Researched and Written by David Watters (Jan 2009)
COPYRIGHT NOTICE © TEXT & IMAGES
“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.” Harvey Milk
THE PROP 8 DEBATE: BACKGROUND
All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.
CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION ARTICLE 1, DECLARATION OF RIGHTS SECTION 1.
The recent amendment to the State Constitution of California, Proposition 8, and a similar amendment in Florida, Proposition 2, are seen by LGBT civil rights activists and straight allies as a denial of the American promise of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness. There are others, including Malcolm Lazin (Executive Director, Equality Forum), who see this as merely a temporary setback.
Many have claimed that the public were misled and that a large proportion of voters believed that a “YES” vote was a pro-gay vote. It is also well known that the Catholic Church of California asked the Mormon Church of Salt Lake to support their campaign and that millions of dollars were spent by these religious groups to orchestrate a national media campaign.
In May 2008, the Californian Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 22 (March 2000), which specified that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in California, violated the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. As a result of this ruling, marriage between individuals of the same gender became recognized and valid in the state.
In 2006, President George W. Bush, criticized the judges who had overturned this state law in a speech where he stated that, “Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization, and it should not be redefined by activist judges.” In the same speech Bush made further comment on the threat to traditional marriage, “Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them. And changing the definition of marriage would undermine the family structure.” Bush urged that the issue of same-sex marriage should be put “back where it belongs: in the hands of the American people.”
And so it was that this initiative measure, Proposition 8, or the “California Marriage Protection Act”, was submitted, in accordance with the provisions of Article II, Section 8, of the California Constitution, to the electorate.
THE LAST FRONTIER OF FREEDOM
In a 1973 speech, during his first unsuccessful run for supervisor, Harvey Milk said, “It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.”
Stuart Milk says of his uncle, “My uncle was not the first openly LGBT person elected to public office in the US but he was the first to a substantial office and the first to actively proclaim his sexuality and not back up from it. I am very proud of my Uncle both as a dear Uncle whom I lost as a teenager and as a worldwide civil rights visionary!”
I think our equality as Americans has come a long way with race, gender, and religious beliefs; however, I believe sexual orientation is the last frontier of freedom for ALL Americans. Gay American couples are not treated with equality or respect in most states to date. Dr. John R. Shafer, Indianapolis, IN
ARGUMENT AGAINST PROPOSITION 8
A democracy is measured by how it protects minority religious, political, racial and other individual differences. Malcolm Lazin, Equality Forum
Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director of Equality Forum, former Assistant US Attorney, Chair of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission and Prime Mover of the Hunt Alternatives Fund wrote in his article Majority Tyranny v. Minority Rights (http://equalityforum.com/news_item.cfm?id=1) that, “same-sex ballot initiatives exemplify the danger posed to all citizens by stripping away of fundamental rights from marginalized citizens and the importance of the judiciary in protecting civil liberties.”
Popular democracy sorely tests the bond of trust. Therefore, we have certain bodies, such as courts and the Senate, where the tide of popular sentiment can be checked. In California, the system of ballot initiatives for changing the state constitution is pure democracy at work, without restraint of any kind. If half the citizenry favour a change, their whims override all checks and balances. Prop 8 is the latest in a long line of disturbing, misguided initiatives that amount to a roll of the dice. Deepak Chopra
Those who opposed Proposition 8, and who are now part of the campaign to fight its passing, are united in the view that the California Constitution should guarantee equality of freedom and rights to ALL citizens and that no single group should be discriminated against or treated differently, that the foundation of American society is based upon equal protection under the law and that, without marriage equality, committed Lesbian and Gay couples are denied both the dignity and respect conveyed through the institution of marriage.
If, as most reasonable people agree, equality under the law is a fundamental constitutional guarantee then, arguably, it can be said that Proposition 8 excludes one group from enjoying the same rights as another. Therefore, this indicates unfair treatment for Gay and Lesbian couples who want to embrace the commitment and responsibilities that come with marriage.
ARGUMENT FOR PROPOSITION 8
Supporters of Proposition 8, including the California Family Council, the American Family Association and ProtectMarriage, presented their viewpoint as “simple and straightforward”, as being about “the preservation of marriage and in no sense an attack on the gay lifestyle”. Their mission was to restore the definition of marriage to being only between one man and one woman.
Such groups have claimed that Proposition 8 would not take away any rights or benefits of gay or lesbian domestic partnerships and that under California law, “domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits” as married spouses.
Their concerns were in 3 main areas which gave such thinkers justification in stating that to vote YES on Proposition 8 would:
- Restore the definition of marriage to what the vast majority of California voters already approved and human history has understood marriage to be.
- Overturn the outrageous decision of four activist Supreme Court judges who ignored the will of the people.
- Protect our children from being taught in public schools that “same-sex marriage” is the same as traditional marriage.
