Revolution #209, August 15, 2010

California Anti-Gay Marriage Law Suffers Setback

On August 4, a federal judge overturned California's notorious Proposition 8—a reactionary ballot initiative passed in 2008 which declared same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The decision declared that all of the arguments against gay marriage were "irrational" and based on prejudice, and that it was Prop. 8 that was unconstitutional. This important victory was the first major legal decision upholding gay marriage in federal courts in the U.S. Crowds celebrated that night in San Francisco's Castro District streets.

Gay people have a fundamental right to marry: denying this not only strips their relationships of legitimacy in the eyes of the law, but also means that people will be blocked from access to financial, legal, and social rights that go with being married. Many have searing stories of the consequences of being denied marriage. One woman told Revolution during protests against Prop. 8: "I know what can happen if you really don't have marriage equality under the law and a lot of the rights that are bestowed on heterosexuals just for being married are just not granted. I know what can happen to you in a hospital, like my partner's dying and I can't come in the room, or my second cousin, who I haven't seen in 20 years, can come and take the house we built with our bare hands. It's not OK, it's not fair, it's not right and I would even say it's amoral." The battle for gay marriage has become a major focus of the battle against formal and informal discrimination, social rejection, and even murder that gay people in this country continue to face.

The new federal court decision comes after a years long battle in which LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) people have fought discrimination and oppression, have spoken out and come out, and have continued to do so in the face of a powerful assault by right-wing fundamentalists. Last October 11, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Washington, D.C. at the National Equality March. While five states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, others have passed laws banning it. In California, there has been a see-saw battle. In the November 2008 election, Proposition 8 passed after a huge effort spearheaded by right-wing Christian organizations. The Mormon church alone sent 25,000 organizers to California. Mormons, Catholics, and Protestant evangelicals threw in millions of dollars. The cost of the Prop. 8 campaign was second only to the national presidential campaign in that election. In the days following the passage of Proposition 8, tens of thousands marched in protest in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Proposition 8 itself came only six months after gay marriage had been ruled legal by the California Supreme Court in June 2008. In the months gay marriage was legal in California, 18,000 same-sex couples were married, including couples who had been together for 30 or more years, who had faced the constant threat of violence or even jail for just showing affection in public. When gay marriage was legalized in the state for the first time, there were big celebrations at city halls all over California; friends and strangers brought flowers and celebrated the breakthrough.

When word got out that Judge Vaughn Walker in the U.S. District Court for Northern California had overturned Prop. 8, one couple in San Francisco rushed to City Hall to get married right away, and many people gathered to support them. They were cruelly denied—for now, gay marriage in California is still on hold. This is completely unacceptable. It continues an intolerable situation.

The attack on same-sex marriage is driven by powerful ruling class forces who fear that granting legal and social recognition to gay marriage will deal this country a "terrible blow," as one spokesperson for Prop. 8 put it. They see a country in crisis, pulled by many seemingly intractable social and political problems, its cohesion fraying ideologically, and are convinced of a need to forcefully assert a solid, reactionary ideological core—anchored in a forceful reassertion of traditional patriarchal family values. The reactionary Concerned Women for America put it this way after Judge Walker's decision:  "Marriage between one man and one woman undergirds a stable society and cannot be replaced by any other living arrangement." To which it must be posed: What KIND of stability is it that rests on ignorance, oppression, and discrimination?

As this ruling is appealed to higher courts, it is important to recognize the important role of LGBT people and their supporters who have dared to come out of the closet, refused to stay in the shadows, and taken to the streets to demand that same-sex love is completely valid and gay marriage should be fully recognized. The next steps in this battle are yet to be written, and more of this is needed, and with greater determination, from everyone who supports the basic and just demand for same-sex marriage. 

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