Friday, May 16, 2008


Yesterday California's Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. In a 4-3 decision, the Republican-controlled court decided that a law banning marriage between two adults of the same-sex was a violation of the equal protection clause of their state's Constitution.

The news was followed by many statements of support, including that of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said that he would uphold the court's decision. Beloved talk-show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres announced on her talk show that she and long-time partner Portia de Rossi would he tying the knot now that marriage will be legal for them. With this new ruling, same-sex couples could be getting married as early as next month in California. However, anti-gay activist hope to put a hold on the ruling taking effect until November, when they hope to pass a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Gov. Schwarzenegger has said he will not support such a ban, but California voters are shown to be split on the issue. If a stay of the court's decision is not allowed, California will be only the second state in the country to have legal marriage between same-sex adults (at least until November).

Of course this is an awesome victory for gays and lesbians, but as usual it brings with it an increase in anti-gay rhetoric and hateful remarks. Reading through the comments on various blogs and news sites that have reported on this issue, I've found that I can pretty much ignore and roll my eyes at comments such as these: "
If you really understood what crap you fags have brought to this world, you would really cry. What a load of shit! Maybe you will unbreed yourselves out of existance. We can only hope!" (Because we all know that only gay people produce gay children). It's the comments from people who claim that they "aren't homophobic" but they just don't think it's fair to call a union between same-sex couples a marriage. Or that they don't think it's fair to legalize same-sex marriage if the people don't want it. One person said on a website, "I'm all for gay rights [but] what is baffling about this California ruling ... is that it was passed by judges after it was voted down by the people of Cali. Kinda scary that the votes of the people were pushed aside."

These comments bother me the most because they come from people claiming to be "tolerant", but they demonstrate a complete lack of understanding in regards to history, oppression, and America's system of government. It's funny how short our collective memory apparently is because if people will just allow themselves to look back a few decades, they might remember that it was a Supreme Court ruling (Brown v. Board of Education) that overturned interracial segregation in schools, basically paving the way for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act itself wasn't voted for by the people, but was passed through the legislature. In regards to marriage laws, it was another Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, that overturned bans on interracial marriage. The Courts have long been active in making historic decisions related to minority rights. If we had allowed popular opinion to be the decider on integration and interracial marriage, a huge portion of the country would probably still be segregated.

hat many folks seem to misunderstand is the exact nature of American democracy. We do not have what is referred to as a "direct democracy", where all decisions are made by whatever citizens choose to participate (vote). We have aspects of direct democracy within our government, in the form of referendums, recalls, etc. but as a whole America does not operate within a system of direct democracy. Rather we have what many refer to as a "constitutional republic." Here is Wikipedia's basic definition of a constitutional republic:

A constitutional republic is a state where the head of state and other officials are elected as representatives of the people, and must govern according to existing constitutional law that limits the government's power over citizens. In a constitutional republic, executive, legislative, and judicial powers are separated into distinct branches, and the will of the majority of the population is tempered by protections for individual rights, so that no individual or group has absolute power. The fact that a constitution exists that limits the government's power makes the state constitutional. That the head(s) of state and other officials are chosen by election, rather than inheriting their positions, and that their decisions are subject to judicial review makes a state republican.

John Adams, one of America's Founding Fathers, and the 2nd President of the United States explained our republic as a "government of laws, not of men." According to James Woodburn, author of The American Republic and Its Government, "
In a republic, as distinguished from a democracy, the people are not only checked in choosing officials but also in making laws." The type of government that exists in America was deliberately chosen to protect the rights of the minority and prevent what is referred to as a "tyranny of the majority". This concept has been written about frequently by John Stuart Mill, Alexis de Tocqueville and James Madison.

Basically America's laws should represent the "interests of the majority" while still protecting the "rights of the minority." In America we do not have the type of democracy whereby the majority could decide to execute all left-handed citizens and that would be acceptable so long as the "popular vote" supported it. That is why we have a Constitution and why we have a Supreme Court -- to determine whether laws violate citizens' rights. If denying equal marriage rights to people violates their civil rights, it doesn't matter what the majority of Americans "want." Do we really want the type of democracy that will overturn individual rights and liberties at the will of the majority, a will that could easily be based on racism or xenophobia or homophobia or sexism? Don't people understand how dangerous that is?

