Friday, February 20, 2004California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today declared the same-sex unions being performed by the thousands in his state "illegal."
I'll try to resist a snide comment about the pot calling the kettle black, but goshdarnit, the man just does not have a steroid-pumped leg to stand on. We've all heard both truths and exaggerations about his wild arugula-salad days filled with drugs, starlet-groping and group sex parties, and he may well be a polished politician and a genuine family man today; his skeletons neatly cremated in the closet. But somehow, his cigar-chomping pontifications behind the Republican "read my lips - no gay marriage" party line strike me as disingenuous at best, hypocritical at worst. There's nothing like a superficially reformed rapscallion.
I've had many people tell me that although they believe that same-sex couples should have some protections under the law, "most people don't believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry." Besides, they don't really need marriage.
The "most people don't believe" argument has a long history; we've dealt with it numerous times as a nation when deciding how to distribute rights and privileges among our people, and many times the reasonable and compassionate solution has called for an exception to "majority rule." Remember the early suffragists like Alice Paul, in the days when "most people didn't believe" women needed access to the polls? No doubt the concept of women voting must have seemed outrageous, "unnatural", even morally wrong to many back then:
From The Right To Vote:How about a pre-civil rights era admonition that read, "Negroes! You Don't Need a Ballot to Work 40 Acres and a Mule!" or...
"Women had campaigned actively for suffrage in America since 1848, when delegates met at Seneca Falls, New York, for the first Woman's Rights Convention. But convincing a majority of men to empower women was a tall order. Most people, male and female alike, believed that women were biologically unfit for politics.
According to one orator at a mass meeting in Albany, New York, 'A woman's brain involves emotion rather than intellect, [which] painfully disqualifies her for the sterner duties to be performed by the intellectual faculties.' Even those who thought women might be capable of political activity, often decided that the family had to come first. 'Housewives!' announced a Massachusetts journal, 'You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout.' "
"Gays and lesbians! You do not need a marriage license to play house."
Conservative voters and legislators will no doubt respond with a forward push on the proposed federal Constitutional Amendment that would restrict marriage to "a man and a woman", but we need to remember that no Amendment has ever before taken rights away from a specific group of people. "But," you say, "What about the Prohibition?"
Not quite. That glowingly successful Amendment restricted everyone in the nation from using alcohol, in the name of morality and "preservation of the social good". I'm sure there would have been a more rousing hubbub had the 18th Amendment prohibited alcohol sale and consumption by, let's say for the sake of argument, women or Black persons. Nevertheless, as well-intentioned as the 18th Amendment's creators may have been, it just didn't work.
That same argument being used by opponents of same-sex marriage, that somehow a federal amendment is needed to "protect society" from married gay people, is based on the same hollow premises. One blogger I read regularly claims that proponents of same-sex marriage are no less extremist than an organization like PETA. Regardless of how you may feel about vegans, animal-rights activists or same-sex marriage, I think there is an important basic difference between the folks that want to allow same-sex marriage and an organization like PETA.
I understand that PETA would like everyone to stop consuming meat and animal products. That would mean a lifestyle change for me (perhaps you), and everyone else that uses animal products in their daily lives. PETA are not asking for a personal right to not use animal products; that is a given. They are asking all people to make a change in their beliefs and habits. On the other hand, permitting same-sex marriage does not involve a lifestyle change for anyone except same-sex couples that wish to marry: gay marriage advocates are certainly not asking heterosexuals to "switch sides" and marry same-sex partners. Just like pre-suffrage women and Blacks, they want to take part in a social institution they have been previously excluded from.
But back to the Governator. California Guber Alles or not, I think Arnold should just take his cigar...and butt out of trying to deny people their civil rights.