Monday, October 27, 2008

Proposition 8: Calling it what it is

I'm not the sort who normally posts about political matters. For the most part, I see political issues as generally being things where reasonable people can disagree even when presented with the same basic facts. People will disagree on the relative importance of different goals, the likelihood of certain outcomes, and will form different opinions about who will get hurt by something, who will be helped by something, and by how much. Different philosophies about the role of government can also easily lead people to different conclusions. I have views on a number of typically hot-button issues--abortion, capital punishment, health care, etc--where I don't even think that people who completely disagree with me are fundamentally wrong. And, in general, I figure an adult will rarely change his or her mind based upon someone else's argument.

But even though I fully expect that everyone who will read this and lives in California already agrees with me, I still felt the need to say something.

A lot has already been said about California's Proposition 8. Supporters have tried to state that it will inevitably lead to incest and polygamy, and that kindergarteners will be indoctrinated that gay marriages are a good thing even if their parents disagree. That churches will be forced to open their doors to same sex ceremonies, and that pastors will be sued for hate speech for preaching against homosexuality. Lies, all of it. Opponents of the proposition have already debunked these specific points, and many others.

At its core, this is a proposal to remove civil rights.

That is important. It would remove existing rights in the state of California. I get annoyed at both political parties routinely misrepresenting their candidates' and opponents' voting records on votes to "increase taxes" or "cut funding" when in reality they were votes to not lower taxes or to not increase funding, respectively. There is a difference there, and there is an even greater difference here than exists in most of the gay civil rights cases.

Think of what that means. If you vote yes for Proposition 8, you are voting to remove a group's right to get married, and invalidate their existing marriages. Admittedly, it's a small group in terms of the population as a whole--somewhere around 5% of people are gay. In comparison, about 2.5% of California is Jewish. Less than 2% is Mormon. 4% is Baptist, and it's the most common strain of Protestantism in the state. Less than 7% is African-American/Black. If the majority can rule that existing marriage rights for the 5% or so of gay people can be removed, what does that mean for other minority groups of a similar size?

You can argue that individuals need to prove that they deserve additional rights which they currently do not have in order to change the status quo. It's not a position I happen to agree with, but I can still view it as a reasonable starting view even if I think it's wrong. Essentially every time in history a group has been granted civil rights, it has been because those currently in power were convinced that it was wrong to not extend those rights or privileges to the formerly disadvantaged group. It is not inherently nonsensical to feel that the same should apply in the case of extending gay rights--that gay people should have to prove that they deserve the right to get married and to serve in the military and to inherit property from their partners without triggering the estate tax and to adopt children and all the rest.

But even so, it is another thing entirely to take one of these rights away. It is akin to saying that you've been convinced that they don't deserve to get married, rather than saying that you haven't been convinced that they do. If you haven't been convinced one way or another on a position, there are several reasonable defaults. You can default to the position that is the status quo--if you're not positive that something's broken, there's no point in trying to fix it. That is essentially the basis of conservatism: maintain the status quo unless there is a compelling reason to change things. You can default to a position of greatest good to harm ratio--if someone benefits, and no one is harmed, then that's the way to go. Both choices are valid and fully defensible.

Both of those argue voting No on proposition 8 unless you are completely sure that gay people shouldn't have these rights.

At the moment, more than 11,000 couples have already married in California because of the state Supreme Court's ruling that same sex marriages are legal. This proposition would add to the state constitution "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California." That would destroy these thousands of marriages. The official arguments in favor of proposition 8, included on secretary of state's site about the arguments for and against each proposal, includes "Proposition 8 is about preserving marriage; it's not an attack on the gay lifestyle. Proposition 8 does not take away any rights or benefits of gay of lesbian domestic partnerships. Under California law, 'domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits' as married spouses. (Family Code 297.5). There are NO exceptions. Proposition 8 WILL NOT change this." It also states "It protects our children from being taught in public schools that 'same-sex marriage' is the same as traditional marriage."

Explain to me how voters eliminating thousands of marriages protects marriage. This is not just a decision to not extend marriage rights. It is not even just a ban on future same-sex marriages. It would legally destroy thousands of existing, legally recognized marriages. This is analogous to "protecting freedom of the press" by shutting down hundreds of newspapers and talk radio stations that broadcast opinions with which you disagree.

Further, the supporters have decided to simultaneously make the argument that there are no legal distinctions between heterosexual marriage and homosexual domestic partnerships and that a reason to support this proposition is that it would result in children being taught that the two are the same thing. Is the disconnect between these two arguments lost on those who wrote them?

I fully admit that I see gay rights as the civil rights issue of my generation. The parallels between current marriage bans and the antimiscegenation cases which persisted in this country until 1967 are immediate and profound, as far as I can see. The same arguments which are used to exclude the openly gay from the military--unit cohesion, morale, and that the military is not a grounds for social engineering--were the same ones used to segregate the armed forces, and were eventually seen for the invalid smokescreen they were back then. I would love to see real progress on this front. I would love to see people address the federal Defense of Marriage Act--which to my non-legally-trained-mind seems to be a law trying to state that certain laws (marriage) are not subject to part of the federal constitution (the full faith and credit clause)--in terms of Constitutionality, rather than pragmatism.

But this is bigger than all of that.

If you vote Yes on Proposition 8, you will not only vote to remove rights from a substantial number of people--current estimates are around 5% of the population being gay, which would be over 1.5 million in California even assuming that gay individuals were no more likely to move to the Bay Area and Los Angeles than they were anywhere else in the country. You will also tell tens of thousands of people that you feel it is appropriate to invalidate their existing, legal marriages because you don't think people like them should be allowed to get married.

Everyone is free to believe that homosexuality is immoral. That it is a choice, and that people who behave that way will be punished for all eternity. Free to belong to a religious organization that will not perform such services. Free to disown family members who are gay, and to shun gay people socially. Free to vote against extending us any rights we don't already have. That's part of the beauty of democracy--everyone gets to vote as (s)he sees fit, regardless of whether people like me think that view is wrong.

I just want those who support Proposition 8 to think about exactly what they're doing in this case, and be honest about the effects. Do you really want to vote to remove rights someone already has? Why?

Be conservative. Maintain the status quo. Keep the government out of things it has no business in. Uphold the freedom of religion.

Vote No on Proposition 8.

And if there's someone you think will be voting Yes on it, feel free to forward this argument to them if you think it might help.