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.


emily said...

In california all civil unions have the same exact protections and rights as marriages. Prop 8 doesn't change any of these laws. It also won't change the federal laws (which do deny same-gender couples some privileges).

The state of California allowing same-gender marriage may seem progressive to some– –but what it says to me is that the state of California sanctions a relationship that does not best serve children.

While no heterosexual parents are perfect, and some situations are down right abusive and traumatic, the response is not to eliminate a child’s right to a mom and a dad. The response is to better educate, better encourage, better help parents be better.

While a lesbian couple or a gay couple may provide a stable home, love, and support to a child. By definition, a same-gender marriage cannot provide them a mom and a dad. Every child has the right to a mom and a dad.

Society should sacrifice for the health and well being of its children.

This is why I am voting “yes” on prop 8 (on my absentee ballot).

Reuven said...

If you pray, you'll know the truth: Jesus says Vote NO!. Why don't you try it?

Reuven said...

This may be a true danger! Will Proposition 8 legalize Polygamy?" The wording is awfully strange.

Anonymous said...

While there are strong similarities between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement, believing that gay unions are equal to heterosexual unions and that opposition to gay marriage is equal to the discrimination of race is a misconception.

If the state legalizes gay marriage, then suddenly marriage changes from a protected belief of a small minority, to the false impression that the state (which is an extension of the people) believes that it is morally acceptable to practice homosexuality.

As individuals, law abiding homosexuals should be entitled to every inalienable right held by any heterosexual; but as couples, gay relationships no longer hold an equal stance to the synergy of a heterosexual relationship. The answer lies in procreation—the primary responsibility of a family.

The gay agenda wants to redefine marriage as simply commitment, honesty, affection, and warmth between two loving individuals. If so then it simply becomes an equal protection issue and the gay couple argues they are being discriminated against for a relationship they claim holds equal commitment and value to the heterosexual relationship. This argument breaks down because it ignores posterity and procreation. Children are what differentiate the marriage contract from all other consensual adult arrangements. The state has always had a keen interest in the bearing and rearing of children. Indeed that is why the state got in the business of registering and recognizing marriage in the first place.

The point, both legally and historically, the gay family can ONLY exist as a product of government policy and modern science, and a dependence on the natural family. It is very clear that there is no natural procreative ability between gay partners. The procreative ability between heterosexual couples is, by contrast, perfectly natural, and dates back to the start of recorded history. The natural family would continue whether the government or science became involved or not. Thus, we see that a homosexual relationship is not naturally equal to a heterosexual relationship.

The Declaration of Independence proclaims that we are endowed with unalienable rights, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". John Locke, called this "natural law". Natural law is not a creation or product of the state, but was to be protected by the state as these are the natural rights of all men inseparably connected to being human. Gays may argue that they are in the pursuit of liberty and happiness, yet there is no logical means by which they are naturally in the pursuit of life. Indeed we may argue that the gay movement, by its very nature, is a movement in pursuit of death, its own extinction, for without the intervention of the state and modern science, homosexuality results in the termination of posterity. Thus, from the perspective of both science and state we can see that the union of man and women, with their resulting children compared to the gay union are polar opposites both in origin and fruit.

What about couples who are infertile? Many married heterosexuals choose not to have children, and others cannot because of medical problems or physical handicaps. But gays fought furiously to convince the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from their books as a "disorder", or medical problem. The majority of the United States will now agree that homosexuality is not a medical problem or disorder. Even in perfect medical condition, a gay couple cannot procreate without the help of a third party. Therefore homosexual relationships and heterosexual relationships are inherently, and naturally, unequal. Gays should NOT shunned because of their beliefs and tendencies. Nor does this fact infringe on their God given rights. The argument is that the two relationships are very different from one another and for that reason they should be defined differently.

More here:

Anonymous said...

God our creater has given us all a will, we do have a freedom to choose how we want to live our lives. We can choose to live for God or we can choose to turn our back on him. Whether we believe it or not, God's judgement will come. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, Jesus, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. I have choosen to believe in Jesus, and have given up my rights to live my life as I pleased. And now I live my life for him. His ways are not our ways. But, his ways are best. He knows what is best for us, He created us. So I must say Yes to proposition 8.

