The premise of California’s Proposition 8 was that marriage cannot include same sex partnerships because that violates the sanctity of marriage. The presumption was that marriage has a static position and never evolves. It also feeds on fears that have been expressed as “gay marriage will destroy marriage” and “how horrible that gay couples could adopt and raise children” and many other fears.
Of course, these are flawed arguments. Yet, such premises and fears of the majority are echoed in every attack on the civil rights of every minority since our Constitution was written.
An equal attack on the majority might open the eyes of some and allow them to see the discrimination they are practicing. For example, I would push for a Proposition to require all married couples to bear children. That was the original reason for marriage and the basis for attacks against same-sex marriage. It would also garner support of the churches which are opposed to birth control. However, most married couples might react strongly to such an attack on their civil rights.
Indeed, yes, this example would be “tit for tat”, an effort to open the eyes of the benign majority, Nixon’s so-called “silent majority,” who don’t understand the impact of having one’s rights thwarted. Most people never grasp, until after a huge civil rights movement, the impact of their ignorance and fear. Such a Proposition, as draconian as Prop 8, would make some people have a “Hey, it’s not good for ME, maybe then it’s not good for THEM” revelation.
I say this as one who, as a teen, was involved in the civil rights movement decades ago, and one who has been a keen observer of the human condition in the areas of rights abuses (women’s suffrage, native American rights, etc.):
There has always been a gap between the ideals of our Constitution (a magnificent document) and its practice. The people who wrote “all men are created equal” had wonderful thoughts that somehow did not intrude on their personal experiences; for them, they didn’t see the problem with slave ownership or limiting voters to only white male landowners.
The marvel is, and the greatness of the USA, of course, is that those flaws did not hinder the reality of the purpose of our country. We have always seen our country as a journey toward becoming the best we could be.
As I mentioned to someone who was worried that any advance in gay civil liberties would be met by some backward motion eventually, our whole society has always faced that challenge. The challenge of our society in progressing toward real civil rights has always been to make two steps forward for every one step backward. That’s the way it is and always will be. We are once again at that point.
Civil rights have never been granted benevolently or easily since the origin of our Constitution and the presumption that it applied only to white European male landowners.
Since then, minorities have always had to fight with civil disobedience, lawsuits (the legal system, eventually, is always faced with the Constitution and vindicates the minority) and, unfortunately, often, violence. Whether the minority was women, workers, Chinese, Irish, African Americans, Native Americans, or, now, gay, the majority has always needed to be forced to recognize its thwarting of civil rights.
We like to think we as a society have evolved beyond that, but we have not.
That is why the California Proposition system is absolutely wrong for resolving errors of civil rights. The majority has never been on the correct side of civil rights conflicts.
That is the entire nature of the beast; the majority of citizens benignly follow the vapid, loud bigots who instill fear and confusion in the majority.
The majority is afraid.
For instance, in this current civil rights crisis, consider the absurd argument that giving civil rights to gays will destroy marriage. Yet, what percentage of the incredibly high 50% divorce rate is attributable to any same-sex couple getting married? The argument is false through-and-through, but the loudest bigots have persuaded the majority that there is something to fear.
It’s nothing but fear of the unknown, which the majority always clings to. The majority clings to the illusion that the status quo is holy. It is not and never has been. Nor is the status quo real; nothing stays the same, regardless of who takes what actions.
Nothing shakes the majority from its fear other than highly-visible progress. At some point of acceptance, in every civil rights crisis this country has faced, the majority rises above the loud clattering of the fear of the unknown and begins to accept the reality that civil rights must be granted to all.
Throughout history, and nothing has changed in human nature, nothing creates visible progress other than civil disobedience and aggressive law suits. The California Proposition system is flawed at best and is, of course, absolutely the wrong tool for civil rights. It is a process incapable of reasoned and delicate debate (only the richest and loudest can make an impact), and “majority rule” in civil rights issues is always initially wrong. Throughout history, the majority has aggressively and wrongly thwarted the civil rights of the minority.
Even today. Even with the Internet. Reasonable people have always failed to sway the majority in the face of hate mongers who spread fear. Majority rule is wrong in matters of civil rights crises. The majority clings to the status quo, absorbs fear of the unknown, and clings to ignorance of the impact of those thwarted by civil rights abuse.
The only thing that has ever swayed the majority is a gradual and profound awareness of the oppressed and the oppression, which has always only been brought about by civil disobedience and massive court rulings. And, yes, unfortunately, violence brought about by frustration and rage often occurs.
The gay community cannot succeed in gaining civil rights by pursuing a Proposition-based solution.