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Equality? Tolerance? Freedom? Civil Rights?

November 5, 2008

While this blog is geared towards light and frothy discussion of television, and I have tried hard to avoid the subject of politics, I feel that I have to put my thoughts out there.   While I am overjoyed that Barack Obama has been elected the next president of the United States, my happiness is marred by the returns on California’s Proposition 8.  As of 8:35a.m., Wednesday morning, the L.A. Times is reporting that Prop 8 has passed by 4%, or 403, 572 votes.  For those of you who are not Californians, Proposition 8 will alter the constitution of California, by adding a ban on gay marriage.  I have seen supporters of  Proposition 8 celebrating and it sickens me.  This is not a political issue in which Americans can just agree to disagree.  This is about civil rights, and fundamental human rights.  There is a right and wrong here.  This is not really about marriage.  Personally, I’m not a big fan of marriage.  I think that it’s an archaic custom that for millenia has been used to keep women down.  Only in the last forty years or so has marriage ceased to be a death-trap for women’s independence and identity.  Despite my personal feelings, it is clear that marriage is an important institution in our country.  If you are in love and want to get married, I’m supportive of your right to do so.  Proposition 8 is not about protecting family values, or protecting schools either.  It is about putting intolerance and homophobia into our state constitution. 
Majority votes are an important part of the democratic system, but there is another crucial part of American democracy: protecting the rights of minorities.  We do not have mob rule in the United States–there are checks and balances to protect the rights of minority groups.  In America, you do not get to trample on the rights of others just because you are bigger and stronger.  My sadness at the likely passage of Prop 8 is mitigated by that fact.  Ballot initiatives weren’t what brought about civil rights in the 1950s and 60s.  The Supreme Court and the Executive Branch had to step in to de-segregate schools.  If we had left it up to states, the South might still trumpet “separate but equal.”  Instead, the Warren court passed Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and President Eisenhower put the strength of the White House behind the decision.  Inter-racial marriage was only made legal nation-wide after Loving v. Virginia (1967).  In the unanimous decision of that landmark case, Chief Justice Warren stated “There  can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.”  In Romer v. Evans (1996), Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion stated that a proposed Colorodo amendment , meant to prohibit any protection of the status of homosexuals under the law, “violates the Equal Protection Clause.”  In Lawrence v. Texas (2003), the court majority used the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to strike down Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), and thus protect the privacy rights of homosexuals.  Anti-sodomy laws targeted at gays and lesbians were struck down.
In conclusion, I believe it is clear that the federal constitution of the United States, particularly the 14th Amendment, will eventually be used to strike down bans on gay marriage in state constitutions.  It may take some time, but I have faith that it will happen in our life time.  Obama’s election will hopefully speed this process up, as he will almost certainly have the chance to make some Supreme Court appointments.  America can never be healthy or whole if groups of its citizens are given second-class citizenship.  Proponents of Prop 8 may argue that civil unions are just as good as marriage–they get the same rights under the law, right?  In truth, however, it stinks of separate but equal.  In my mind, it is very much like saying, “You can ride the bus, you just have to sit in back.”  Hopefully, Americans won’t tolerate this intolerance and hypocrisy for long.

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