I have often noticed how big things happen when I’m out of town, or at least, things of significance to the scope of this blog.
I recently learned that Deborah Kerr, one of my favorite actresses, died while I was driving cross country last fall. Some of my friends from graduate school picked SuperDuper Tuesday as the night to see a modern theatrical representation of the Arthur myth/Grail Legend in Vegas.
Well, while I was away with some of those same friends socializing and doing research for my dissertation, we received confirmation that California would be voting on amending the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, thus overturning the recent California Supreme Court decision.
As you can imagine, I have much to say on this topic, primarily noting how that decision impacts this fall’s vote. I had long believed the proponents of this amendment would gather enough signatures to place their initiative on the Golden State ballot. Before the unfortunate ruling, the issue would have been simple: does such language belong in the state constitution? I believe it doesn’t. At the time, I thought the amendment had a good chance of being defeated.
Now, the issue has changed. A vote against the amendment now becomes a vote to keep that decision in place and hence in favor of gay marriage. Back in 2000, when we Californians voted on Proposition 22, many people opposed to gay marriage joined those in favor and ambivalent on the issue to vote against the Proposition because they believed it superfluous, given state statutes already defining the institution as the union of one man and one woman.
As the debate now moves from the court room to the public square, gay marriage advocates need retool their strategies. In the past, they have tailored their arguments to sway judges eager to issue landmark rulings, so earning themselves a place in history books while winning accolades from the media. Now, the task is to convince a populace less concerned with impressing liberal opinion makers, but familiar with the reality of this ancient institution.
Favoring a serious conversation on this social institution, I welcome the opportunity this ballot measure offers to consider the meaning of marriage, but am concerned that most gay marriage advocates are not up to the task. Their failure could not merely reverse a poorly argued (and written) decision of the state Supreme Court, but could also enshrine a definition of marriage in the state constitution which prevents the legislature from acting and guarantees future ballot measures.
Even their success, however, will not prevent future measures as I doubt social conservatives will give up if they lose this fall, but it will be the first significant sign that the American people are warming to the idea of gay marriage. To achieve that success, opponents of the ballot measure must start talking about marriage the way most Americans discuss the institution, making clear they see it as more than “two adults who share a loving relationshipâ€ as the state Supreme Court would have us believe. Marriage is not just a right, but a longstanding social institution and a privilege granted by the state.
I welcome the debate, but am concerned that those who want to get a majority of Californians to vote the way I will be voting are not up to the task. And I’m not alone.