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The California Supreme Court Decision: Civil Equality Trumps Religious Bigotry
Friday, 23 May 2008 08:51
by Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.

The ruling had been anticipated for months. Gay Americans hoped they’d be recognized as equals and gain the right to the civil institution called “marriage.” The Christianist Right held their breath knowing that when put to the ultimate test, discrimination always loses.

The California Supreme Court decision was announced at 10 AM (PDT) on 15 May 2008. Both sides “won,” sort of.

In a May 17, 2006 editorial The New York Times summarized:
The California Supreme Court brought the United States a step closer to fulfilling its ideals of equality and justice with its momentous 4-to-3 ruling upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry.

… Opponents of giving gay couples the respect, benefits, obligations and protections that come with marriage are already mobilizing to try to nullify the historic decision through a proposed state constitutional amendment likely to appear on the November ballot. …

Still, the California verdict was a major victory for civil rights.
Gay and lesbian Americans nationwide felt vindicated: they were recognized as equal citizens with equal rights, at least in two states. The men and women in California’s estimated 108,734 same-sex households were particularly elated. They could now escape the separate-but-not-equal segregation of the “domestic partnership” registry.

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As for those who opposed giving gay and lesbian American equal rights and “the respect, benefits, obligations and protections that come with marriage,” they expressed their outrage and mouthed the same old banal platitudes. James Dobson, founder and chairman of Focus on the Family – and self-appointed spokesman for God and His right-hand profiteer – was “outraged.” The day after the California decision, Jimmy D’s Focus on the Family website was promoting a book that claimed recognizing marriage equality was going to “deconstruct humanity.” How self-revealing, since by definition bigots try to deconstruct society and humanity.

Rabid homophobe and chairman of the Tradition Values Coalition, discredited “Lucky Louie” Sheldon screeched “ultimate tyranny of judicial activism” as he hysterically hyperventilated, yet again, in “CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT JUSTICES DECLARE OPEN SEASON ON MARRIAGE.”

Matt Barber, policy director of cultural issues for Concerned Women for America, was widely quoted:
So-called “same-sex” marriage is counterfeit marriage. Marriage is, and has always been, between a man and a woman. We know that it’s in the best interest of children to be raised with a mother and a father. To use children as guinea pigs in radical San Francisco-style social experimentation is deplorable. … This decision will help fuel a California marriage amendment and re-ignite debate over a federal amendment which would protect marriage as between one man and one woman.
“Marriage is, and has always been, between a man and a woman.” Sorry Matt. That Bible you claim to be THE final word on marriage (and everything else) clearly condones and sanctions – one might say even promotes – polygamy, as well as selling one’s daughter into slavery and stoning non-virgin brides.

What’s “counterfeit” – and contrary to Christian philosophy – are Christianist theofascists such “Televangelist John Hagee [who] in a recently aired sermon, outlined what he meant by the term ‘counterfeit Christians’: those who take public policy positions he disagrees with, on issues from abortion and gay marriage to welfare. Watch…” Concerned Women for America, like Dobson’s Focus on the Family and Sheldon’s traditional values Coalition all are in lock-step with Hagee on abortion and gay marriage.

Barber’s using children to make a case he can’t otherwise support except by reference to selected passages in the Bible – while ignoring others – aside from being deceitful and hypocritical, begs the question. The issue at hand is the legal right for two people to enter into the state-sanctioned, civil institution called marriage. Children are, to be sure, a related issue, but not the issue at hand. Nevertheless, it’s a standard diverting tactic Christianists use, as was well illustrated by Bruce Fein, a long time opponent to civil equality for gay and lesbian Americans, in his 1990 article Reserve Marriage for Heterosexuals:
Authorizing the marriage of homosexuals, like sanctioning polygamy, would be unenlightened social policy. The law should reserve the celebration of marriage vows for monogamous male-female attachments to further the goal of psychologically, emotionally and educationally balanced offspring. … Experience confirms that child development is skewed, scarred or retarded when either a father or mother is absent in the household.
Since the heterosexual divorce rate is and has been for some time near 50%, according to Fein there must be a lot of “skewed, scarred or retarded” kids out there. Either that, or he’s a “skewed, scarred or retarded” bigot making outlandish statements to divert attention from the real issue: the equality of all Americans. As the U.S. Supreme Court said in its Loving v. Virginia decision (that struck down all laws ahainst interracial marriage) and as the California Supreme Court reaffirmed in its recent decision: marriage is “one of the basic rights of man,” and the freedom to marry is “essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness.” In the words of California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who was appointed to the court by Ronald Reagan, “in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship … the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.”