Mike said...

I'm always surprised when people I don't know leave comments--I wasn't aware outsiders even knew of my blog. But it's nice to see regardless. To address these comments in order:

Emily says the exact same rights are already granted to domestic partnerships, and that her reasons for voting yes on Proposition 8 are that every child deserves both a mom and a dad. If we accept that the first assertion is true, voting Yes on Prop 8 will do nothing to increase the probability that any given child will have both a mom and a dad. To the extent that the state granting rights and privileges is a sanctioning of a relationship, if civil unions already provide the exact same rights then same sex relationships are already sanctioned by the state. This argument is not logically consistent.

While I appreciate anyone's decision to vote no on prop 8, reuven's first comment is explicitly religious in nature. This post does not address any religious questions, other than in the statement that a rejection of Prop 8 will not require religious organizations to perform these ceremonies if they choose not to. Marriage is not solely a matter for religion; the fact that government classifies people as single or married or divorced, and grants rights and privileges to those who are in a marriage makes it a civil matter as well. Civil matters, in my opinion, are not decided upon by interpretation of what a specific carpenter who lived approximately 2,000 years ago would have thought.

Similarly, I believe that the position of reuven's second comment link is very far-fetched. While there are no doubt some people who would interpret the proposed changes to allow polygamy, I believe the vast majority of judges would interpret "a man and a woman" to mean one of each, given the singular articles.

The anonymous comment is long and has a number of points to be dealt with, so this will be less well-organized.

First, I dispute that there would be any change upon voting no on Prop 8 of marriage "from a protected belief of a small minority". According to the 2006 census estimate, 48.5% of Californians 15 and older are married. It's no longer an absolute majority, but it is almost certainly a plurality, as unmarried people will include those who have never married yet (probably most of the 16-year-olds are in this category), those who are currently divorced, and those who are widows/widowers. In any case, it's clearly not a small minority.

Arguments about what is natural or unnatural are inherently flawed when it comes to discussing what should be. In fact, they comprise the well-established Naturalistic Fallacy, where one tries to argue should from is.

If we are to argue nature, then we need to argue actual nature, not idealized versions thereof. Males provide parental care in somewhere around 10% of mammalian species. Among the great apes, which are the closest living relatives to humans, monogamy of one male and one female is essentially unknown. Chimpanzees and bonobos live in troops with multiple males and females, and in which each female typically mates with each male during her cycle of sexual receptivity. Gorillas live in smaller groups, and predominantly in harems, where one male monopolizes several females. If the dominant male dies, there is a strong chance that a male taking over the group will kill the juveniles in order to bring the adult females into sexual receptivity more quickly. Orangutans live essentially solitary lives, with males and females coming together virtually solely for the sexual act itself, and with the female raising the offspring alone. Male territories typically encompass those of severl females, though turnover in territory is high, so much females encounter more than one male during their reproductive career. In none of these species is there a significant amount of paternal care.

The notion that homosexuality entirely relies upon the modern state and modern science for its existence is, of course, incorrect. From a historical and cultural perspective, exclusive heterosexuality within a mutually monogamous pairing is a relatively recent and rare institution itself. Many societies have engaged in homosexual practices at certain times in life or in circumstance. Even more have included multiple sexual partners. In European history, the state became involved in the marriage business to be able to determine property inheritance rights, with only the children of approved unions being able to inherit. The Christian church wasn't even involved in the officially witnessing or performing marriages until 1545.

The argument about "perfect medical condition" is a red herring. Marriage is, quite simply, not just about reproduction. If it was, we wouldn't allow post menopausal women to get married, whether it would be to another woman or a man. This argument is a distraction.

At the end of the day, if a domestic partnership/civil union has exactly the same legal rights and privileges as a marriage, denying marriage on the basis of the genders involved becomes an issue of Separate But Equal. This is something that has been routinely rejected in this country on the basis of race and of sex. If domestic partnerships and civil unions do not have all the same rights and privileges as marriage (such as that private schools are not required to calculate student aid by considering registered domestic partners as a married couple), then proposition 8 would remove those rights and privileges from those who have legally obtained them in the past several months, since same-sex marriages have been legal in the state of California. That is what this post is about.