I'm guessing that the people who say "let the people decide" on matters of gay rights might not be so eager to "let the people decide" when it comes to their own basic human rights to live and love freely and without fear.

Finally, I come to the issue of the individuals who say that they believe same-sex "unions" are entitled to the same rights and protections as a marriage, but the just don't want it called marriage. Because marriage is sacred and special and meant to be between a man and a woman blah blah blah.

This is what I have to say about that matter: Why is it that so many heterosexuals are so possessive of the term "marriage"? I mean, both sides here could say that it's all just a matter of semantics, but the gays are the ones that are being put in the "separate but equal" category. And I'm pretty sure that verdict has been delivered on that concept. The fact is, it is completely ridiculous to call a legal union between same-sex couples a "civil union" and a legal union between heterosexual couples a "marriage." Some might say that the difference between a "civil union" and a "marriage" is due to religion. Except millions of heterosexual couples are married by Judges outside of the Church. Their "marriage" has nothing to do with religion -- it is an entirely legal affair -- yet, I don't see anyone suggesting that those couples be denied the right to call their union a marriage. And there are many churches who are willing and happy to "marry" same-sex couples. Various Methodist, UCC, Jewish Reform, Episcopal, and American Catholic (not to be confused with Roman Catholic) congregations have willingly blessed same-sex unions. (Please note that the denominations listed will vary greatly by individual congregation in their willingness to support and/or bless same-sex unions). In 1984 the Unitarian Universalist Church became the first large denomination to "approve religious blessings on homosexual unions." So let me get this straight ... if a same-sex couple has all the legal rights of marriage and their union is blessed by a minister before God ... it still shouldn't be called a marriage? But if a man and a woman who are, let's say, atheists, go and marry at a courthouse, they get to have a marriage?

As you can see, the whole thing is sort of ridiculous. It is pretty obvious that the only reason people get up in arms about the word "marriage" is that it makes them uncomfortable. There is no other reason. They can't really believe that one couple's gay marriage is going to make their marriage somehow less sacred. In a great editorial (coupled with an equally not great one) from the May 1st issue of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the straight male writer says he doesn't "get why gay marriage is such a big deal." He says:________________________________

We are told, "We must protect the tradition of marriage," which Anne Coulter says goes back "10,000 years." Right. ("Do you, Ogg, take this woman . . . ? You may now club the bride.") The tradition that people seem to have in mind goes back only about as far as Ward and June Cleaver.

Defenders of "traditional" marriage seem to argue that it is primarily about sexual attraction. In Roman or medieval times -indeed, in most eras before today - marriages often were not about sexual attraction at all. They were about political alliances, property or continuing the family line. Noblemen kept mistresses for sex. Many cultures arranged marriages between very young people who sometimes had never met, so the idea of a pre-existing sexual attraction didn't enter into it.

How exactly does gay marriage undermine heterosexual marriage? Are straight people out there who are contemplating marriage going, "Honey, it says here that a gay couple is Massachusetts got married. Maybe we should reconsider our wedding plans?"

At the end of his editorial, after citing divorce statistics and stories of quickie weddings and reality shows like "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire" he remarks "If marriage indeed
has become devalued, heterosexuals did it by themselves."

So don't tell me that you are "totally okay" with gay people, but you just believe there is something "extra special" about marriage between a man and a woman. And don't tell me that you think gay people should have equal rights only so long as everyone else thinks it's okay. Because when you say that, what you're basically saying is that gay people's rights are less important than straight people's opinions and that gays an lesbians are less deserving of protection and less deserving of happiness. And if you believe that then you are prejudiced. Maybe it's not your fault. Maybe you like being prejudiced. But let's call it what it is rather than mask it as some type of concern for either the well-being of straight couples or the maintenance of democracy.

Because anyone who really has absolutely no problems with gay people should have no problem with a same-sex couple committing themselves to a lifelong, monogamous and loving relationship.

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