On September 8, 2004 – during the height of the pre-election campaign to “save traditional marriage” – the Barna Group, a Christian marketing-research organization, issued a report titled “Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians.” It documented that “among married born again Christians, 35% have experienced a divorce. That figure is identical to the outcome among married adults who are not born again: 35%.” Barna also documented that “nearly one-quarter of the married ‘born agains’ (23%) get divorced two or more times.” No doubt more than a few of those multiple divorces among born-again Christians reported by the Barna Group involved adultery.

If Barber and Fein want to divert attention from the civil rights issue at hand by yammering about children’s best interests, perhaps they should have a chat with all those Christians and born-againers who divorce.

Moreover, contemporary research shows that children reared in same-sex household develop no differently than children reared in opposite-sex households, despite the claims of Christianist leaders who have frequently been caught misrepresenting legitimate research. And then there’s the fact that the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association have all issued statements asserting that a parent’s sexual orientation is irrelevant to his or her ability to raise a child.

But Barber was right about one thing: Christianist leaders will use the California decision to launch new campaigns – and fund-raising drives – to work against civil equality for all Americans. They’re already renewing calls for a “marriage amendment” to the U.S. Constitution. They already have a initiative prepared for the California ballot in November, and are once again trotting out the hackneyed “judicial tyranny” and claiming that the decision “ignored the will of the people,” a reference to Proposition 22 passed in 2000 which banned same-sex marriages. But as Howard Mintz pointed out in his Mercury News article,
In this week’s ruling, the California Supreme Court rejected the argument that it should follow the “will of the people” if a ballot initiative violates a constitutional right.

The court cited the legal challenge over the 1964 housing law, a constitutional amendment that allowed real estate agents and landlords in California to reject home buyers or tenants of their choice, even if it might be based on racial discrimination.

That law, Proposition 14, was struck down in 1967 by the state Supreme Court…
Proposition 14 and other discriminatory measures supported by the vox populi are just a snapshot in time, but times change. The year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all laws criminalizing interracial marriage (Loving v. Virginia), a 1968 Gallup poll showed 72 percent of Americans polled opposed the legalization of such unions. Today, only the KKK and other fanatics would argue against the legitimacy of interracial marriage.

There are several other gaping holes in the “thinking” of those who continue to oppose civil equality.

True, Prop 22 was passed in 2000. It was the pet project of the Christianist Right who, at the time, were riding high on the Bush-Rove wave that in the following years would divide the country with its modus operandi of encouraging religion-based hate and prejudice. As Marc Dunkelman pointed out in a 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer editorial, “Rove set out to segment the electorate, determine which constituencies would support the president, maximize their turnout, and damn the rest to the political hinterlands.”

Rove is “gone.” Bush tops “the list when American voters pick the worst U.S. President in the last 61 years.” And since 2000, attitudes toward gay people and their right to civil equality have changed significantly. More and more people – including a considerable number of evangelical Christians – have grown weary of Christiantist leaders’ vituperative attacks on gay and lesbian Americans and their obsessive ranting about gay marriage, while ignoring virtually all other social concerns.

Times have changed. Over ninety percent of Fortune 500 companies now have anti-discrimination policies that protect gays. More and more companies, colleges and universities, states and municipalities are offering same-sex domestic partner benefits, despite challenges and litigation from the Christianist Right’s legal minions. Aside from the fact that equality is just good business, America is awaking-up from the Bush-Rove nightmare and realizing the truth of what Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The Los Angeles Times conducted a poll after the state’s Supreme Court’s decision. The question posed was “Did the California Supreme Court make the correct decision?” The results as of May 18, 2008 reflect the changing times and attitudes. Of the 35,257 respondents 75.8 percent said “yes,” while only 24.2 percent said “no.”

Civil rights and civil equality are not popularity contests. The California marriage decision was indeed a step forward. But those who wish to embed their bigotry into civil law are ever vigilant. Let’s hope fair-minded Americans are too.
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