Friday, March 6, 2009

Jumping the Broom in California

It appears to me that the California Supreme Court is going to bend to pressure, and somehow uphold Proposition 8 while trying to avoid legal disenfranchisement of Gays and Lesbians, especially married couples. Good luck trying to split that baby, Solomons. The only guaranteed legal right enjoyed by Gays and Lesbians on the state (49 of them anyway) and federal level is the right to vote. Almost all laws prohibiting discrimination in housing and employment are city laws, vulnerable to repeal by state houses usually dominated by rural and conservative interests.

Gay marriage is an issue that is almost entirely driven by the rank and file of the LGBT movement. In fact, the membership has been ahead of the leadership on this issue from the beginning.
Gay leadership was taken by surprise at the size and depth of feeling when the issue first surfaced in a series of court cases in Hawaii in the 1990s. Most of the official gay leadership at the time thought marriage was a losing issue, that the real issues were hate crimes and discrimination. They let the Defense of Marriage Act go through over their protests, and concentrated their energies on hate crime and discrimination legislation. We forget that there was a wave of anti-gay violence at that time, and most of the media attention was directed at discrimination in the military. In all fairness, leaders were choosing battles that they thought they had a chance to win.
Radical gays in the 1990s dismissed the idea of marriage altogether as a proprietary institution of a society founded on greed and predation. They pointed out all the references to wives and children becoming male property in most marriage ceremonies and laws. Marriage, they argued, was not about love and commitment, but about ownership and property. Why should gays want any part of such a decadent institution?
The rank and file had other ideas. The gay leadership was taken aback by how much people really wanted marriage equality. I think in some ways, they still are. Gay and lesbian couples really wanted those legal protections and benefits that come with marriage. Especially, they wanted the recognition and equality that is there in the term "marriage."

I find it remarkable that this is a movement driven not so much by the young, but mostly by the middle aged and elderly in the LGBT community. Marriage equality is primarily driven by couples who've been together for many years and long ago made households together. They've weathered discrimination, intimidation, alienation, and illness (especially AIDS) in order to keep those households together. They've always paid mortgages and taxes. Many of these couples were raising children and serving on PTA boards long before the media noticed. What they want is the legal recognition of what they've already built and accomplished together.
I would also argue that this is about the future. There will always be that bar and party circuit culture which is great when you're young. The young may believe that they are immortal, but the rest of us who were young know that youth is fleeting. Part of growing up is the discovery that The Pursuit of Happiness means much more than this weekend's new sensation. The marriage movement is about creating equality where it matters most, in the very area that sets gays and lesbians apart from the majority. It is also about creating enduring communities where love can be sustained and passed on from one generation to the next.


Grandmère Mimi said...

Uphold Prop 8 without legal disenfranchisement seems the way the judges are going to me, too. That is no solution; it won't stand; and it won't solve anything. Chickens.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I hoped we'd seen the last of Ken Starr as a figure on the national stage, but that was not to be.

IT said...

Oh it's remarkable. THe only inalienable right to Mr Starr is the right to eliminate others' rights by majority vote.

DOn't think domestic partnerships will last. This will open the floodgate to amendment after amendment going after unpopular minorities, not just gays.

Counterlight said...

"This will open the floodgate to amendment after amendment going after unpopular minorities, not just gays."

Sadly, I think you are right. Folks who may have thought that they have nothing at stake in the marriage fight will come to regret the Court's likely decision.
Rights should never be up for a vote. Minorities, by definition, will always lose.

JCF said...

Don't you think the California Legislature will try to interject itself some more into this (the process of Constitutional amendment, of even basic rights, by simple majority popular vote)? The Legislature runs the risk of being completely marginalized by a process run amuck---nevermind that they're stuck w/ the hard work of actually GOVERNING the mess that all these amendments could make.

I think the Legislature will want another bite at this apple. Not so much for SSM, per se (though, if our worst fears are realized, they will smart that the Court ignored their expressed wishes as well), but to try to swing the Balance-of-Power back to themselves---with good reason!

[Have thought the California Initiative process was seriously f-ed up ever since Prop 13 (property tax rollback), when I was in high school---the budget cuts were immediate and dramatic.]

Counterlight said...

I have no idea what California's state constitution is like. Most of the states I've lived in had pretty bad ones with Texas and New York State in a tie for worst.
However, I'm astonished that California can amend the fundamental law of the land that is a constitution with a simple popular referendum. Amendment processes for any constitution are SUPPOSED to be difficult to prevent the rights of minorities from being trampled. That goes for minorities of opinion (like Republicans right now) as well as racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual minorities.

I agree with IT. If the Court rules the way it appears they are inclined to rule, then it bodes very ill for lots of people beyond the LGBT community. Everyone's rights could be up for a vote.