Revolution#133, June 22, 2008

June 16—Gay Marriage Becomes Legal in California: The Battle and Stakes

Beginning at 5:01 pm on June 16, same sex couples will have the right to marry in California. A large number of weddings of same sex couples are expected in the days and weeks following. For centuries, gay and lesbian relationships have been driven underground by a vicious stigma—by the threat of cruel rejection, jail, and violence. Now, gay and lesbian couples will have the basic right—at least in California—to pledge their love in public and have the formal legal and economic status that comes with official marriage, including right of inheritance, right to adopt, right to visit in hospital and prison, tax breaks, the right to rent and own homes without discrimination, and access to employer health benefits.

California becomes, after Massachusetts, the second state in the U.S. to allow gay people to marry. Unlike Massachusetts, California allows out of state couples to marry, so the weddings performed in California will have a greater impact nationally. New York Governor David Paterson has said that New York will respect same-sex marriages performed in California and other states.

The weddings follow a May 15 decision by the California State Supreme Court, which ruled that laws that have excluded gay and lesbian couples from the right to marry were unconstitutional. In the opinion, Supreme Court Justice Ronald George wrote, “An individual’s sexual orientation—like a person’s race or gender—does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.”

While the court’s decision—and the weddings it will allow—will be joyously celebrated throughout the state, groups opposing gay marriage have been mobilizing to whip up hate and prejudice against gays and lesbians and to turn things back. The clerks of both Merced and Kern Counties said that they will no longer officiate at any weddings, although couples (both same-sex and different sex) will still be allowed to file for marriage licenses.  This is reminiscent of the decisions by racist city officials during the civil rights movement who shut down public facilities rather than see them integrated.

And Christian fascist religious forces collected more than 750,000 signatures for an initiative, to appear as a constitutional amendment on California’s November ballot, which will write into the state constitution that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.  These forces have announced that they were going to spend tens of millions of dollars and bring in reactionary anti-gay forces from around the country in an attempt to pass this bigoted initiative.

In recent years, the forces opposing gay marriage have pushed out their hateful agenda nationally. They have tried to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage. Twenty-seven states currently have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Forty-one states have passed laws that say that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Supreme Courts in New York, Maryland, and New Jersey have ruled that in their states there is no constitutional right to marriage equality.  And let’s not forget that in most parts of this country, including in California, a same-sex couple walking down the street hand-in-hand risks a beating, if not their lives.

At a time when the U.S. ruling class faces the need to rally people to their global crusade for empire, social and economic pressures are tearing and, in certain ways, undermining parts of the social fabric that holds together their exploitative system. In response to such a situation, Christian fascists and other reactionary forces, including at the highest levels of the ruling class, want to impose a Biblical-literalist “glue.” Their calls to “protect” traditional marriage are part of this and mean the strengthening of the oppressive patriarchal (man-dominated) family.

The battle over gay marriage is part of a larger battle over the whole direction of U.S. society. And right now there is a lot at stake in the fight to beat back and defeat the reactionary attacks on the right to gay marriage in California.

Stay tuned for coverage of this ongoing battle and of June 16, the first day of legal gay marriages in California.

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