Calfornia Justices dole out injustice

On Tuesday, May 26, 2009, the California Supreme Court released its ruling on legal challenges to Proposition 8, a California Constitutional Amendment that removed the right of same sex couples to marry in the state of California. Just a year ago, the same Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to invalidate an initiative passed in 2000 by the voters containing the exact same language, with the distinct difference that unlike Prop 22, Prop 8 was a Constitutional amendment and not a statute. Tuesday, by a 6-1 vote, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold Prop 8, disagreeing with legal challenges that stated that removal of the fundamental right to marry constitutes a revision and not an amendment (in California, an amendment can be passed by a majority vote but a Constitutional revision must first be passed by 2/3 votes in the legislature). The lone dissenter was Justice Carlos Moreno. At the same time, they unanimously upheld the validity of same sex marriages performed prior to the passage of Prop 8 last November.

This decision was hardly unexpected. Most legal watchers and observers of politics suspected as much. Still, it was no less of a heart-break, no less of a trial, no less of an injustice. What the court ruled is profound. It ruled that a contemporary majority in California has virtually unlimited inherent powers to remove existing rights from a minority group by the means of a Constitutional amendment. The implications of this ruling means that absent the protections of US Constitution, Californians could vote to remove the right of Latinos to vote, of African Americans to attend the same institutions of higher learning as whites, or the right of Mormons to worship freely. Absent the protections of the federal Constitution, that is. The court has said now that the unbridled power of the people to amend the California constitution transcends the individual right of every Californian to have equal protection under law.

But that's the academic bit. That's the righteous moral indignation. What did this decision to do us - people who are or one day hope to love and form a family with someone of the same sex? What did it do to the teenager who gets beat up at a school in Fresno because he's the queer that dares to be open? What message did it send to the bullies who take sadistic pleasure in beating up that brave boy? What did it do to the lives of real people who believed that the law is not there to provide for mob rule but protection against it? What message did it send? As far as I can tell, it sent a message that human dignity, equal protection, etc. are all illusive concepts subject to the approval of a majority. It sent a message that it is in fact alright to treat someone with less dignity than others. It sent the message that hatred, intolerance and fearmongering has a place in California - through the ballot box. It humiliated that teenager - maybe it took away his hope. It emboldened those who torture him by telling them that in California, it is okay to treat someone as less than oneself. It tore through the hearts of those of us who want to go out there and ask, "Don't our families count?" It took a blade to the heart of those of us who want to say, "Ain't I an American?" The court failed to understand that marriage is far more than nomenclature, as its decision seemed to put it. It is our cry for us to be allowed to proclaim our love, establish our families, and raise our children on an equal footing and equal status as everyone else.

The message sent is terrible. It tells Californians that you can have your life saved by being operated on by a lesbian doctor but you do not have to give her family the same recognition that you expect for yours. You can have your house fire put out by and your child rescued by a gay firefighter but can vote to forbid him from marrying the love of his life. It says that a gay chemistry teacher can write your child's recommendation letter for a top school, but his own child does not have the right to two parents who are married. It says that you can be protected by gay members of our military and national guard, but when they come home, they cannot marry the person they love. It says that the kid who goes to school with your son and tutored your son on math cannot dream to marry her girlfriend one day even though your son can marry his.

Is this what we are about? Is that what we want the character of our state to be? Is that how we want our country to be? If not, then your time to start reversing this injustice is now. Whether you are black, white, yellow or brown, man or woman or transcend gender identy, gay or straight or bisexual, married or single, old or young, you are someone who can change things. You need to commit today to restore marriage equality, and not just for all Californians but for all Americans. Sign up with the Courage Campaign, Equality California, Marriage Equality USA, or any organization you know is working to restore full dignity and rights to all Americans. Don't sit on your hands. Get up. Do something. Talk to someone. Change minds. Change the world.