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Marriage is a legal contract between two individuals which, in the eyes of the law, join the two together. Although marriage ceremonies often carry religious connotation, marriage itself is not dictated by religion, but rather by state marriage law. Marriage carries with it well over 1,000 legal benefits including inheritance rights, domestic violence protection, joint adoption, the ability to make medical decisions for your spouse, insurance benefits and hospital visitation rights.
Being that these rights are only available through marriage, and marriage is only granted to two people of the opposite sex, gays and lesbians are inherently excluded from partaking in these legal benefits with the person they choose to be with. In May of 2008, the California Supreme Court recognized that marriage is a fundamental right under the California Constitution and that by prohibiting same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian people were being denied this right.
In response to this ruling, activist groups sought to change the California Constitution through a ballot proposition, Proposition 8, which would redefine marriage as valid only between a man and a woman. Organizations including the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the American Family Association, and Focus on the Family lobbied hard for their side, raising $35.8 million dollars for the advancement of their campaign.
Despite equally large amounts of money raised by those in opposition to the proposition, the measure passed on November 4, 2008 with a vote of 52.3 percent to 47.7 percent; nearly 60,000 more votes were cast for the bill than against it. The general belief is that the passing of Proposition 8 was due to the relatively large amount of religious African-American voters in California, drawn to the polls with the hope of a Barack Obama presidency. The assumption is that these voters tend to lean more conservative socially, and were thus opposed to same-sex marriage.
One wonders: If gay marriage is about equality, why are so many people passionately against it? Supporters of Prop 8 have many reasons, the most notable of those being that redefining marriage will result in the decline and devaluing of marriage, marriage will be further redefined to include polygamy and that Christian beliefs will further be pushed out of public policy.
Members of the gay rights movement have responded that gay marriage in no way seeks to obliterate marriage, but rather is attempting to actively participate in the long term commitment that marriage brings. They note that divorce is an actual threat to marriage, not more marriage itself. In response to the idea that marriage would need to be extended to include polygamy is also incorrect; massive financial contributions made by the Mormon church to the Prop 8 effort are evidence to the contrary.
The latter arguments are somewhat more complex. It is the view of many religious individuals that homosexuality is inherently immoral, that it is a choice, and that by supporting gay people, our society is also becoming immoral and will be headed for disaster. In response to this, one RIT student writes, “To this, we must remember that our country is a melting pot of different cultures, ideas, and religions. When we set aside equal rights for all people in favor of the agenda of a particular group, we risk losing our country's unique diversity. Perhaps one of the more frightening aspects of Prop 8 is that it shows that any group with enough money can effectively sway the masses and significantly change public policy, even when the policy has been deemed to cause unfair discrimination.”
The future of marriage
To push the measure forward, proponents argued that public schools would teach children that gay marriage is acceptable, citing an incident in the gay marriage-friendly state of Massachusetts, where a schoolteacher read King & King, a fairy tale about two gay princes, to her students. Another argument for “on the fence” voters was the publicizing of California's family code, section 297.5, which recognizes domestic partnerships for all couples. Accordingly, ProtectMarriage.com boasts a YouTube video stating, “Why is change for the definition of marriage such a big deal?”
The passing of Proposition 8 has brought forth a plethora of legal action against the ruling. On November 19, 2008, the California Supreme Court officially granted a review of the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Numerous social activists have joined the gay and lesbian community in challenging Proposition 8, stating that Proposition 8 inappropriately calls for government discrimination of a minority group. Additionally, legal question has been raised as Proposition 8 is a revision to the California state constitution instead of an amendment, and thus should not be decided by a voting initiative, but a two-thirds vote of the state Legislature instead. The state's supreme court is on an expedited schedule to review the case and conduct oral argument by March 2009. The court also intends to decide what should happen to the same-sex marriages that were conducted prior to Proposition 8.
One piece of California legislation is key to the community of opponents: Senate Resolution 7. If passed, the Senate would support the repeal of Proposition 8, effectively “declaring that the initiative was an improper revision to the California Constitution,” as Equality California asserts. Opponents have even decided to hold "marriage equality training camps" to help each other “organize in their communities to restore marriage equality for same-sex couples to California.” As of now, they have friends in high places: California-based Google openly rejects the measure as it denies employees “basic rights”, and President Obama deems it "unnecessary."
This was a particularly interesting piece to
watch during the submission process. Due
to the divisive nature of Proposition 8, we
expected there to be bias and “wiki edit
wars.” Surely enough, there was. The initial
submission presented one Catholic person’s
view of homosexuality as a “sinful urge,”
which inspired a rebuttal from another
person that consisted mostly of a Keith
Olbermann quote. Eventually, the Catholic
view was deleted and the two sections seen
above were added. -- Ilsa Shaw, Managing
Editor 15:01, 25 January 2009 (EST)