Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Fate of Prop 8

“The times they are a’changing,” the prolific Bob Dylan once sang, and today, with the overturning of California's ban on same-sex marriage, it is clearly evident. A federal judge in California ruled that Proposition 8 ["Prop 8"], the voter-approved ban, violates the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker wrote in his decision: "Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license." "Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples."

Proposition 8 (or the California Marriage Protection Act) was a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008, state elections. The measure added a new provision to the California Constitution, which provides that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Thus, Prop 8 purposely stripped many Americans of their civil rights. Same-sex couples in California were denied the right to marry that had previously been recognized by the California Supreme Court. To add insult to injury, gay Californians discovered that their neighbors, colleagues, and people they considered friends were the ones who made this decision at the polls; a monumental decision that impacts the personal fabric of their lives.

Who voted to ban same-sex marriage in California?

The Church of Ladder Day Saints contributed up to $22 million to pass Proposition 8. A whopping 70% of African American voters voted to ban same-sex marriage in California, as did more than half of Latino voters and 49% of Asian voters. What is most confounding and saddening is that all of these groups have been historically oppressed, marginalized and denied civil rights throughout American history. As Frederick Douglass once said, ““Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”

Millions of Californians voted to desecrate the civil rights of another group of Americans because of extreme dissociation with the plight of gay Americans and compartmentalization of their own struggles. They cited moral or religious beliefs in support of the ban on same-sex marriage. Dare we forget that these very moral and religious beliefs once supported anti-miscegenation laws, which banned interracial marriage in the majority of states in America. It was not until 1967, in the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia, that the United States Supreme Court declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law unconstitutional, which finally put an end to the ban on interracial marriage.

Americans who are harboring bigotry and homophobia need to wake up and see that the right for same-sex couples to marry is a civil rights issue. We cannot forget that the most devastating and dehumanizing laws in American history were too supported by moral and religious beliefs, and often by majority support. In fact, it took the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education to finally put an end to “separate but equal” education in America. It was not American voters. It certainly was not the 26 states that supported segregation at that time.

In this new era of hope, we should all broaden our minds, find tolerance in our hearts, and separate our own moral and religious beliefs from the civil rights protected by our Constitution. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere….” Thus, just as the district court did today, it is time for all of our federal courts, right up to the U.S. Supreme Court, to take a stand and protect civil rights in America. History has proven time and time again that the majority of voters will not.

I often wonder what we will tell our son about this period of time in American history when he is older. Sadly, many California voters feared that if they did not vote to ban same-sex marriage, their children would learn that it’s okay for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman.


Let's not forget the times in American history when millions of parents lamented having to explain to their children the possibility of a white person marrying a black person or of a white child sitting next to a black child in the classroom. And yet, as a nation, we persevered and progressed.

Whom you choose to marry is none of my business and whom I choose to marry is none of yours. What I care about is that we all have equal rights.

And, when the day comes where we need to sit down and explain to our son that he can marry ANYONE, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, that will be one fabulous conversation, and I will never feel prouder to be an American.