Prop 8 on California Ballot: Gay Marriage

A couple weeks ago I had dinner with a friend who delivered an impassioned critique of the most visible item on California’s ballot in November — Proposition 8 — and asked for support for the No on 8 campaign. I told him I’d study the issue and blog what I learned. Even if you do not live in California, if you believe in civil rights it is something you should be following because its passage or defeat will affect the momentum of similar initiatives around the country. If you do live in California but are not gay (like me) and think it doesn’t matter, think again.

Here’s what the Initiative is:

  • Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
  • Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Currently, gay marriage is legal in California thanks to a State Supreme Court ruling in May. It is also legal in Massachusetts and Connecticut. If Prop 8 passes in November, the State Constitution will be amended to ban gay marriages and undo existing benefits currently offered to same-sex, married couples.

Some people oppose gay marriage because they oppose homosexuality. There’s no point arguing with people about gay marriage if, at their core, they believe being gay is a sin (or even a choice or “lifestyle decision”).

Then there are those who do not oppose homosexuality but oppose gay marriage. I’ve heard three main arguments from these people:

1. Gay marriage harms the institution of marriage (and children). “Once we abandon marriage to the whims and desires of adults seeking validation of their sexual lifestyles, we denigrate children and their needs – legally validating relationships that would deliberately leave them motherless or fatherless.” Say what? The idea that homosexual marriages threaten heterosexual couples is just absurd. Gays have married legally in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and I don’t see any straight couples’ lives falling apart. The most coherent point in this vein is that children who are raised by gay couples are harmed by not having a daddy or mommy. Yet data around kids being worse off when raised by a mother-mother or father-father couple are questionable at best.

2. Gay marriage will lead to polygamy. Here’s the logic. Currently marriage rests upon two assumptions: it’s man and woman and one-to-one. Ie, one man and one woman. If you re-define the “man and woman” part (man and man or woman and woman) why can’t you re-define the one-to-one part? Who says one man and two women who all love each other dearly shouldn’t be able to marry? Here’s a good Charles Krauthammer column which explains this logic. A longer Weekly Standard article is subtitled “Plural marriage is waiting in the wings.” I have to study this more, but I’m sympathetic to William Saletan’s response to Krauthammer (and others) which is that one-to-one is not arbitrary but rooted in human nature — hence the frequency of polygamous unions breaking up. I would also imagine that the abuse so common in polygamous unions would produce society-wide negative externalities in ways gay marriages do not.

3. Children will be taught about gay marriage in schools. This issue has grabbed the headlines in the California Prop 8 campaign. The Yes on 8 side (again — this is “yes” to ban gay marriage, not “yes” to gay marriage) has been bombing the State with TV ads such as this which say Prop 8 will make it so even elementary school kids will learn that men can marry men. It’s true that California’s education code says that if sex ed is taught to students in the classroom, it ought to include curriculum on marriage and cannot discriminate on sexual orientation (ie, must list gay marriage as an option). But it’s also true that if a public school is going to teach sex ed, they must notify parents beforehand, show the content that will be taught, and allow parents to opt their child out of sex ed. So — gay marriage can be taught in sex ed, but since parents can opt-out nothing is being forced on children. Hence, Yes on 8’s scare ads are deceptive.

Those who support gay marriage — and therefore oppose Prop 8 — have their own set of arguments. The two that most resonate with me are:

1. Keep government out of private life. Good libertarians would say, “Why is the government amending the constitution to regulate individual behavior that does not negatively impact others?” It’s a little more complicated of course. Here are two pages which more clearly define this position (and distinguish between civil and religious law), and here’s an amusing satirical video ad about the government becoming “gender auditors.”

2. Maintain California’s — and America’s — competitive advantage by welcoming all people and promoting a culture of tolerance. Richard Florida has somewhat famously used openness to gays and gay culture as one proxy for predicting the overall competitiveness of an area: “When [talented entrepreneurs or engineers] are sizing up a new company and community, acceptance of diversity and of gays (and lesbians) in particular is a sign that reads ‘non-standard people welcome here.’ ” Here’s an op/ed that has more. I suspect this is one reason why California’s governor and the mayors of the three biggest cities, as well as many Silicon Valley CEOs I know, all are voting No on 8.

There are far better analyses and articles on this issue. I’m simply relaying what I’ve learned and letting you know which side I’ve come down on: No on 8! Unfortunately, No on 8 lags in financing. Much of the other side’s money has come from out of state and from Mormons. Another twist is Obama’s candidacy — it will likely bring blacks and other minorities to the polls in record numbers, but these groups also tend to be the most homophobic. Current polls suggest Prop 8 is in a dead heat.

Bottom Line: Vote No on Prop 8 if you live in California. If you live outside of California, contribute financially or by emailing your California friends. It’s important to keep out actively homophobic and discriminatory language from our constitution and keep in the state the people and culture which make this place so great.

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