Sunday, December 21, 2008
Let No One Put Asunder
It's rare that something angers me so profoundly that I spend a good portion of the quality weekend time I have with my family letting it get under my skin.
This is one of those times, unfortunately.
I never believed the passage of California's Prop 8 -- which overturned the legalization of gay marriage in that state -- to be a product of hate. Ignorance, yes. Fear, definitely. Stupidity, absolutely -- but not, for most of its supporters, an out-and-out hatred of gay people. There's no doubt that, in the classic "hate the sin, love the sinner" vein, many opponents of gay marriage hold what they perceive to be the homosexual lifestyle (and the nagging fear that it will somehow encroach upon their clean, bucolic suburban existences) in greater contempt than any one gay person. This distinction, I'd imagine, provides little comfort for the 900-thousand or so gay and lesbian men and women living in California who've just been told by their neighbors that they're second class citizens -- but it still doesn't make the passing of Prop 8 proof that millions of people despise homosexuals.
Which doesn't mean that there isn't a small and very vocal contingent among Prop 8's supporters -- including the sponsors of the initial bill -- that does openly despise gay culture and what it believes gay people represent.
They consider homosexuality to be evil in every sense and will fight tooth and nail to eradicate it (which only proves the ridiculous folly of their belief system, since you can't "fix" gay and you damn sure can't make it go away).
These are the people who are now one-upping the ban that's already been imposed on any future gay weddings in California.
They want to not only ensure that no more same-sex couples marry -- they want to retroactively nullify the unions of an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples who were married during the few months that it was legal to do so in the state of California. The imaginatively-monikered "Yes on 8" campaign has now filed a brief arguing that because the new law states that only a marriage between a man and a woman can be recognized in California, any gay marriage is automatically invalid. The wording of Prop 8 never expressly outlined what would happen to the unions of those couples who'd already tied the knot, but if you couldn't see this draconian push to thoroughly extinguish the concept of gay marriage coming from a mile away, you're so naive that stepping outside your front door for any reason would likely be hazardous to your health.
These fanatics -- and that's exactly what they are -- don't simply disagree with the idea of same-sex couples marrying, they consider it a sinful blight on humanity and something that would put our society one step closer to being smitten, wholesale, by a vengeful God.
And who's heading up the court battle for the intolerant extremists looking to abolish gay marriage in its entirety?
Yes, that Ken Starr. The ultra-conservative and ethically-challenged legal attack dog who dubiously spent several years and millions of taxpayer dollars trying to bring down Bill Clinton back in the 90s -- the far-right butt-boy who issued the infamous "Starr Report" which purposely, pruriently read more like soft-core porn than a legal document. Starr's now the dean of the law department at Pepperdine University in Malibu (side note: don't go to law school at Pepperdine) and obviously is the perfect choice to pick up the long, hard spear, wrap both hands around its shaft and lead the charge to wipe gay marriage off the map in California. With Starr at the helm of the operation, you know exactly what you're getting, why you're getting it and the kinds of people behind the whole thing.
Opponents of the move, meanwhile -- who argue that it's unconstitutional and outright wrong to attempt to apply Prop 8 retroactively -- are scheduled to file their own brief tomorrow. It would be wonderful to believe that the opponents of this reprehensible effort will be successful, but they have yet to even slow the offensive that's been steamrolling over them the past few months.
There's no denying, however, that their cause is just. Their cause is, ironically, righteous. It always should've turned the stomachs of decent, freedom-loving Americans that there were those in our ranks who stood violently against the idea of an entire swath of the population being granted the right to marry the person of his or her choosing. It really should've provoked outrage that a group of our citizens had been granted a civil right only to have it put to a vote and subsequently revoked. The fact that the above has been allowed to occur, and now, to add the worst kind of insult to injury, those for whom the concept of such a right is nothing less than sacrilege seek to pull an end-run on the law and abrogate the contract of those who availed themselves of that right when it was legal -- well, that's just fucking despicable.
When federal Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the bootleggers and speakeasy proprietors arrested during the 13 years that alcohol was illegal in America weren't automatically freed from prisons, en masse. This is because if you engage in an illegal act, the eventual legalization of that act doesn't instantly absolve you in the eyes of the law. You did it while it was illegal, you broke the law.
That's the way it works.
Unless, apparently, you're talking about same-sex marriages.
Then, in a slap-in-the-face double-standard, you're expected to accept that the legal, ostensibly binding commitment you made in good faith can be subject to any future changes the state feels like implementing. Basically, your marriage -- the most important contract you enter into -- can be "grandfathered" to death.
To call it unfair would be a laughable understatement.
It's wrong. Period.
Just fucking wrong.
What follows is a related piece published here last month. It was written in response to the initial passage of Prop 8.
There's a guy I know named Omar who's been one of my best friends since we were both around 16.
He's been beside me through some of the worst times in my life, providing a kind of unwavering moral support and unconditional love that really can't be done justice with something as mundane as a well-placed word or two. He's more like a brother to me than a friend and I, quite honestly, would go to the ends of the earth for him if he required it. We've always championed each other and I have no doubt that we always will. Our friendship is one of the most important, and certainly the most enduring, things in each of our lives.
If Omar called me tomorrow morning and told me that he'd found somebody he wanted to share the rest of his life with and was planning to get married, I'd congratulate him, send a big hug his way, and ask him where he wanted me to be and when he wanted me to be there. There's no way in hell I'd miss his wedding.
The thing is, I don't have to worry about that.
That's because Omar can't get married -- at least not officially -- because he's gay.
Last week, while America was celebrating what feels, even now, like a rebirth and a restatement of purpose in the wake of the election that will put Barack Obama in the White House, millions in California were reeling from an election day shock -- a decision at the polls that inexplicably aims to undo a very real "march of freedom" within this country and cement the status of gay Americans as second-class citizens.
California's Proposition 8 was unlike anything I'd seen in my lifetime: a clever end-run around the law which attempted to actually take away the rights of a specific segment of the population -- rights that had previously been granted by the California Supreme Court. It was anathema to everything America purports to stand for -- justice and equality for all, without exception -- and yet it passed handily and did so in one of the most progressive states in the country.
It was, it is, a national embarrassment -- and one that never should've been allowed to happen in the first place.
It's true we live in a democracy and that each of us has a say in determining our leaders and the manner in which they govern, but there are some decisions that should be beyond the whim of the electorate -- out of reach of the most ignorant, timid or demagogic within our ranks. There's a reason our court system is charged with interpreting the Constitution and enforcing its tenets: We pay those entrusted with this awesome responsibility to be a little wiser than the rest of us -- to literally lay down the law when no one else can, or will.
Some things aren't up for debate in this country.
Our fundamental freedoms cannot be put to a vote.
Not here -- not in America.
There should be no doubt that eventually we'll look back on this disgraceful moment in our history the way we now regard segregation, pre-suffrage, or the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II: with shame, sadness, and a host of unanswerable questions as to what we might possibly have been thinking. We know this because, as much as those who stand against it will hate to hear this, legal gay marriage in the United States is an inevitability. We know this because of the basic nature of freedom: it expands.
It will not be contained -- and it most certainly will not be restricted once it's already been allowed to flourish. Isn't this the very principle that's guided our foreign policy for years? Are we so blind or so unforgivably hypocritical that we can't recognize when the truth of that ideal is staring us right in the face?
The genie is out of the bottle.
There's no putting it back in, and it was inexcusable that we sought to restrain it in the first place. That's not what this country is about.
My friend Omar, like all Americans, should have the right to marry anyone he wants -- to live his life however he chooses.
And not you, nor I, nor anyone else has the right to take those rights away from him.