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A Less Perfect Union: Gay Marriage and the Subversion of the Republic
Posted on Oct 24, 2008
By Scott Tucker
I tried to discover whether the No On 8 forces had tried to enlist Sens. Boxer and Feinstein or Speaker Pelosi to appear in TV ads, as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has done. Speaking to a number of officials and spokespersons for No On 8 and Equality California, I encountered evasions and obfuscation but no straight answers. I can only conclude that the anti-Prop. 8 forces are willing to provide cover for the reluctance of California’s Democratic leaders to be publicly identified with an issue that might not play well with segments of the party base.
Clintonian triangulation is still the order of the day among many career Democrats, pundits and operatives. The moral and political horizon of Alex Koppelman should be evident in his “War Room” column, written for Salon on May 15, the same day the text the California Supreme Court ruling was published:
“First, the decision will undoubtedly be used by the Republican Party to reenergize its base. Second, it puts the Democratic Party in an uncomfortable position. The party has largely tried to split the baby by opposing outright legalization of gay marriage, which is still very dangerous politically, and supporting civil unions as an equitable solution. But this decision says civil unions are not the same thing as marriage and shouldn’t be treated that way. It’ll be very interesting to see what the reaction is from the party and the presidential candidates.”
If civil unions were indeed the legal gold standard of a social democratic country, then marriages likewise would be a purely individual and religious choice. We do not yet live in such a country, and we never will until we wage open electoral campaigns against the corporate parties and until we truly separate church and state. For now, Koppelman and his political colleagues are posing as Solomonic sages. Unlike the biblical Solomon, their plain imperative is to “split the baby” whenever possible.
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However, unlike the action of Gov. Ronald Reagan, who spoke out against the infamous 1978 Briggs Amendment, which would have barred gays from teaching in California, Schwarzenegger’s fight against Proposition 8 has not been visible to the public since his meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans.
The text of the state Supreme Court’s ruling is worth study, especially since justices who may fairly be called libertarian conservatives did their jobs. They paid scrupulous attention to legal precedents in the constitutional law of California. They also acknowledged that there are times when judges must not make false idols of previous laws, and must make decisions to advance justice long denied. A deep injustice will finally prove indefensible, and the fact that the law sided for so long with injustice then becomes part of the legal record.
The justices made pointed reference to “this court’s landmark decision sixty years ago in Perez v. Sharp (1948) … which found that California’s statutory provisions prohibiting interracial marriages were inconsistent with the fundamental constitutional right to marry, notwithstanding the circumstance that statutory prohibitions on interracial marriage had existed since the founding of the state. …”
Perez v. Sharp, the justices noted, “makes clear that history alone is not invariably an appropriate guide for determining the meaning and scope of this fundamental constitutional guarantee. The decision in Perez, although rendered by a deeply divided court, is a judicial opinion whose legitimacy and constitutional soundness are by now universally recognized.”
In other words, Perez v. Sharp was a prophetic ruling at that time precisely because it was not simply the product of the history of legal precedents—including racist laws against interracial marriage. But once a prophetic law sets a legal precedent, in direct contradiction and contravention of previous laws, then “the majesty of the law” is established anew upon the foundation of real and evolving social relations.
God, guns and gays. Wedge issues. Culture wars. Those phrases are well-worn currency, but their value has gone bust. Those magic formulas now stop thought and ward off reality, especially when found on Op-Ed pages and in the “progressive” lexicon.
We can dismiss any issue outside our own political platform as a wedge issue, but that hardly comes to grips with the hopes and fears of fellow citizens. Wedge issues, so called, have proved to be lasting foundation stones of real social movements. Those right-wing movements have a parallel existence with the Republican Party, much as the social movements of blacks, women and gays have had a parallel existence with the Democratic Party. No one should be surprised if career politicians are loyal first and foremost to their own careers, but politicians often have been forced to acknowledge the power of movements they did little or nothing to create.
We might wish all those wedges away, but we would do better to match our political will against the right-wing coalition of religious and free-market fundamentalists. That coalition has cracks and fissures we must study and widen. If the Democratic Party is the party of enlightenment, then Democrats should lean on their chosen leaders to talk more often and consistently about the working class, and not just the all too generic middle class. But the party of enlightenment can never be limited to any single political party whatsoever, either during economic crises and class struggles or during struggles for sexual, cultural and civil liberties. The brute fact remains that many Democratic politicians are unwilling to wage a fair fight for secular values in the public sphere.
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