Let’s get right down to business here. I want to know why Californian voters are willing to use constitutional amendments to eliminate protection for what I think is one of the most important values the California Constitution has to offer, equal liberty and justice, for the sake of legislating a religious definition of marriage.

I understand that marriage is one of the most important aspects of social life and I respect the views that people have regarding this very special union between a man and a woman that serves as a solid foundation for building a family. I understand this through first hand experience as a man who chose this path by marrying a woman and building a family with her. I also understand out of experience that religion can be harsh about who can and who can’t marry because the woman I chose to marry is Roman Catholic and her church refused to marry us because I am Protestant. When we decided to get married by a Protestant priest, who provided a non-denominational ceremony, the Roman Catholic church told us that they would not recognize our marriage, but fortunately for us, the state of California didn’t get involved in religious discrimination and granted us legal recognition and we went on our way to raising a perfectly normal family together.

I think this is one of the great arguments for separation of church and state. Obviously religions have their disagreements and a secular state simply stays out of the argument; it’s the only way to avoid one religion using the state to overrule all the other religions and personal paths, which was precisely the reason why the forefathers of our nation came to the New World; to escape religious persecution by the state, to live in a world where people have the freedom to make personal choices about their spiritual path, where the state doesn’t stand in the way of anyone following the guidelines of their chosen path but doesn’t allow such guidelines to be forced on others who choose something different.

Battle for the Constitution: Equality vs Discrimination

In 18th century Europe, religion dominated the state to a large extent on the ideas put forth by the “Divine Right of Kings” to which Thomas Jefferson responded with the phrase “All men are created equal”. It’s on this pillar of American principle that the California Constitution has NEVER before drawn a line between people based on religious ideas but Proposition 8, if allowed to pass, will change that for the first time ever. This isn’t about whether gays are loosing their rights, this is about introducing legal discrimination. Discrimination IS a black and white issue. Either we believe that all men are created equal or we don’t. Is it so important that the state endorse a religious definition of marriage that we should turn our backs on what America stands for? In this article I try to find an answer to that very question.

In 2000 over 61% of those Californians who voted pushed Proposition 22 into California Code, making same-sex marriage unrecognized, but California is a constitutional democracy where it takes more than a mob of prejudiced voters slapping laws on the books to violate the moral values that a constitution is established to protect and in May of 2008 the Supreme Court in Sacramento did their job and overruled Proposition 22 because it violated the equal protection clause in the California Constitution. So at this point, if people are still hell-bent on introducing discrimination into law they need to seek an amendment to the Constitution in order to disable that protection and this is precisely what Proposition 8 aims to do.

The argument in favor of proposition 8 opens with this passage…

Proposition 8 is simple and straightforward. It contains the same 14 words that were previously approved in 2000 by over 61% of California voters “Only a marriage between and man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

California voters should be aware that despite the simplicity of these 14 words, Proposition 8 is NOT the same thing as Proposition 22. Proposition 22 was only concerned with a legal definition of marriage which may explain why it got a 61% vote. Proposition 8 however is very different in that it seeks to change the Constitution, the very guardian of equality, justice and liberty. Same definition of marriage yes, but escalated to the constitutional level in direct conflict with the equality clause. This IS discrimination and once ratified, Prop 8 will compromise the integrity of our constitution in defending the principles of equality described in the constitution as inalienable rights. So let’s look at what reasons could possibly validate this aggressive move.

What Could Possibly Make it Worth It?
Let’s look at the reasons provided ballot. (I’m providing direct quotes from the Argument in Favor in the interest of integrity but I am also paraphrasing so that I can cut through the crap and say it straight).

#1: “It restores the definition of marriage to what the vast majority of of California voters already approved and human history has understood marriage to be.”

#1: It amends the California Constitution by adding its first definition of marriage. This definition has been approved for state code by a 61% majority in 2000 and is similar to many other understandings of marriage throughout history.

#2: It overturns the outrageous decision of four activist Supreme Court judges who ignored the the will of the people.

#2: It eliminates the constitutional basis for the Supreme Court decision to overrule Proposition 22.

#3: It protects our children from being taught in public schools that same-sex marriage is the same as traditional marriage.

#3: (No paraphrases required)

The first and second reasons amount to the same thing, a reinforcement of Proposition 22. But that doesn’t really answer my question… a law is just a law. What is the reason for this law? Why is it so important discriminate against a certain class of people that it’s worth changing the constitution itself to allow for it?

The third point seems to at least make an effort to justify this insanity, but it seems to lack the slightest bit of substance. Both my kids went to public school in California and neither of them can remember ever being taught anything about marriage. I also went to public school in California and I don’t remember any such instruction either, nor does my wife or anyone else that I know who went to public schools in California so what are they talking about? Here’s what the ballots pro-argument says…

“State law may require teachers to instruct children as young as kindergartners about marriage.”

At this point, the argument references (Family Code 51890) which is actually the section of California Education Code that defines the “comprehensive health education programs” as all educational programs offered in kindergarten and grades 1 to 12, designed to ensure a list of things including instruction for aiding them in making decisions in matter of personal, family and community health including…

(D) Family health and child development, including the legal and
financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood.

I somehow doubt that teachers are going to teach 5 year old children about the financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood, this is clearly an item on the list intended for older students. But go ahead and read it code, it’s not hard, then ask yourself how in the very next sentence the Argument In Favor comes up with….

“If the gay marriage ruling is not overturned, TEACHERS COULD BE REQUIRED to teach young children there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage.”

