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California’s shame

Equal marriage rights suffers a setback, but there is hope. Plus, young voters.
By EDITORIAL  |  November 24, 2008


The politics of division as practiced by lame-duck president George W. Bush at the connivance of his onetime Svengali Karl Rove are not dead.

Democrat Barack Obama’s decisive national victory over Republican John McCain certainly dealt a body blow to those who would pit whites against nonwhites, the native born against immigrants, the haves against the have-nots, and those who practice their fundamental right to worship as they choose against those who exercise their equally constitutional right not to worship at all.

But anyone who doubts that the politics of intolerance and inhumanity are alive and well need only to look to California, Florida, and Arizona, which voted to deny same-sex couples the basic human right to marry that couples of differing genders enjoy. The Taliban would be proud.

The situation in Arkansas is even more dispiriting. Voters in that state went so far as to mandate that only married couples can adopt children or serve as foster parents. Since heterosexual unions are the only couplings recognized in Arkansas, voters removed the possibility that straight singles could adopt in order to bar gays and lesbians from becoming parents or guardians. Pity the children.

While the same-sex-marriage bans in Arizona and Florida (the latter, for good measure, also outlawed civil unions) undeniably hinder the just cause of civil rights, the vote in California was most significant.

In May, the Republican-dominated California Supreme Court issued a ringing declaration establishing that couples of the same gender had the equal right to marry as those of differing genders. “An individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights,” the court ruled.

California voters thought otherwise. Although the state went overwhelmingly for Obama, voters allowed the state constitution to be amended in order to outlaw marriage for gay and lesbian couples. In a predominately multicultural state like California, it is difficult to pinpoint the constituent groups responsible for the defeat. But the effect of African-Americans who approved the ban by a margin of more than 70 percent is difficult to deny.

The irony, of course, is bitter. The same day that a black American was elected president for the first time, his fellow citizens denied the dignity of marriage to same-sex couples. What a country.

Equally undeniable was the opposition of religious groups to same-sex marriage. The Mormon-led movement was joined by Catholics and Evangelicals Protestants who decided that the teaching of Jesus Christ to love your neighbor as yourself need not apply in California — or, by extension, to the rest of the nation.

Thanks to these holy rollers, California enjoys the dubious distinction of rescinding a set of rights for the first time in American history. And make no mistake, marriage is a bundle of rights that encompasses more than a formalized recognition of love and affection. Marriage rights extend to a host of issues that include property, a couple’s mutual well-being, inheritances, and, in case of critical illness, perhaps even life or death.

(In 1996, Bill Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act, assuring that same-sex couples would remain ineligible for spousal benefits under Social Security, Medicare, or any other federal benefit program reserved for married couples, irrespective of individual states’ allowing gay marriage. In order to assure those rights nationally for same-sex couples, that law would still need to be taken off the books or overturned by the Supreme Court.)

As bad as the situation is in California, there is more than a glimmer of hope. (It is ironic to use Obama’s favorite word in this context, for the president-elect favors only civil unions, not full marriage rights.)

A host of groups are preparing to argue in the California courts that Proposition 8 — the name of the measure that rolled back same-sex marriage rights — is itself unlawful, since proposals that would significantly change the constitution must be approved by the state legislature before they can be put to a statewide vote.

The Phoenix joins with people of goodwill everywhere who hope that a legal challenge to California’s bigoted and prejudiced nullification of marriage rights meets with success. The Age of Bush is over. It is time to banish its spirit — forever.

Youth votes
Here’s a scary thought: if young voters who went to the polls in historically high numbers had split their votes evenly, McCain and Palin would have won.

Obama’s win was rooted in wide support across the political spectrum. But votes from young Americans, as well as African-Americans, Hispanics, and women — combined with the lower turnout by conservatives — resulted in a resounding victory.

Building on a foundation laid by the previous insurgent candidacy of former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who will soon step down as the head of the Democratic National Committee, Obama proved that the way to engage young voters is to inspire them, to make it clear that their interests, hopes, dreams, and vision count.

The good news amid the reports of gay-rights setbacks is that nationally, young voters take a broader view of human rights than do their elders. Whatever their political leanings, they trend to favor equal rights for gays and lesbians.

In other words, the power of demographics lies behind the movement to grant marriage rights to all.

Make no mistake, this observation is not a suggestion that the fight to grant equality to all should flag for even a moment. Rather, it is a reaffirmation of hope, a reminder that even as new impediments are enacted — as they were in California, Arizona, Florida, and Arkansas — those of us who seek justice can go forward secure in the knowledge that time, as well as right, is on our side.

Related: California matters, A step forward, On Sotomayor, More more >
  Topics: The Editorial Page , Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Arizona,  More more >
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