LOS ANGELES – While the rest of the nation celebrates Barack Obama’s triumph on Nov. 4, there’s a dark cloud hanging over election night returns here in the Golden State.
The success of Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage in California, is a huge disappointment and a huge contradiction. On the same day 60.8 percent of Californians voted for Sen. Obama, 52 percent voted for Prop. 8. Even more shockingly, while over nine out of 10 African-Americans voted to elect the nation’s first African-American president, seven out of 10 voted to discriminate against gays and lesbians. The anti-gay marriage initiative also won 53 percent of the Latino vote. Go figure.
Prop. 8 is the latest chapter in the California’s long-running saga over same-sex marriage. Long simmering on the back burner, it was first forced onto the front burner when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, sitting in the House gallery, heard President Bush use his State of the Union address to declare that marriage should be allowed only between a man and woman.
An outraged Newsom, as he related it to me, stormed out of the Capitol, turned on his cell phone, called his office and gave orders to draw up documents for making same-sex marriage legal in San Francisco. Just one month and some 4,000 happily-married gay and lesbian couples later, the California Supreme Court ruled that Newsom had violated state law limiting marriage to same-sex couples only.
Then on May 16, 2008, that same conservative court stunned everyone by declaring California’s anti-gay marriage law unconstitutional. People have a “fundamental right to marry the person of their choice,” the court ruled 4-3, and existing gender restrictions violate the “equal protection” guarantees of the state constitution. (And by extension, one might add, the U.S. Constitution!)
That should have resolved the issue, but gay-haters were not willing to give up so easily. They ran out, rounded up signatures and put Proposition 8 on the ballot, which, in theory at least, overruled the Supreme Court decision. But opponents of Proposition 8 are already back before the court, asking them to reaffirm their previous decision and invalidate the measure on the plausible theory that only by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature can a constitutional amendment be placed on the ballot, not by signatures on an initiative.
However the court rules, there’s no doubt that Proposition 8 is just the latest form of discrimination. That’s what’s so maddening about the support it received from blacks and Latinos. In effect, what they voted for is replacing one form of discrimination with another. There is no difference between denying people the right to eat at the same lunch counter because they’re black or brown and denying them the right to get married because they’re gay. Either way, it’s discrimination, pure and simple.
But Proposition 8 is something else, too: It’s religious bigotry. The initiative’s two main sponsors were the Catholic Church and the Mormon Church. Mormons, in fact, pumped in 77 percent of the funding for the “Yes on 8” campaign, even though they make up less than 2 percent of California’s population.
Given that churches were in no way obliged to perform gay marriages – the Supreme Court decision applied to civil ceremonies only – there is no excuse for Catholic and Mormon officials to wage war on gays. If we are all God’s children, then surely we all deserve the same rights and opportunities. And besides, religion is supposed to be about love, not hate.
The Old Testament ban on homosexuality in Leviticus has no more relevance today than its ban on shellfish, which everybody ignores. And aside from several comments attributed to St. Paul (and of questionable authenticity), there is no mention of gays or gay marriage in the New Testament. If homosexuality were so evil, don’t you think Jesus would have said something about it?
Actually, Jesus had a lot to say about helping the poor. But the Catholic and Mormon churches chose to do very little about poverty, war, torture, health care, the environment, or so many other issues on which they should be out in front. They’d rather target gays instead.
The ultimate irony is that, while rejecting equal rights for gays and lesbians, 63 percent of Californians also voted to approve Proposition 2, which requires that chickens and pigs may only be confined in cages big enough to “allow them to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely.”
Welcome to California, where chickens and pigs get more sympathy from voters than lesbians and gays.