Ultimately, it was argued that, “whilst death, divorce, or other circumstances may prevent the ideal, the best situation for a child is to be raised by a married mother and father” and that “Proposition 8 protects marriage as an essential institution of society.”
In response to this line of thinking, opponents of Proposition 8, Ellyne Bell (School Board Member, Sacramento City Schools), Rachael Salcido (Associate Professor of Law, McGeorge School of Law) and Delaine Eastin (Former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction) urged voters not to be tricked by scare tactics since, in their words, “PROP. 8 DOESN’T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH SCHOOLS. There’s NOT ONE WORD IN 8 ABOUT EDUCATION. They also claim that the view of Domestic Partnerships and Marriages being the same and that “domestic partners have the same rights, protections, and benefits” is a smokescreen since “California Statutes clearly identify nine real differences between marriages and domestic partnerships.”
CIVIL UNION versus MARRIAGE
Many states have introduced Civil Unions for Gay and Lesbian couples but these do not carry the same legal weight as marriage. Not only that but should the Lesbian and Gay community accept such a semantic compromise?
Malcolm Lazin, Equality Forum, made this point clear in a recent interview. He explained that, “ There is no more fundamental right than the right of an individual to pick the life-partner of their choice. I think that’s supported by the very concept of the founding of this country, which is life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And, therefore, same-sex couples should enjoy exactly the same rights. I mean, according to what the adversaries of this are saying is that we should not be able to be married, therefore we should not be able to get Social Security benefits both for our partner and the children of our marriage. They’re saying we should be denied immigration rights, inheritance rights, hospital visitation rights… These are all the things that are part of what a marriage is about. The Federal Government, for example, provides 1138 Federal Marital Protections. Most states provide over 1000 Marital Protections and so, consequently, Gays and Lesbians are being denied those rights.”
Daniel Leary of The Committed to Equality Initiative is in agreement with Lazin and in a recent email told me that, “There are two fundamental differences between marriage and civil unions. The first is a legal difference. Marriage is federally recognized, whereas the definitions for civil unions can vary from state to state. If you are in a civil union, you might have a difficult time sharing custody of a child, or using hospital visitation rights, but more importantly, your relationship might be completely disregarded outside of your state. Marriage carries universal recognition. But aside from legal rights, there is a very important difference between civil unions and gay marriage; they are different. Full stop. Even if they carried total equality under the law, civil unions will never be equal to marriage simply by the fact that they have a different name. Separate water fountains for blacks and whites provided the same water. It was the fact of their separation that dictated the injustice.”
RELIGION AND STATE
Whilst most thinkers would argue that religion has its place, today there are many who believe that this place is not in politics and that any religion which advocates discrimination does not belong in America.
Society has grown increasingly diverse and to a greater extent secular. With religion removed from public schools and other common areas, the most important issue for many is the debate regarding the separation of church and state.
When religious beliefs are at odds with a law which governs the state, many religious leaders find this to be just cause in changing that law. This is exactly the situation with Proposition 8.
Joseph L Conn, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, tells of the collaboration between those Conservative religious forces who “wanted to write their theological viewpoint about marriage into civil law, and they didn’t mind trampling on the rights of same-sex couples in the process”. He talks of how “well-funded sectarian allies manipulate the democratic process to take away the civil rights of a small minority of Americans” and in doing so, “fundamental constitutional safeguards are gravely jeopardized”.
A perfect illustration of this point is the recruitment of the Mormon Church by Archbishop George H. Niederauer in the battle over Proposition 8. Writing in Catholic San Francisco, Archbishop George H. Niederauer, tells of how “Last May, the staff of the (state Catholic) Conference office informed me that leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) had given their support to the campaign for Proposition 22 in the year 2000, and were already considering an involvement in connection with Proposition 8. Accordingly, I was asked to contact leaders of the LDS Church whom I had come to know during my eleven years as Bishop of Salt Lake City, to ask them to cooperate again, in this election cycle. I did write to them and they urged the members of their Church, especially those in California, to become involved.”
According to the LDS Newsroom, August 2008, “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chose to become involved in defending the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman because it is a compelling moral issue of profound importance to our religion and to the future of our society.”
Christian Post Reporter, Lawrence Jones, wrote that, “While the debate over Proposition 8 has included a variety of topics – from youth education to civil rights – many conservative Christian pastors around California have made it loud and clear that marriage is above all else a moral issue.”
“For 5,000 years, every culture and every religion – not just Christianity – has defined marriage as a contract between men and women,” wrote influential pastor Rick Warren in his News & Views e-mail last October. “There is no reason to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2% of our population.”
In an interview for Belief.net Rick Warren, who leads the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, compared the “redefinition of marriage” to include gay marriage to legitimizing incest, child abuse, and polygamy..