Like That’ll Ever Happen…
Could be… So, this isn’t about something that is actually happening because there is NOTHING in the code that “requires teachers to teach young children there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage.” This is clearly about what people imagine COULD happen. OK, so there’s a risk that after 150+ years of California history a new rule COULD be added that requires teachers to teach young children there is no difference between gay marriage and traditional marriage and I understand, this is what constitutional law is about, protecting people from what COULD happen, but there’s a lot of stuff that COULD happen… what makes this particular issue worth a constitutional amendment? Is the threat THAT dangerous?

First of all, is it even that likely? It’s never happened before and it would be a PTA disaster if they tried. Schools already know about the dangers of approaching certain subject areas with children and gay marriage is one of them. I think it would take a very determined school district to overrule parent objections just to tell children that there is no difference between a gay marriage and a “traditional” marriage. Their dogged persistence would then have to battle state hearings that would result from overruled parents appealing to the state. Is it really worth compromising our equality clause for such an unlikely event?

So What if it Does Happen? Can’t Parents Handle It?
Well, as unlikely as it is, something like that COULD happen, maybe some virus from outer space will make teachers crazy, who knows… Well, the next thing to consider then is… so what if it does happen? What harm would result from a young children being taught in school that gay marriage and “traditional” marriage are no different? (As if they don’t already know that…)The Argument In Favor states that this issue is… “for parents to discuss with their children according to their own values and beliefs. It shouldn’t be forced on us against our will. Well, I read the referenced code and ironically, the only definition being forced by law is the definition that Proposition 22 established and Proposition 8 is taking to the constitution.

But let’s talk about that… Supporters say that this issue is for parents to discuss with their children according to their own values and beliefs. So what’s stopping them? What does it matter what the teachers at school say? When my son was in 3rd grade he brought a book home from school that said people who smoke cigarettes are bad. My father-in-law used to smoke cigarettes then. I felt the message he was getting from the school book was misleading and so I sat down with him and explained that grandpa isn’t bad, he just has a bad habit. He also learned that teachers aren’t always right and I believe that he eventually learned to find truth beyond the lesson. Easy. Simple. So why isn’t that sufficient? Do supporters lack so much confidence in their parenting skills that they feel they need to gag alternate views with laws? That’s pathetic.

Don’t Use My Constitution to Teach Your Kids Intolerance
So, what this amounts to is the subtraction of a fundamental tenet of American values, equality, from the constitution to enforce a popular but specific definition of marriage in the the state code so that teachers can’t tell children that there is no difference between gay marriage and “traditional” marriage and I guess this is important because alternate views are dangerous? I dunno, I loose it about there. I just think Prop 8 supporters need to stop trippin’ on gay people for a moment and consider the bigger picture here.

Interesting op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week (10/27/08) titled “The Age of Prosperity is Over” written by Arthur B. Laffer. CNN-Headline news mentioned it on one of their late morning shows but I only caught bits and pieces because the TV was in commercial evasion-mode. You know, when every three minutes the commercials come on and you mute the TV, get focused on something else and then suddenly notice the show is back. But I caught enough to get curious about why Laffer thought the Age of Prosperity is over. The title invokes such a drastic picture. So I ran down to the hotel lobby and picked up a copy of the paper and read it.

Laffer brings up some interesting points but what I got in the end was another plug for the free market as you might suspect just from his opening paragraphs where he says “Financial panics if left alone, rarely cause much damage to the real economy, output, employment or production” and from his closing paragraph where he says “Whenever people make decisions when they are panicked, the consequences are rarely pretty.” In other words, intervention is a bad idea.

In support of his later closing statement he reminds us of several examples of bad decisions made in the throes of economic panic but interestingly is entire editorial is void of any examples to support his opening claim. To me this reflects a one-sided point of view that I find typical among proponents of free market. After reading the article, I decided to take a shower and think the editorial over in my head. As I did I was reminded of a car accident I had a few years ago.

I was in the fast lane and a truck passed me along the right, pulled in front of me and then slammed his brakes on. I had little choice but to slam my brakes on too, but that wasn’t enough, I had to swerve to avoid crashing into his tail gate. Now the car I was driving was a rental, a Chevy Impala (which for those of you who don’t know drives like a boat). The combination of the panic caused by the truck in front of me and my unfamiliarity with the car I was driving resulted in my over steering, I probably swerved about five times, each time resulting in a wider arc requiring more drastic compensation, each time I over estimated and gradually I lost control entirely and smashed the car into the center divider, totaling the car, almost dislocating my shoulder and ripping a patch of skin off the back of my hand.

The point is that my panic and resulting over reactions on the I-77 that day is a perfect analogy to the panic driven decisions that Laffer was describing in his editorial. But my analogy also brings up another important consideration that Laffer’s one-sided perspective doesn’t acknowledge, that simply letting go of the steering wheel wouldn’t have helped me either. In fact anytime you drive your car, even when driving in a straight line in perfect conditions with your mind drifting off into the clouds, your hands are constantly saving your life, by steering. I remember when I was a kid in the back seat watching my dad’s hands on the wheel as he drove us along a long and straight two-lane highway through the California desert. I noticed his hands were never still, they we always moving ever so slightly in either direction. If he were to suddenly commit to taking his hands off the wheel we would have wound up plowed into a Joshua tree in no time.

While I agree with Laffer that decisions made to fix the economy while in a panic because the economy is swerving all over the highway rarely wind up looking pretty, I don’t agree that the answer is to simply take our hands off the wheel. I think we need a steady hand on the wheel at all times so that the economy doesn’t swerve in the first place. It doesn’t have to be heavy handed, just even handed, that’s all. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so if you don’t want a lot of-over-the-top intervention then invest in a moderate dose of sensible intervention before the economy get’s out of hand.

Indeed, we should note that while we can criticize all the intervention being proposed by our government today, with confidence that most of it will fall short of fixing the swerving economy, we shouldn’t forget that it was the lack of intervention that caused the economy to swerve in the first place.