Last week, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California overturned the state’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. I, for one, am overjoyed.
As a gay man, I’ll be the first to admit that I am directly concerned with this issue — but there are greater things at work that would concern me even as a bystander. Proposition 8 was a deeply flawed and unconstitutional document that, if allowed to continue, would have set an alarming precedent for legislated subjugation and classification of people within the United States.
Proposition 8 is a simple document, consisting of only two lines of text, but these lines are exceptionally powerful. The proposition is designed to insert the phrase “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” into the state constitution.
Though it is worded carefully to sound like an innocent clarification or definition, this phrase is just another way of saying “gay marriage is not allowed in California.”
This statement has profound implications. It classifies people into two different groups — gay and straight — and then grants a right to one, while the other is forced to live without that right just because of their identity.
This is the fundamental basis of all civil rights struggles: Two groups of people are divided not because of their actions, but because of who they are. This is unacceptable. Our society is too evolved and humane to make a foolish mistake like classifying people based on their characteristics.
Proponents of the proposition claim that no rights are actually being taken away because California still has the title of “domestic partnership,” which can be applied to any kind of couple. However, this is not good enough.
Having both domestic partnerships and marriages in California’s laws, but only making marriages available to straight couples, smacks of a “separate but equal” relationship — something that was made illegal in 1964, and ruled by the United States Supreme Court to be unconstitutional in the area of marriage in the 1967 case of Loving vs. Virginia.
The other common argument for such legislation is that it must be put in place to protect straight couples’ rights, and that without such a document the “sanctity of marriage” would remain undefended.
This argument is downright perplexing. How does giving a right to more people somehow make it less valuable? A right like marriage is not a finite resource that can be mined away until none are left. There can always be more marriages without any problems.
Further, the phrase “sanctity of marriage” points by itself to another issue of this legislation’s constitutionality. Though the term “sanctity” has many definitions, they all somehow reference God or religion. Since, according to the constitution, religion has no place in government, why should legislation be put in place to protect something’s sanctity?
Proposition 8 is a dangerous document that could negatively affect the country and set back gay rights by years. However, it could also set back human rights in general.
The precedent that Proposition 8 sets is a dangerous one, and we must all work hard to make sure that it is completely stopped in its tracks, or all people — gay or straight — may suffer.