While I believe in freedom of speech, I was disappointed President Obama asked Rick Warren to participate in our inauguration. It may be a “moral ” issue for Mr. Warren, but it is a whole life issue including political, moral, social, financial, emotional, and sexual issue for those of us who live our lives as gay Americans. My God speaks to me a language of LOVE and acceptance, not one of HATE and discrimination. Dr.John R. Shafer, Indianapolis, IN
Rick Warren is certainly not alone in his desire to uncompromisingly preach the biblical definition marriage. Notably he is supported by the Rev. Jim Garlow, whose Skyline Church in San Diego County hosted a rally in support of Proposition 8, which was broadcast to more than 170 churches across California.
During this event, Garlow urged that, “We must fear God more than man – whatever it costs us,” and asked that Christians fast and pray for the measure to succeed.
Unable to speak directly with Rev. Garlow, I was however grateful to hear from his colleague Pastor Chris Clark of the East Clairemont Baptist Church in San Diego who worked closely alongside Garlow in getting Proposition 8 onto the California ballot.
Do you believe that American citizens are offered full equality regardless of race, gender, religious belief or sexuality?
Pastor Chris Clark: The United States Declaration of Independence declares in its preamble the principle that all men are created equal. While it is true that we in America have struggled in insuring those equal rights to all Americans throughout our history—witness the issues of slavery and civil rights, to name just two—I would maintain that all Americans are afforded equal rights under our laws.
What, in your opinion, is the threat to the institution of marriage through the introduction of marriage equality for same sex partners?
Pastor Chris Clark: Proposition 8 does NOT deny anyone the right to marry. As it has been throughout the 160-year history of California —and the 232-year history of the United States —any adult is free to marry. What NO ONE is free to do is to redefine marriage for all of society in order to satisfy their own personal preferences. Marriage has always been defined the union of one man and one woman. Therefore, every Californian is free to marry—every man is free to marry one woman, and every woman is free to marry one man.. There is no inequality in that; in fact, marriage equality does in fact exist in California.
VALUES NOT GENDER
Despite what many may believe, not all Christian pastors are supporters of Proposition 8 and there are those who hold much more liberal views regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. The Rev. Rick Mixon, for example, is of the opinion that marriage is an issue of civil rights and that churches should not impose their religious views of marriage on the state’s Constitution.
Quoted in The San Jose Mercury News, the Rev. Rick Mixon, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto said, “Clergy, especially Baptist clergy, have no business acting as agents of the state, whether in making wedding proclamations on the state’s behalf or in signing wedding licenses.”
The Rev. Susan Russell of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, in the Whittier Daily News stated, “We believe that the important thing about a marriage are the values that make up a marriage, not the gender of the people involved.”
Speaking of Social Conservatives and the various pro-Prop8 religious groups, including the Mormon Church in Utah, Deepak Chopra writes, “One wonders what business it is of theirs. Marriage has its public side, but given the sharp decline in marriage since the Seventies, what precious institution are they protecting?”. He adds that, “If the answer is that a sacrament is at stake, these religious groups have no business interjecting their beliefs into public policy. Various religions traditionally ban the eating of pork, shellfish, and meat on Friday, but we don’t allow those strictures to govern policy. As for the condemnation of homosexuality by scripture, many of those same scriptures advocate polygamy. Trying to condemn homosexuality on religious grounds is a ship that has already sailed in every secular society, and the vast bulk of psychological research has already removed homosexual behaviour out of the category of pathology”.
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up. Activist and writer, Anne Lamott
The passing of Proposition 8 has ignited strong emotions on all sides and has sparked much needed debate on LGBT Rights in America. When one group in society is treated differently and judged as “less than” then that society is in great danger. The threat is from those who use fear to oppress others and propaganda as a tool and to misinform the public in order to gain support. History is littered with examples of minorities who have suffered persecution from those who claimed to be upholding the rights and beliefs of the “moral majority”.
Just as with the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and the impassioned public response to the assassination of Harvey Milk in 1978, the LGBT Community and straight allies are once again galvanised and prepared to stand up and claim equal rights. There have been marches, vigils and demonstrations across the United States; engineered with military precision. Andy Warhol famously said, “They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself”. Many have called this the civil rights issue of the century and compare the struggle to that of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, since their struggle was about far more than just civil rights under law; it also was about fundamental issues of freedom, respect, dignity, and economic and social equality.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” Martin Luther King Jr.
Intellectuals, activists and political thinkers are given a voice in the media and, as a result, a greater awareness is growing regarding the diversity within the LGBT Community. It is only through reasoned, balanced and philosophical discussion that preconceptions can be altered and public awareness broadened. Stereotypical views of any group in society limit our understanding of that communities diversity. This steady shift in public perception, and a growing understanding that sexuality is as innate as gender or race, is what will ultimately move society forward. This is not a time for silence but a time to speak out and share our humanity.
“I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you… And you… And you… Gotta give em hope.” Harvey Milk