your co-worker and your teammate.
I am your doctor and your nurse.
I am your dentist and your mechanic.
I clean your teeth and clean your house.
I fix your computer and cut your hair.
I deliver packages and flowers.
I volunteer at the food bank and homeless shelter.
I shelve books in the library and put out fires.
I stand it line with you at the grocery store and the bank.
I sit in traffic in the car in the next lane.
I sit at football games in front of you.
I eat in restaurants next to you.
I sit in church pews behind you.
And I'm gay.
Why is it the last line all that matters to so many people?