Prop 8 and the Politics of Fear

Amidst the progressive thrill of Tuesday’s election of the first African-American to the office of President, California voted to amend its constitution through Prop. 8 to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Several other states have enacted similar laws or constitutional clauses, but that this could happen in the typically liberal minded state of California was particularly surprising. On the positive side, I have long argued that these sorts of issues should be decided via legislative process rather than from the judicial bench. To that end, well done California. But on the flip, one has to wonder if there are or should be limits to what the majority can impose on any given minority group.

As a country, we have come a long way in the last century with regard to eliminating discrimination based on genetic, cultural, or religious differences. Let’s face it, if Prop. 8 has instead defined marriage as the union of two people of the same race, thereby outlawing interracial marriage, there would have been riots in the streets. The same would have been true if the proposed law prohibited Jews from marrying Christians, or even citizens from marrying illegal aliens. Note that the issue here cannot even be said to be about nature vs. nurture. Whether homosexuality is genetic or a considered choice doesn’t even play in here. While you are genetically Black, I don’t think you can make a rational argument that you are born Catholic. So we have already ruled that discrimination based on some differences within the control of the individual is illegal.

The other interesting aspect of Prop. 8’s adoption is that it’s not remotely clear to me what the harm in gay marriage is. Who gets hurt if gays marry? What are they protecting society from? Arguments that the proposition is somehow protecting the sanctity of marriage are laughable. This is a state that basically invented no-fault divorce. Arguments that marriage should be about having children and raising a family are equally silly. Infertile people are allowed to marry. Post-menopausal women can still walk down the isle (I hope). And there’s always the “tradition of marriage” argument. This is maybe the silliest of all when you consider that until very recently in western culture, marriage was essentially a legal arrangement in which women were pretty much property acquired for the purpose of bearing kids. Demosthenes, the orator, explained it as: “We have prostitutes for our pleasure, concubines for our health, and wives to bear us lawful offspring.” I’m guessing that “traditional marriage” isn’t really what most people are after.

So what drove the adoption of Prop. 8? Fear. The religious fundamentalists pushing the proposition argued that without Prop. 8, public school children would be indoctrinated into accepting gay marriage against their parents’ wishes. Ah yes, it’s all about protecting the children. People can’t seriously think that knowing that gay marriage is an option will somehow draw more children into becoming gay, can they? Wouldn’t this be like arguing that teaching kids about drugs will more likely make them users? And for cryin’ in yer beer, let’s not teach ’em about evolution or we’ll be butt deep in atheist biology majors.

Just for giggles, substitute a different minority and a different institution for gay marriage and see if this makes sense. For example, “Public school children would be indoctrinated into accepting women’s voting rights against their parents’ wishes.” Um, yeah… so?

I firmly believe that one day history will look back on these laws with the same incredulity with which we now view laws allowing slavery or enforcing racial segregation. Seriously, with all the challenges we face as a nation, as as a culture, and as a people, the idea that this even makes the radar is sickening. Homosexuality is a threat about as menacing as Lima beans. It’s not a taste everyone loves, and no amount of marketing will change that. However, that doesn’t mean it should be illegal to grow them or sell them, and they won’t turn the broccoli to Lima beans just because they are co-located in the produce isle.

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