Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prop 8 Overturned!

Ninth Circuit District Court Judge Vaughn Walker handed the LGBT community a huge victory on Wednesday, as he offered a scathing, 138-page decision that overturned California's controversial Proposition 8, which took away the marriage rights of gays and lesbians in the state. Judge Walker called the law, among other things, unconstitutional, saying it violates the equal protections clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Prior to November 2008, California was one of few states to legalize same-sex marriage. But anti-gay rights groups (many of whom were not even based in California) pushed to have an initiative -- Prop 8 -- placed on the electoral ballot for the November elections. California became the 31st state to put the rights of same-sex marriage up to a vote among the citizenry, and for the 31st time, that right was denied.

This was not simply a case of a state (like, say, Virginia) preemptively passing a law or state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman; in California, same-sex couples already had the right to marry, and Prop 8 -- and those who voted for it -- took away that right.

It was a dark stain on what was otherwise a celebratory night.

But Judge Walker's decision -- which you can read in its entirety here -- makes a clear case as to why Prop 8, and the concept of marriage discrimination as a whole, is unconstitutional. Prop 8, he argued, "fails to possess even a rational basis" and that the plaintiffs in the case "do not seek recognition of a new right. To characterize plaintiffs' objective as "the right to same-sex marriage" would suggest that plaintiffs seek something different from what opposite-sex couples across the state enjoy -- namely, marriage. Rather, plaintiffs ask California to recognize their relationships for what they are: marriages."

The argument in favor of same-sex marriage has perhaps never been clearer, and Judge Walker's ruling also served as a scathing takedown of the bigoted argument against same-sex marriage.

"Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society," he ruled.

The rights of minorities are not supposed to be put before the majority for a vote -- the Constitution is pretty specific about that. Every time the majority gets a chance to vote on the rights of the minority -- rights that are guaranteed by the very Constitution conservatives claim to hold sacred -- the minority loses.

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Is that the America we want to live in? According to Judge Walker -- and a case in Massachusetts in July that determined part of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional -- it is not. It's been a good month for the cause of same-sex marriage -- and for the larger issue of equality for all in this country.

One of America's greatest strengths -- and part of the reason for its founding -- was the fight against inequality. This country was founded largely on two principals: economic and religious freedom. Some came to our shores looking for economic freedom from the monarchy, while others sought to free themselves from religious persecution. The basic tenets of freedom and equality are the bedrock of this nation ... or they should be.

Some in the political realm like to talk about freedom and equality, but history tells a different story. We know all about the plight of African-Americans throughout this country's history, and the fact that, until 1920, women did not have the right to vote. Before Harry Truman because president, African-Americans faced discrimination in their own military. For decades, interracial couples could not marry.

Any of this sound familiar?

We're fighting many of these same battles today, but largely through the lens of homosexuality. Opponents would point to religion to defend their bigotry, while also citing bogus studies about how unfit same-sex couples are when it come to raising children. By "protecting the sanctity of marriage," opponents have overlooked the high divorce rate or the alarming rate of children growing up in single-parent homes.

But Gods forbid a child have two mothers who love them.

Judge Walker's ruling does a solid job of picking apart the opposition's argument, finding there is no merit or basis of fact in it. His lengthy ruling is heavy on fact, which it will have to be for the appeals that are certain to come. In fact, Judge Walker stayed his ruling in anticipation of such appeals. It wouldn't surprise me if this case went all the way to the Supreme Court -- where anything can happen -- but Judge Walker's ruling is so solid that it would be incredibly different for anyone to find holes in it.

Under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution -- as well as the provision Rachel Maddow mentioned in the above video protecting the rights of the minority from votes by the majority -- same-sex couples have the same inalienable rights as the rest of us. That's the foundation of this country: rights for all. Not rights for some, not rights for those who can biologically procreate ... rights for all. To deny one person the right they are entitled to as an American is to deny all of us that right.

And since conservative opponents are so fond of quoting their (allegedly) beloved Constitution ... the biblical argument against homosexual rights would have no legal basis, thanks to the First Amendment. You know, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. That whole separation of church and state thing ... freedom of religion also includes freedom from religion; many came to our shores looking to avoid religious persecution, and what does it say about us as a country that one political entity wants to deny same-sex couples a simple right because "the Bible says y'all are bad"?

As Judge Walker noted, perhaps better than anyone else has in this debate, the argument against same-sex marriage (or really, any right for homosexuals) has no merit, legally or otherwise. The tide is slowly turning on what is becoming the civil rights battle of our generation, and it's incredibly gratifying to see all of our efforts paying off.

Not because we want to rub homosexuality into our opponents' faces, but because it's what's right. We cannot truly call ourselves American so long as we continue to deny a segment of the population the same rights the rest of us enjoy.

I wish I knew former Lt. Dan Choi personally; if I did, I would want to thank him for his service, as well as ask him why. Why would he, a homosexual man, feel the urge to defend a country that doesn't recognize him as a complete citizen? Lt. Choi joined a military he knew would kick him out if it found out he was gay, and in all but six states, Lt. Choi would not be allowed to marry his partner. Many states would not allow him to adopt a child, or for his partner to enjoy the health benefits and other rights entitled to him.

So if the country views him a second-class citizen, why would Lt. Choi want to defend it?

Maybe because Lt. Choi has far more character and integrity than any politician who stands behind a microphone and thumps the Bible to express his supposed moral superiority.

I leave you with a Special Comment from Keith Olbermann, one he delivered on Nov. 10, 2008 after Prop 8 passed. He aired it again last night in celebration of the initiative being overturned.

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