The presence of Proposition 8 on the California ballot this year has generated a storm of controversy and upheavals of emotion on both sides of the debate.
Paul Sorensen recently wrote a commentary (Noozhawk, “Commentary: Proposition 8 Ensures Equality For All Children”) advocating the passage of the initiative on the grounds that its defeat would irreparably damage the family structure, turning out ill-socialized, poorly raised children. Proposition 8, of course, was placed on the ballot by voters as an amendment to the California Constitution that, as its title reads, “Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.”
Sorensen’s argument was twofold. First was the emotion appeal, arguing that if you were up for adoption, you would of course prefer to be adopted by a husband and wife rather than a same-sex couple. The key factor I would seek to assess, however, is not sexual orientation but simply the capability to responsibly raise a child. Heterosexuality alone by no means guarantees any sort of parental aptitude.
Sorensen then relates the tale of Catholic Charities in Massachusetts closing its doors in 2006 when it could no longer “favor” straight couples when selecting whom to entrust the care of children. Sorensen implies that this form of discrimination is justifiable, because he proposes that sexual orientation should be the measuring stick for judging suitable parents, rather than on grounds of ability and affection. This also ignores the fact that there are always more children looking for homes than there are families willing to take them in.
The second stage of the attack, based on a supposedly “vast” body of social science confirming the advantages of a heterosexual set of parents on a child’s well-being, fails to reference any specific studies and is misleading in its claim of “overwhelming” consensus. A report released by Medscape, a professional health resource, on Oct. 13, 2005, reads: “An analysis of multiple studies of 500 households shows that rearing children in a same-sex household does not affect their self-esteem, gender identity or emotional health.”
This entire debate over child-rearing and science is ultimately irrelevant, however, because the real issue is upholding the equality of all people. However, many proponents of Proposition 8 reframe the argument based on a variety of theoretical negative consequences stemming from the potential defeat of their cause. From what I have heard and read, many of the arguments defending Prop 8 fall into similar categories: that legitimizing gay marriage will damage the vital family structure, lead to the teaching of homosexuality in public schools, encourage the Supreme Court’s “legislating from the bench” and directly oppose the religious beliefs that many people live by.
The first claim, defending the family structure and the “ideal” heterosexual couple, is countered very simply and plainly: Such a claim is based on specific opinions and values held by individuals, not on facts, and therefore, in accordance with the constitutional ideals this country is based on, such beliefs may not be imposed on others. The mere existence of gay marriage has absolutely no impact on existing marriages, and does not in any way compromise the integrity of dedicated and loving heterosexual families.
Many also claim that the civil unions formerly granted to same-sex couples granted the same rights as marriage, and that maintaining such a difference allows same-sex couples their own form of partnership without resulting in the redefinition of marriage. While it is true that California’s civil unions have grown in scope and now are nearly equivalent to marriage, the fact remains that civil unions are not marriage. By giving same-sex marriage a title other than what is reserved for heterosexual couples, the institution of same-sex partnerships is belittled and same-sex couples are systematically labeled as undeserving of full rights. This is, in effect, “separate but equal” all over again.
The second point, that the defeat of Prop 8 would lead children to be “taught homosexuality” in schools, is a nonissue. A comprehensive sex education class will describe the nature of homosexuality regardless of what legal rights homosexuals possess. If the morality of homosexuality is addressed in class, teachers who promote positive acceptance of homosexuals will continue to do so regardless of the passage or defeat of Prop 8, while teachers who withhold judgment or present homosexuality as reprehensible most likely will not change their beliefs based on the result of the popular vote. Meanwhile, a parent whose views clash with what they perceive being taught is free to promote contrary ideas to their child outside of the classroom, but in a government-sponsored public institution of learning, the opinions and values of parents must bow to the laws of equality and anti-discrimination.
The demonization of “activist judges” overriding the will of the people is likewise misguided and uninformed. The judiciary, a vital element of the three branches of the U.S. government, acts as an agent of checks and balances in part by defending the rights of minority groups from the oppressive tendencies of the majority. When the “will of the people” results in a set of laws that restricts the freedoms of a group too small to be effective in the arena of direct democracy (as occurred with the passage of Proposition 22 in 2000), it is the constitutional duty of the Supreme Court, when presented with such a case as came before it on May 15 of this year, to declare that the denial of civil marriage to homosexuals is unconstitutional. In ruling thus they follow in the footsteps of civil rights movements throughout our history: recognizing that all men and women have a fundamental right to equal treatment under the law.
Lastly, regarding the claimed deconstruction of religious and moral traditions because of the rise of alternate value systems, the debate follows the same logic as that of the alleged assault on the family structure. While many religious groups can and will continue to define marriage by their own standards, and decide who has access to their individual form of marriage, the government has absolutely no place in choosing who is or is not allowed a civil marriage. The only time it is ever permissible to limit the rights of an individual is when that individual poses a clear and immediate threat to others.
While it appears that many find gay marriage to offend their delicate sensibilities, that is not and has never been legitimate grounds for discrimination and the withholding of fundamental rights.
Alex Dunn lives in Isla Vista and is a student at Santa Barbara City College.