The supporters of proposition 8 have collectively thrown their hands up in the air in anger, disgust, and frustration. They share in a bewildered disbelief that a law they saw as legitimate, a law voted on and passed by a majority of the public, could be struck down and rendered invalid in one fell swoop. This perceived gross injustice was carried out, presumably, on the whim of a single judge who had the arrogance to deny the will of the people and render one of our greatest freedoms useless. What does my vote count for now? They ask. What gives him the right to do this to us?!? They scream.
Well, in case you haven’t been paying attention to our democratic system of government we’ve instituted here for the last two and a quarter centuries, he was simply doing his rightful job. The job that he, and every other judge before him, has sworn to do. The entire existence of the judicial branch is predicated upon the idea that someone must hear disputes concerning laws and that they must objectively decide whether certain actions should be defined as legal or illegal, and whether or not those standing laws are constitutionally sound. Those who disagree with this decision are so quick to rush to the defense of their all-powerful vote that they are willing to simply trample over the responsibility and charge of the judges who have sworn to interpret the laws and uphold the spirit of the constitution. The very same document that they hold in such high reverence as the backbone of the country is simply ignored in an attempt to enforce their own will.
The underlying issue, once again, is that some people have an inherent inability to separate their own concepts about the morality of an issue from the strict legality of it. No matter who you are, everyone carries with them a moral compass that is guided by their own personal, and sometimes religious, beliefs. Many people take it a step further and feel that these personal moral fundamentals should be directly reflected in the laws of the country. They feel that in order for this nation to continue functioning properly and to stand strong it must mirror the beliefs of its righteous citizens. In almost all cases they get their way, but not always. Alcohol consumption, gambling, and prostitution are just a few examples of acts deemed extremely immoral by many, but nonetheless legal in many parts of the country. Laws are laws and morals are morals. There is absolutely nothing that states they have to match up exactly with one another. No matter how saintly you consider yourself to be, someone else probably thinks you are a godless deviant. That person is probably over the age of 70 and watches you leave your house through a crack in their living room drapes.
Opponents of gay marriage seem to be missing the point entirely, insisting that apples and oranges be compared to one another. You cannot fight legal wars with morality swords. Continually ignoring the fact that, at its core, this is simply a legal matter, they muddle the discussion with talk of nature and procreation. Not only does the opposition try to change the subject entirely, they often try to instill fear in the minds of those people who may be undecided. Fear, that if you allow these marriages to take place that somehow your children will follow suit and become gay as well. They scream that it tears at the very fabric of our society and will cause the disintegration of the family unit. Apparently, they are oblivious to the fact that there is currently no law that forbids people from actually being gay, having live-in partners, having kids, occupying any profession they wish, being openly gay in public, or any other actions that already expose the public at large, including your children, to their lifestyle.
By their own admission, opponents to same-sex marriage say that same-sex couples already experience many of the rights and protections as married couples. Ah…. you can’t have it both ways though! On the one hand, they say that marriage is sacred and special and not to be made irrelevant by these unnatural pairings. On the other hand, they ask what the big deal is all about. Why complain? You share all the same rights and privileges as we do. So what exactly are we talking about here? A legal document? That’s what concerns you? Are we to believe that then the entire dynamic changes because two gay men are wearing similar rings? That standing in front of a justice of the peace for a few minutes and saying I do makes your impressionable kids sit up and take notice… I wasn’t going to be gay before, just because my biology teacher was, but now that he has a piece of paper in a filing cabinet verifying his homosexuality, I’m giving it a second thought! Also, the slippery slope argument that to allow the union of two people of the same sex will eventually lead to all sorts of strange combinations and pairings (man to dog and woman to chair apparently) is not only logically invalid and ridiculous, it completely ignores the discussion altogether, turning a serious topic into a joke or a laughable exaggeration. It’s a red herring to distract the general public from the true debate.
And what exactly is the justification for all of this opposition to same-sex marriage that we continue to hear time and time again? Homosexuality is unnatural, evolutionarily invalid, and does not result in reproduction. The evidence brought before the judge involved testimony from anthropologists discussing millions of years of human evolution, philosophers discussing human nature, and doctors explaining that, of course, two individuals of the same sex cannot physically produce offspring. I don’t think that anyone could honestly dispute any of these experts’ testimony. Once again, and apparently much to the surprise of many people, it has absolutely nothing to with whether or not same-sex marriages have any legal validity whatsoever. It would have done just as much good to bring in a mechanic to testify on what he felt the speed limit should be on the highway. It has absolutely no relevance. I also find it humorous that areas of study normally perceived as having a liberal bias, such as philosophy and evolution, were used as evidence in support of the conservative argument. I guess they’ll use whatever means necessary as long as the desired result is achieved.
Those also trying to find some sort of legal precedent, that will help back them up in their fight against gay marriage, point out prior decisions by judges from 30 years in the past or the fact that the Supreme Court refused to hear a similar case nearly half a century ago. You see?! They say. Why must you continue to push the issue? It has already been decided upon, give it up! Well it’s a good thing that we, as a country, are not bound in iron chains to the decisions of judges from decades ago. Segregation would live on to this day, and the women’s suffrage movement? Nonexistent. A precedent is all well and good to use as a starting point or a reference when trying to find examples of similar cases, which a judge can then use to justify a decision. Luckily, however, it is not mandated that any judge must always follow the narrow-minded and biased rulings of people living several generations in the past.
The cry of the patriotic American says freedom isn’t free! This is very true, but not always in the ways people think. You have freedoms, you have rights and privileges as citizens of this country and they definitely come at a very expensive price to some people. Some paid the price with their lives, some paid through lifetimes of service to the country which allowed others to benefit. But one of the rarely mentioned costs is tolerance. You sometimes pay to live your life the way you wish by agreeing to allow others to live the way they see fit, even if it is in direct conflict with your own beliefs. This doesn’t just mean live and let live, separate but equal, you do what you want, I just don’t want to hear about it or see it. It means everything that I have as a result of being a member of this country, every benefit and legal avenue that I have taken advantage of must also be afforded to you in return. If this basic contract is not upheld, then what, exactly, is this country all about?
Let’s face it, for much of our nation’s history the full rights and privileges afforded by our constitution could only be taken advantage of by a select few individuals who were usually white, male, and land owners. This exclusive club, time and again, tried to keep out anyone else at all costs. In small increments they eventually, and very reluctantly, were forced to bring one group after another into the fold. First non-land owners wanted to get a piece of the pie and the club was forced to concede. Then women demanded equality and justice and they couldn’t be stopped. Soon, America’s black population followed suit and beat down the door, but not without a fight. Now another group wants in and even those who once stood outside the doors of privilege now look back through the peephole and question if it should be allowed. How soon we forget.
Change never comes easy. The pendulum of public opinion swings slowly from side to side. It is a slow and sometimes painful process, but history has shown us that it is almost impossible to halt progress or withhold human rights from any one group for very long. The conservative side will stomp and huff and puff and put up the “good” fight, but in the end they will concede and go kicking and screaming into the future. They always do. The examples of hard fought attempts to stem the tide of cultural movements that eventually failed and faded from memory are too innumerable to mention. Proposition 8 was the latest attempt, but when it’s all said in done, it isn’t likely to be enough.
“You say you’ll change the constitution. Well you know, we’d all love to change your head. You tell me it’s the institution. Well you know, you better free your mind instead.”