Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Fall Fireworks Out West

The game is officially afoot in California. It promises to be at least as nasty as the Presidential race.

Yesterday, the ballot measure that would define marriage in the state constitution as between a man and a woman only got certification for November. It had a healthy cushion, with over a million signatures. It needed 694,354.

The amendment is a single line, reading, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." It would become state constitution, Section 2, Article I, Section 7.5.

For sticker shock, estimates are that this fight could cost $30 million and many thousands of paid and volunteer hours on both sides. Much of that will be from the funnel organization protectmarriage.com. This group would look familiar to those of us in Massachusetts where an anti-gay/anti-marriage equality organization created a nominally separate arm to raise money and fight a specific battle. In California, this is the California Family Council. Both have Ron Prentice as head.

Similarities in the attacks are clear in Prentice's statement:
The vast majority of research continues to state that California’s voters favor keeping marriage as it is, protecting its historic definition between only a man and a woman. The November ballot will give opportunity for citizens to respond to the State Supreme Court’s decision, by solidifying traditional marriage in the California Constitution. Californians are a tolerant people. But we also know that marriage is between a man and a woman, as the voters reaffirmed just a few years ago.
That is tenuous at best and won't go unchallenged. In legal reality, the court there found, as our high court did in Goodridge, a fundamental conflict. The state mandates equal treatment, including for homosexuals. In California, the one-man/one-woman wording inserted in the family code following a 2000 ballot initiative conflicted with that and had to go.

I hope that the pro-equality folk are able to make it plain that the other side is trying to redefine marriage, replacing the state's civil contract with requirements to adhere to religious precepts. Voters are likely to be irritated if they realize they are being jerked around and lied to by theocratic types.

Absolutely nothing now or in the foreseeable future keeps any couple from layering their particular religious ritual over the civil contract that makes them legally married. The question should best be framed whether they want the church in their personal business.

Among coastal differences are:
  1. California doesn't have any laws restricting out-of-state couples from marrying there. This could increase the number of same-sex couples marrying and returning home. This particularly freaks the anti-equality types. Of course, they said this would happen when Massachusetts SS married couples moved or the few out-of-stater SS couples who can legally marry here (think New Mexico and Rhode Island) would cause this effect and increase suits elsewhere.
  2. California anti folk thought they had settled this eight years ago. Yet times change, civil unions and SSM elsewhere are working great and harming no one. Plus many voters in their 20s and 30s think the old cranks need to get over their problem with GLBT people.
  3. Representative government is on the side of equality here. In addition to the court decision, the legislature has twice passed pro-SSM laws. Moreover, the governor has held to his position when he vetoed the law twice — when the high court okays SSM, it's fine by him. Now, he and other players like the attorney general and secretary of state are on board.
  4. Taking away rights is loaded. It is much easier for voters to deny rights than strip existing ones. SSM should start this month. By November, hundreds or even thousands of SS couples will be legally married. Straight married couples are likely to think hard about such an anti-marriage amendment.

Schadenfreude is always high on haters' agenda.

In an update to Samuel Johnson's observation that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, let us note that the ballot initiative fills that need for deceit. The anti folk have broadly lost this battle and have fallen back to the last trench.

Californians love their ballot initiatives. These are the most populist in the nation, constructed to allow down-and-dirty appeals to the emotions. This style turns the state into a gigantic town meeting, with no accountability. It is more like mob rule than reasoned decision making. California has been caught by this numerous times, legally and financially.

So far, the other side, epitomized by Equality California, is not showing their hand. On that website, there are low-key calls for donations, volunteers and coming out. That will be changing as the anti forces get nasty.

I have no doubt that Prentice's people are gloating. Immediately, they have soured the joy people have been feeling anticipating SSM beginning there on June 17th. Schadenfreude is always high on haters' agenda.

Collateral factors to the amendment vote will have to wait. I turned to my favorite expert on related legal issues, NYU law professor Arthur S. Leonard of Leonard Link. He suggests that we'll have to wait for the state supreme court until well after the November vote.

If the amendment loses, there's required involvement. He adds that as we saw here, pleas to the court before such votes tend to be on the certification process not the constitutionality of the amendment. He wrote, "Generally, courts tend to be predisposed against unnecessarily deciding constitutional issues."

Instead, on both coasts, we have seen the usual bogus claims of activist judges and legislating from the bench. Of course, as the records and rulings clearly show, those are decidedly untrue. The high courts in both states have been far too slow to act. In both states, they only ruled when wide conflicts with equality laws forced them to do so. When they did, it was during their required duty of aligning laws and resolving obvious conflicts.

The reality is a tougher sell than catchphrases and unsupported claims. The anti folk will have a much easier time getting their simple-minded message out to voters.

It will be fascinating if anxiety producing to discover whether Californians would rather formalize theocracy in their civil laws or stay in the 21st Century and affirm liberty and equality.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Equality for All is the other main organization working to protect marriage equality in CA. They are working closely with EQCA. Give heavily to both or either.