As you’ve probably heard by now, Proposition 8 was passed by California voters on Nov. 4. If it survives legal challenges, it will amend the California Constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
In 2000, California voters passed Proposition 22, which had likewise limited marriage to one man and one woman. In May, the California Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 22 was unconstitutional. The Court held that Proposition 22 violated the equal protection clause of the state Constitution, which forbids the state from denying any group or individual the legal benefits it grants everyone else.
Proposition 8, unlike 22, gets around this legal hurdle by actually amending the California Constitution. It does seem disturbing that a guarantee of equality can be revoked by a simple majority vote. Should a majority vote be enough to institutionalize systemic discrimination against a minority by the majority? What then is the point of having a Constitution and an independent judiciary?
Conservatives often say that extending marriage rights to gays (here meaning both male and female homosexuals) would undermine the institution of marriage, which they say has always been between one man and one woman. This would fly in the face of thousands of years of human history, so they say, and would therefore undermine society itself.
But marriage, like every human institution, has undergone a dramatic historical evolution. Polygamy, for example, used to be common throughout the world, but now constitutes only a tiny fraction of marriages performed worldwide, even in Muslim countries.
The appeal to the hallowed past is a fallacious one: society has always been changing technologically, politically and economically. There is no reason that it shouldn’t change morally and legally, in this case by giving full rights to the gay minority.
One of the chief arguments against extending marriage rights to gays is the notion that homosexuality is unnatural. But this is a self-defeating argument: gays are obviously attracted to other men or women at the same gut-level that the rest of us are attracted to the opposite sex. If it was unnatural to them, they wouldn’t do it.
I’m not a scientist, but it does seem that homosexuals represent a genetic variation that only affects a minority of the human population. Homosexuality can thus be seen as analogous to being left-handed. From the point of view of a right-handed person, left-handedness is unnatural, but it’s completely natural to a left-handed person.
Like homosexuals, left-handed persons represent only a small minority of the human gene pool. Also like homosexuals, left-handed people have been with us throughout history. I’m suggesting we bring gay men and women out of the shadows and into the light of full legal recognition.
Gays and lesbians have already been given full marriage rights in Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, and South Africa. Incredibly, the Earth hasn’t gone spiraling off its axis as a result. Gays can marry and everybody else is just fine.
In a democratic society we have to ask ourselves if it is justifiable to have disenfranchised minorities who do not have the same rights as others. Many Americans would admit that gay couples form bonds just as strong as any straight couple. So why shouldn’t those relationships be legitimized?
Christopher Herrin is a graduate Religious Studies major and a columnist for the Daily Forty-Niner.