Friday, May 16, 2008

California Supreme Court Voids Gay Marriage Ban; Opponents Vow to Continue Fight.

Unless you've been under a rock for the last 24 hours, you're aware that the California Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on same sex marriages yesterday.

I have some mixed feelings about this issue. I'm personally more or less agnostic on the issue of gay marriage. On the one hand, I have had the pleasure and privilege of knowing a number of committed gay couples who would enjoy the opportunity of marrying one another and who frankly regard it as a basic civil and human right. Furthermore, a substantial part of my adolescence was spent in San Francisco during the 1980's where I got a chance to observe the the gay subculture up close. I found it distinctly unscary. If yesterdays events brought joy to my gay friends and neighbors, I rejoice with you.

On the other hand, I am also a cultural and religious conservative (or perhaps a better term might be traditionalist). Through the travail of ages, institutions of great and lesser importance have come and gone. Through it all however, marriage has remained one of the basic building blocks of human civilization. And whether a society was Pagan, Christian, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, or Zoroastrian, marriage has always meant the union of a man and a woman.

Marriage has of course changed and evolved over time. The abandonment of concepts like dowry, arranged marriage and polygamy have improved it enormously. The legacy of no-fault divorce, "starter marriages", and widespread acceptance of illegitimacy is at best, more mixed. Still, it's hard to imagine a more fundamental change in the nature of marriage than to to make it a same sex affair. Whatever one might think about the normalcy of homosexual relationships, you have to concede that gay weddings are mighty strange (at least to most of us).

I am like all people, a product of my times. I have no special insight on how the future will regard prohibitions on gay marriage. Perhaps in time it will be viewed like bans on mixed race marriage which were once common. Then again maybe not. As America becomes more Hispanic and religiously conservative (Populations of conservative denominations are booming, more left-wing minded groups like mainline protestants are at best, stagnant) I think it's likely to be less receptive to demands from homosexual activists.

If the future looks bleak for gays, the present isn't that great either. Gay marriage is opposed by something like 60% of Democrats and about 80% of the overall electorate. If we take them at their word, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and John Edwards are all on record opposing gay marriage. Obama and Hillary have tried to finesse the issue by saying the issue should be left up to the states (when is the last time you heard a democrat say that?) but when pressed come down as being "personally opposed" whatever that means. Given that reality, it's not difficult to understand why gay activists have taken a judicial approach to achieving gay marriage as opposed to a legislative one. The hard truth is if they can't get approved by voters or legislators in California or Massachusetts, they can't get it approved anywhere.

The problem with a judicial approach is that voters tend to resent it...bitterly. If you out organize and out hustle me that's one thing. Imposing your agenda on an unwilling electorate by judicial fiat on the other hand, tends to get peoples dander up.

In the early 90's after he was safely elected Bill Clinton promised to sign an executive order integrating homosexuals into the armed forces. The backlash was devastating. The Joint Chiefs of Staff threatened to resign en masse. Panicking, the Democrats who controlled both houses of Congress then made "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" the law of the land-in most ways a much harsher rule than had been the case previously. Not that it helped them any. In the following election the Republicans took back the Senate and gained control of the House for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration.

The statute which the state Supreme Court invalidated yesterday had been enacted by ballot initiative by the people of California in 2000. In a high turnout election, in a state that Al Gore won handily, it passed with over 61% of the vote. It appears likely that this fall California voters will be asked to amend the state constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman-thus overruling the court. It needs only 50% plus one vote to pass.

Any bets?

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