Some quick further thoughts on the California gay marriage decision

Partially due to the heat — looks like it’ll be another scorcher today in SoCal — and partially due to the fact that I’m rather sanguine about the situation (for now, at least), I’ve not felt the need to comment too much more about the California Supreme Court decision from a few days back, beyond idly noting that the defiant statements I’ve read so far from the ‘official’ groups campaigning against same-sex marriages seem a bit hollow this time around. There seems to be a slight air of…I wouldn’t call it defeatism, that’s extreme, but resignation, even as people say things about how they’ll campaign to the end against the possibility of gay marriage in the state.

I’ve no doubt they’ll do that, and much as I want to let my emotions dictate my responses in full on this, one must give some benefit of the doubt as to their beliefs (even as, frankly, few of them cannot grant them to those arguing for legalization in turn — if there is one constant I have noticed among the anti campaigners, it’s that the very idea of same-sex love and marriage, that there are in fact people, fellow citizens, involved, doesn’t register with them, that it remains strictly abstract, or rather they aim to keep it as abstract as possible, which I find very telling). It should also be noted that there are many other factors at work, ranging from the state’s inclusive recognitions of domestic partnership in recent years (which will not be affected by the November vote) to the fact that, despite what might be assumed, not every self-identified nonhetero person out there is fond either of the institution or the implicit assumptions regarding marriage as a model to be followed for all sexualities. Reducing an incredibly complex series of cross-currents to a binary model — on many levels — does a disservice to the way the world works.

There’s been a bit of discussion in private with others about the further political implications of this decision for the presidential race in particular, and some are, understandably, concerned that this could feed into a general political backlash in November that favors the right. Entirely possible, and I would not want to simply whistle into the wind on the matter, but I also think this — as I said shortly after I started the blog in my general statement of political principles:

…if, as I’ve said before, the American experience is an experiment that has never been guaranteed of success, then my feeling at heart is that I vote and act to ensure that the least possible damage is done on the widest possible scale, no matter how many decades certain standards have been in play (and often precisely because those standards have been in play — it is still less than a hundred years since something seemingly so patently obvious now, the right for women to vote, was confirmed nationwide). Things must be done to improve the general lot, of that I have a firm belief — even as I feel one must be rigorous in ensuring those actions done to improve it are carried out to the best possibility there is.

I see this as the continuing experiment at work, and as I tried to note in my comment on women’s suffrage, we have been down this road before, where something seemingly inconceivable became standard. Legalizing gay marriage improves the general lot by further extending the principle of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ to all — as the complexity of society is more and more recognized, then that means that extension must be further applied to the full. I think this principle as applied to this issue is going to be further recognized and understood with time. Fully accepted by all? I do not foresee that in the slightest, but I do not see the clock being turned back — as I read briefly in a story somewhere over the last few days, if you had asked the question of gay marriage in, say, 1960, the idea would have barely made any sense to anyone whatsoever. By 2060, by and large, people will wonder what the fuss was about.

I conclude with links to two stories in the LA Times, the first focusing in on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ronald George, pulling out two parts of significance — noting that difference cannot and should not mean anger and division, and there is always the capacity for surprise:

Relations among the justices remained warm and cordial. George said he was even pleased with the dissents, which contended that a decision on same-sex marriage should be made by the people, not the court.

Some judges in other states that had considered same-sex marriage had written in ways that were “homophobic” and demeaning to lesbians and gays, statements “that you don’t find” in California’s dissenting opinions, George said. They were signed by Justices Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin and Carol A. Corrigan.

“When is it that a court should act?” George mused. “When is it that a court is shirking its responsibility by not acting, and when is a court overreaching? That’s a real conundrum. I have respect for people coming out on different sides of this issue.”

Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen, who has closely followed George’s court tenure, said “the biggest surprise” of the marriage ruling was that George favored it. Uelmen said George must have done “some real soul searching.”

The “very carefully written opinion” reflects that George “is very sensitive to how this will be perceived,” Uelmen said. “He realized that this more than any other thing he does as chief justice will define his legacy. He’ll certainly take a good deal of political heat over this.”

Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, said he had long expected George to vote against same-sex marriage.

“His change from where I thought he would be is baffling,” said Staver, whose group promotes traditional marriage.

We must of course allow for the fact that one quote does not equal a full conversation or interview. But if there was no further context, then where Staver fails here is to assume his opinion of George’s potential actions would equate George’s own thoughts on the matter. It is baffling only if one assumes that a mind cannot be changed upon reflection and further study — something Uelman allows for, noting the care that went into the writing of the decision — and as the story indicates, this reflection is precisely what George went through here — something I presume Staver does not currently have the ability nor the capacity to do. It is entirely possible, after all, that after all his research and reconsideration that George may have concluded differently in the end — and would the time spent in doing all that thought then have been considered something less ‘baffling’ by Staver because the end result would have been one he favored? As I’ve said before, the complaint of ‘judicial activism’ so often raised by the right is a groundless yawp of frustration that is entirely and essentially negative and rules out the idea that, quite possibly, people skilled in the law have reached conclusions that do not fit preconceptions or preferences — it’s only ‘activism’ to them when they don’t agree with the results. Spare me, spare all of us, the shorthand.

The second story, a column from Steve Lopez, says it all in its title — “Same-sex couples can’t do worse at marriage than straight couples” — and devotes half its space to the story of a lesbian couple’s romance and now soon-to-happen marriage. It concludes with both a realism and a passion that speaks for itself:

Not to play devil’s advocate, but health benefits are already available to domestic partners in California, and getting married still won’t give them rights to a partner’s Social Security benefits. And then, of course, there are those scary divorce statistics.

“I don’t concern myself with how many people get divorced,” Calvelli said. “I think about things like going to a doctor’s office and being presented with a form, and having to check whether I’m married or single. It kills me to check single because that isn’t how I see myself.”

Finally, there’ll be no more living in sin.

“We did not want to go to Massachusetts or Canada or Spain to get married . . . because we wanted to be legal in our home state,” said Jean, who has no worries about the high rate of divorce in the United States.

“Shouldn’t I have the right to get married and screw it up, just like straight people?”

And a toast to that — to the possibility of screwing it up. Because as much as screwing up will happen for some, for others it won’t. And that is life — not the guarantee of happiness, but the pursuit of it.

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