Opponents of marriage equality are afraid, in part, that same-sex relationships and LGBT people will come to be seen and treated as normal by society. This is something most opponents will openly admit (a small example: Al Mohler’s comment that the ruling striking down Prop 8 was “a significant step toward the full normalization of homosexuality within the culture”).
I’ve been struck by the particular horror of gay marriage opponents over the idea that children would be taught that same sex relationships are normal. “Protecting children” comes up as a recurring argument by the Yes on 8 campaign, by the pro Prop 8 lawyers, and many others. And it appears to be a quite effective argument; a recent analysis of polls leading up to the 2008 Prop 8 vote suggests that parents of school-age children – not African Americans as previously reported – were the key demographic in passing Prop 8, probably due to the effectiveness of Yes on 8 ads like the following:
I’ve been trying to figure what’s so frightening about the idea that children might read books that discuss the existence of LGBT couples without casting them as freaks or perverts. Ultimately I think it’s at least a fear of loss of straight privilege, i.e.:
– the unspoken and pervasive assumption that straight people and relationships are the norm and are superior to LGBT people and their relationships, and
– the institutional and societal biases in favor of straightness that are built on and perpetuate those assumptions.
More below the jump:
Yesterday Vaughn Walker, Chief Judge of the Northern California U.S. District Court, ruled CA Prop 8 unconstitutional on Due Process and Equal Protection grounds. You can read the full ruling here (scribd online) or here (pdf).
There’s much more to be said about the detailed, thorough text of the decision, but for now it’s worth highlighting a couple points. One, Judge Walker forcefully argued that Prop 8 was based on unproven assertions that gay and lesbian couples are inferior to straight couples:
Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis,the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
Secondly, the ruling is not just an argument for the equality of heterosexuals and sexual minorities, or an argument for marriage equality, it’s an argument for gender equality as well:
The evidence shows that the movement of marriage away from a gendered institution and toward an institution free from state-mandated gender roles reflects an evolution in the understanding of gender rather than a change in marriage. The evidence did not show any historical purpose for excluding same-sex couples from marriage, as states have never required spouses to have an ability or willingness to procreate in order to marry. FF 21. Rather, the exclusion exists as an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed.
The right to marry has been historically and remains the right to choose a spouse and, with mutual consent, join together and form a household. FF 19-20, 34-35. Race and gender restrictions shaped marriage during eras of race and gender inequality, but such restrictions were never part of the historical core of the institution of marriage. FF 33. Today, gender is not relevant to the state in determining spouses’ obligations to each other and to their dependents. Relative gender composition aside, same-sex couples are situated identically to opposite-sex couples in terms of their ability to perform the rights and obligations of marriage under California law. FF 48. Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals. (Emphases mine)
It’s no exaggeration to say that this is an unprecedented declaration of gender equality from a federal court. Amazing, and incredibly encouraging.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that in the end this isn’t about some abstracted notion of equality. This is about how inequalities materially affect people’s lives – people who are fully human, and fully deserving of the rights, worth, and dignity that every human being merits. This reflection by Celia Perry on what Judge Walker’s decision means to her as the daughter of a lesbian couple is a great reminder of what’s at stake here, and incredibly moving:
I was eight when Braschi’s case was decided. Like any normal eight-year-old, I certainly wasn’t up on LGBT caselaw, and I definitely didn’t know how precarious my family’s legal situation was. But although I didn’t understand it intellectually, I could feel it in my gut. I knew that my family was different, and that most Americans didn’t approve of it. No matter how loving a family is—and let me tell you, mine epitomizes the four-letter verb—that’s a whole lot of shame for a third-grader to internalize. And that shame is probably part of the reason why, in October 2008, I was a sobbing mess as I spoke at my moms’ wedding. (They’d scheduled the wedding before the November elections, knowing that Prop. 8 would likely pass, making their nuptials no longer legally viable.) As I stood before 150 of our closest friends and family with one mom on either side of me, so many things raced through my mind, like all the times I heard the word “faggot” casually thrown around at recess, and how Ellen DeGeneres stunned the nation when she came out on TV only a decade earlier. But most of all, the thing making me bawl like a baby was knowing that I hadn’t talked to my best friend about my moms being gay until after we’d graduated from high school in 1999. And that, right there, is why marriage is so important. It’s a public seal of approval. It’s our society saying that one’s sexual orientation, or the sexual orientation of one’s parents, doesn’t bestow second-class citizenship. And that it’s never something to be ashamed of.
It didn’t take Judge Walker’s ruling today for me to know that my moms deserve the rights of marriage. But after all this time, it sure is good to hear a judge say it.
“One’s sexual orientation, or the sexual orientation of one’s parents, doesn’t bestow second-class citizenship.” Because there’s no such thing as a second-class human being. This is a great day for the cause of equality, one more victory in the struggle to build a society where the full humanity and dignity of all people are respected.
Some religion, gender, and sexuality news from the past week:
In a similar case, a Christian student at Augusta State University’s school of counseling has alleged that she was threatened with expulsion because of her religious views on homosexuality, and is filing suit against the school. Jennifer Keeton claims she was ordered to take sensitivity training or face expulsion after she stated in class that homosexuality is an immoral lifestyle choice. More on these two cases in a future post!
Phillis Schafly claims President Obama is “subsidizing” illegitimate babies to increase his voter base. Great commentary from Robin Marty at RH Reality Check: “Remember, these are the people who fight against birth control, and say that there should be no access to abortion. Oddly enough, it doesn’t look like they want people to have babies, either.”
Encouraging news: New poll from Public Religion Research Institute finds slight majority of Californians support marriage equality. Latino Catholics were the most supportive out of religious groups of gay marriage (57%), followed by white mainline Protestants and white Catholics (54% and 51%) Latino Protestants were much less likely than Latino Catholics to approve of marriage equality (22%).
Anne Rice Quits Christians, Still Dates Jesus. More at Huffington Post: “In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control . . . In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
I think we’ll see a lot more Christians making this choice in the future (and many already have). I have a lot of respect for progressives who work for change within the institution of the church, and I think their work is tremendously important. But for some people remaining in the church feels tantamount to endorsing oppressive doctrines and discrimination, and working for change outside the church seems a more coherent option.