So, as the celebration continued over Barack Obama’s substantial and undisputable victory in the presidential election, some other issues have not gotten the media coverage that they, in my opinion, deserve.
Most notably, California’s Proposition 8 which seeks to amend the state constitution and define marriage as between a man and a woman (neatly — and nastily — sidestepping the recent California Supreme Court decision that laws against gay marriage are unconstitutional). As of this writing, the proposition looked like it was going to pass by a narrow margin (4% or so).
The story isn’t over; a couple of suits have already been filed seeking to challenge Prop 8, and no doubt there will be many months of legal briefs and such. I hope that the courts strike down the initiative as the unconstitutional wreck that it truly is. Here’s my thinking.
In a recent blog post Phil Plait gave a very reasoned and eloquent argument against Colorado Proposition 48, which basically sought a roundabout way to amend their state constitution defining that a person becomes a person (with all the rights and such that go along with that) at the moment of conception — it seems to me, essentially, a stepping stone to banning abortion.
Thinking about California Prop 8 (and the debate over gay marriage in general) I find that a very similar argument holds; essentially, it is attempting to legislate a particular (if widely held) religious viewpoint, and the government should not be legislating and governing based on those beliefs.
I am fairly certain that in most states (I can’t speak definitively, not really having done any research) marriage is, ultimately, a civil registration — the marriage license itslef does not have any religious flavor one way or another. There are certain requirements that need to be met (usually witnesses of one sort or another, and a legally recognized authority to officiate). Everything else is gravy, and an expression of the couple who is getting married.
Stripped of all the religious pomp and ceremony that surround it, marriage in the U.S. is, essentially, a legal agreement that carries with it a number of privileges and obligations. If a couple wants to make that legal commitment to each other, what right does the government have, in the face of our stated (though in practice, ultimately theoretical) ideals of equality for all?
Two people love each other, and want to make that commitment, but are denied because they happen to both have XY (or XX) as their 23rd chromosome pair? Does that strike any other thinking person as irrational?
Now, I’m not arguing that clergy (or anyone else for that matter) be forced to officiate at a ceremony they are not comfortable performing. The religious trappings that surround marriage, and the ‘sacraments’ related to it are something the government, in my opinion, should stay well out of also — it seems a pretty clear First Amendment issue.
Marriage is, by law (if not by practice or perception) a civil matter, and legislating (even by constitutional amendment) a religiously-based definition of it is, in my humble opinion, wrong.
I hope that this misguided (if earnest) effort to ‘protect’ marriage gets struck down in the long run. But they couldn’t all be winners last night.