Today, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California decided that Proposition 8 to the California constitution violated the United States constitution. This decision marks one more step in the historic–and seemingly endless–march for gay rights in the United States and the world.
California has long been a center of gay activism and progress in the area of gay rights. San Francisco was the first city to elect an openly gay city supervisor, Harvey Milk, in 1978. In that year, California’s Proposition 6, also known as the Briggs Initiative, which would have prevented gays and lesbians from working in the school system, was defeated. However, gay marriage was still not valid or recognized in California. In 2000, California passed Proposition 22 which constitutionally defined marriage as being only between a man and a woman. In 2008, the Supreme Court of California overturned this amendment, legalizing gay marriage in California for several months until the November election, when Proposition 8 was passed which overturned the court’s decision.
Time and time again, the courts have upheld the rights of homosexual couples to marry, and time and time again, populist movements have put an end to this basic human freedom. Today, a Federal judge issued an invalidating ruling, meaning that in California, for the time being, the only hope for defeating gay rights is in the Supreme Court. (For you constitutional purists out there, the reason we have courts in the first place is to provide guidance on law and prevent unjust laws when we don’t know any better.)
Today California once again joins the ranks of the few states in America that extend this privilege to homosexual couples: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Washington, DC, New Hampshire and Vermont. We will see soon if the Supreme Court upholds today’s ruling. In my opinion, there is no valid argument–constitutional, moral, religious, or otherwise–against allowing homosexuals to marry to the fullest extent of equal protection under United States federal law. The only valid constitutional argument from a Federalist perspective is the separation of powers and the States rights doctrine. This is certainly a valid argument to make, but keep in mind that if the Supreme Court had consistently strictly upheld the States rights doctrine when it came to matters of equality, segregation would still be legal. Interracial marriage would still be illegal. Plus, we have the Fourteenth Amendment for a reason!
It is important for Americans of all races, religions and orientations to remember that our ancestors also faced opposition to their basic human rights and freedoms. Indeed, the past four hundred years of history in America has been a story of groups gradually winning the right to be viewed as equals. In the struggle for gay rights, we see a similar endurance and persistence that has occupied every civil rights movement in our history. The same endurance that led blacks to freedom, that led women to the ballot box and that even led Jews to Israel. There is no doubt that, like these movements of the past, the movement for gay and lesbian rights in America will succeed. The decision today in California is a vital step on the road to justice. The more the opponents of this movement try to hold the country back, the louder its drive for justice, and the sweeter the victory.
It is easy for Americans to forget, being as secure we are in our citizenship and our persons, how hard it was for our parents and grandparents to fight so it could be this way. Think about the progress we have made as a nation in just the last century–but also think about how much further we have to go, not just in terms of gay rights but in terms of many basic human rights, worldwide, that we take for granted.
If you are interested in the legal thought going into today’s decision, check out the text of the ruling here (http://scr.bi/awBcpr). There is also a great article by the plaintiff’s lawyer, Ted Olson, in Newsweek called “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage” (http://bit.ly/9ZYdU4). Olson explains quite eloquently that the fight for gay rights is not just a gay issue or a liberal issue, but an American issue.