11.19.2008

Daily Trojan: "Pro-gay rights and pro-proposition 8"

In today's Daily Trojan, Kartik Sreepada, a student who voted yes on 8 tries to explain why. I recommend you read the whole thing, but I want to address some of the main points. First, though, I want to stress again that I fully respect the views of nearly everyone who voted yes on 8, because I know they did so for genuinely good reasons. I think they made the wrong choice, of course, but I do not want to label them as bigots or imply that they think of me as a second class citizen or any such thing. Anyway, here we go:

I recalled the succinct words of Vice President-elect Joe Biden during the vice presidential debate.

“Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage... That is basically the decision to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths,” he said.


First, by voting yes on 8, you redefined marriage. Admittedly, the existing definition had only been in place for a few months, but by voting yes, you are taking a stand on the issue and redefining marriage. I would also like to point out that Obama and Biden both supported NO on 8. (Biden: "If I lived in California, I'd clearly vote against prop 8. ... I think it's regressive, I think it's unfair."; Obama: When you start playing around with constitutions, just to prohibit somebody who cares about another person, it just seems to me that's not what America's about."

I think there is a misunderstanding going on here. Civil marriage--marriage as recognized by the state of California--is not a religious institution. A couple may be both legally married and married in a religious ceremony, but the two do not have to go together. The CA Supreme Court decision in May made it very clear that the ruling only affected civil marriage. It had no effect on the marriages of any individual church, just as a change in any church's definition of marriage would have no effect on civil marriages. Of course the official definition of marriage as recognized by any particular church is up to the leadership of that church. There is no reason this should be the same as the definition the state offers, and of course it's not the same in many cases.

I truly do not understand how allowing same-sex couples to marry violates separation of church and state. The only explanation I can think of is that Sreepada seriously misunderstood the way our state handled same-sex marriages between June and November this year. Going on:

While the California Supreme Court’s acceptance of gay marriage appeared to grant complete equality to gays, it undemocratically undermined another pillar of our Constitution: the separation of church and state. The decision could have led to a dangerous rift between religious institutions and our government, possibly putting patriots at odds with the religiously faithful.


First of all, there seems to be a very common sentiment that any time a court overturns an existing law, it is undemocratic, simply because that law itself was created through democratic means (either a legislature, or a ballot measure). The foundation of our government is "by the people, for the people" but it is also a system of checks and balances. And a very important part of that is the ability for courts to rule that a law is unconstitutional. You may disagree with their decision, but striking down laws is part of their job--it's not unconstitutional for them to do it.

But to address the real point being made, I fail to see how the decision undermined the separation of church and state. I can only imagine that this view resulted from a misunderstanding of what allowing same-sex couples to marry (again, I'm talking about civil marriage, not marriage in the eyes of any specific religion) did and didn't do. It did indeed create a "rift" (to put it nicely) between several groups and individuals, as did prop 8 being on the ballot, as did its passage. I don't see how that makes it wrong or right. It just means this is a controversial issue.

After this, Sreepada tries to elaborate on how same-sex marriage undermines the separation of church and state. There is an argument about religious leaders being "forced to act against their faiths," which did not happen during the period when same-sex marriage was legal here, and would have continued not to happen, regardless of the outcome of prop 8. Then it is claimed that marriage is "not a legal concept." Certainly, religious marriage is probably older than civil marriage, but then the idea of trading goods for money has existed much longer than any California laws regulating businesses. Does that mean that a business is not a legal concept? No, it just means that it may have different meanings in different contexts. And one of those is a legal definition. Marriage is most certainly a legal concept.

In time, maybe the Supreme Court will declare the term “marriage” unconstitutional. When that moment comes, it will be a victory not just for equality, but the separation between church and state.


Perhaps this sheds some light on what was really meant. It's not that marriage isn't a legal concept, but rather that it shouldn't be one. That is, it is a religious concept which the government has become involved in, so its become a legal concept. Maybe it would be better left to the churches, and the government should just stay out of it. While the idea of eliminating civil marriage altogether is a bit radical, it would certainly be equal. All couples would have the same rights under the law.

Basically, this person seems simply misled or misinformed. If you think you understood him better than I did, please tell me.

1 comment:

Austin said...

Very nice rational and uncharged response to a serious misunderstanding of the concepts at stake here.