With the California Supreme Court’s decision upholding the passage of Proposition 8 comes a share of disappointment, and a helping of bafflement. This is a ruling that legal scholars will fight over for decades. In allowing same-sex marriages already in force to stand, but disallowing any further marriages, the court has applied a temporal double standard.
It’s obvious that eventually, Prop 8 will be repealed, either by voter referendum, or – like Bowers v. Hardwick – by a later court.
In the end, this ruling hurts California more than those seeking marriage. To be blunt, if gays and lesbians want to get married, they can move to Iowa or most of New England. Just a few short years ago, our only option was immigrating to Canada - a cumbersome, expensive process. But the gay community and our supporters now have a lot less reason to move to, or even visit, California. With the stratospheric cost of living and high unemployment, the Golden State has lost its luster.
I’ve read a lot in the blogosphere about President Obama’s stance on gay marriage, including displays of high dudgeon by politiqueers who proclaim that Obama “betrayed” us. Well, ever since he declared himself a presidential candidate, Obama’s position on gay marriage has been consistent: On the federal level, against full marriage - for civil unions; Repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and leave the states free to extend marriage rights if they so choose. It’s exactly the same position, by the way, that Hillary Clinton took, except she only called for the repeal of Section 3 of DOMA.
The fact is, no matter how one parses the various candidates’ positions on same-sex marriage, there’s very little a President can do on this issue. On the Federal level, the issue is entrenched. With the Democrats in control of Congress, it’s very unlikely a Federal Marriage Amendment banning same-sex marriage will be passed. Yet, even if Obama were in favor of full marriage equality, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party would not be enough to carry such a bill – and the 3/4 of states required would never ratify it. As the President has no jurisdiction over state initiatives, states will continue to do as they please, and the gay community must focus their marriage efforts in state-by-state battles. Ultimately, the war over same-sex marriage will be won or lost in the Supreme Court.
President Obama focused the first 100 days of his administration on the economy – understandably so. He has also been mending relations with America’s allies. Now the president needs to broaden his horizons, and remember one of the main groups that got him elected. Obama should concentrate on the areas where he can make a difference in our community: First, he should push for passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is currently before the Congress. Then, he should get the Employee Non-Discrimination Act passed. Both bills enjoy broad support among the American people. Most Americans, even many conservatives, agree that no one should be assaulted or denied employment because they’re gay. Obama’s vigorous support of both bills will not cost significant political capital, and will help shore up his liberal base, which feels pushed aside by his refusal to prosecute members of the Bush Administration on torture and his increasingly moderate stance on domestic security.
But before he does anything else, President Obama should sign an executive order suspending discharges, effective immediately, under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law, pending review of the policy. That will buy him, and the military, time to work out a repeal of the policy, which will also require an act of Congress. It will also stop the hemmorhaging of qualified service members.
Our community suffered a defeat on Tuesday, and one doesn’t have to be Californian, or even gay, to realize the dangers to everyone when civil rights are repealed by popular vote. Lincoln would not have been able to repeal slavery by referendum. Truman did not put the issue of desegregating the military to a vote – even among his own cabinet members. Lyndon Johnson knew, when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (after ramming it through Congress) that the Democrats had lost the South for (at least) a generation.
Now is the time for action, perseverance, and fortitude. It’s time for the gay community to stand up. The battle for our full equal rights will not be won in the White House, or the Congress, or the Courts. It must be won in the minds of average Americans, including heterosexuals. The only way to win that battle is if every gay American comes out.