by Kit-Bacon Gressitt
What the hell is going on in California? The land of fruits and nuts. The other coast. Home to air-kissing takers of lunch, serenely sinuous yogis stretching their legs behind their heads, tube-happy surfers hanging ten, industrial sized and televised churches filled with tanned folks cheerfully loving Jesus, Nike-shod Buddhists with rocking MySpace pages. The state too content with navel contemplation to heed the worn-out one-liners condemning its denizens to diminishing numbers of brain cells commensurate with our intake of bean sprouts. You’d think our plethora of warm and fuzzy auras would fill the state with warm and fuzzy attitudes, but apparently we haven’t all been eating our tofu.
Turns out, there are some folks in California who want to force 36,000 other folks to divorce. No, no need to reread that sentence: These people want to nullify the marriages of 18,000 happily married couples.
But why would anyone want to do such a thing? It’s akin to Gloria Allred arguing for sterilization of 36,000 people against their will or Whoopi Goldberg demanding the forced abortion of 36,000 women’s fetuses. (Come to think of it, it would be like Whoopi Goldberg demanding the annulment of mixed-race marriages, were that prejudice still law.) So, what the hell is going on here?
Let’s ask Kenneth Starr, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Law, former U.S. solicitor general and the independent counsel whose investigation led from Monica Lewinsky’s bloomers to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Although Starr seems a wee bit too interested in others’ private matters, he also seems a gracious man, tenaciously rooted in conservative values. So how it is he can align himself with an effort to force annulment on people who do not want their marriages annulled? Well, Starr, who has taken the lead of the Proposition 8 legal defense team, believes that California’s anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiative, a change to the state’s constitution passed in November, intrinsically embraces this intent.
The proposed language in Prop. 8 read in toto: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” In Starr’s Interveners’ Opposition Brief, filed with the California Supreme Court in response to post-election challenges to the initiative, he wrote, “Proposition 8’s brevity is matched by its clarity. There are no conditional clauses, exceptions, exemptions, or exclusions.… Its plain language encompasses both pre-existing and later-created same-sex (and polygamous) marriages, whether performed in California or elsewhere. With crystal clarity, it declares they are not valid or recognized in California.”
Starr will argue before the court that California’s 18,000 same-sex marriages must be nullified — and that the court must uphold the measure, forcing the state to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states and nations. He will wax eloquent of the inviolate right of the people to amend their constitution (notwithstanding current prejudices), of the clearly stated will of the voters, the mandate of their vote on Prop. 8. Oh, Starr will sing a fervent song!
Of course, the people of California did not write the proposition. California’s ballot initiative process, which originated in 1911 as a tool for voters to wrest control of their government from special interest scoundrels, has been usurped by — surprise! — special interest scoundrels. Prop. 8 was the baby of the Mormon and Catholic Churches, the Knights of Columbus and some other orthodox groups and conservative legislators.
Despite Starr’s passionate defense of the people’s will in his court briefs, Prop. 8 is, actually, the will of only a slim majority of voters: 7,001,084 voted yes; 6,401,482 voted no; and 52.3 to 47.7 percent is a far cry from a ballot initiative mandate. Besides, the fear mongering of the proponents’ campaign, with its “Restoring Marriage, Protecting California Children” slogan, casts doubt on the outcome: At first glance, which is all many voters give ballot measures, who wouldn’t want to vote for marriage and children? And, the election produced no data indicating what the voters want to do about existing California same-sex marriages, because this question was not made clear in the voter guide. Damn sneaky of those god-fearing folks, eh?
So what’s going on in California is we have oral arguments for and against Prop. 8 coming up on March 5, and 18,000 marriages are at risk of dissolution by the prejudice of religious organizations, now led by a conservative bulldog who can’t keep his briefs out of other people’s briefs.
Want to do something about it? Watch “Fidelity” and consider joining more than 319,000 folks who have signed a letter asking the California Supreme Court to invalidate Prop. 8 and to allow 18,000 committed couples to remain married. Then we can go for a nice glass of Pinot Grigio.
(Editor's Note: This piece is cross-posted from Kit-Bacon Gressitt's personal blog, Excuse Me, I'm Writing.)
(For more background on this issue, please also see: "California: Prop. 8 Turns Back the Clock;" and "Election Afterglow: When It Was All Over.")
(The photo of Kenneth Starr is from the Fairfax County Library in Virginia and is in the public domain.)
same sex marriage
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by Kit-Bacon Gressitt