Monday, January 5, 2009

Proposition 8: The New Bigotry

I had not planned to write about the controversy being exploited by each side of California’s Proposition 8. I did not care who voted for it, how much money was spent on it or the margin of its approval. As far as I was concerned the issue would play itself out in public opinion and in time become just another footnote of our culture. While the California Supreme Court is considering whether Proposition 8 violates the State Constitution, it is the effort to invalidate 18,000 gay marriages that changed my mind on writing about the issue to expose it as the sheer, unadulterated bigotry it is – our new bigotry.

However, where to start has been a bug-bear. Then it came to me –
Rush Limbaugh, who decided to lead the charge on the day after the election. He claimed that California’s passing of Proposition 8 told judges that they could not override what conservatives did in that ballot initiative, defining marriage as a legal bond only between a man and a woman. Although I think he is a huckster, such a digression obfuscates the point that Prop 8 is bigotry.

Rick Warren came to mind next. He is more of a media magnet than Rush these days and he is smooth. He refers to a “five-thousand-year . . . definition of marriage” with a smile, referring to Proposition 8 as a “free--speech issue.” Warren’s artful dodge is that he “objects to the redefinition of marriage.” Smooth sounding intolerance is still intolerance, which is at the core of bigotry.

By definition, “one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ” is a bigot. Bigotry is “the attitude, state of mind, or behavior characteristic of a bigot; intolerance.” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, also notes, “Bigot is first recorded in English in 1598 with the sense ‘a superstitious hypocrite.’"

What I am writing about is bigotry as an ideology. The obvious form is racism characterized by hostility, a belief in inferiority and an assumption that one race is superior to another. Today that is considered a human rights violation. Another form is sexism, characterized by judgments based upon gender rather than upon individualism and an assumption that one sex is superior to another. Other forms include fascism, nationalism, ageism, classism and pretty much any where narrow mindedness and stereotypes overcome logical thinking.

It is the will of 52% of a voting public over 48% that
changed the stance of California’s Attorney General Jerry Brown. He has filed suit to overturn the Proposition, writing that the courts have already said that the right to marry is protected as an “inalienable right.” Brown writes further that a “tyranny of the majority” would be established if a ballot initiative could to take away an inalienable right. This is something that the Constitution was designed to prevent.

sponsors of Proposition 8 are championed by Kenneth Starr, dean of Pepperdine University's law school and the former independent counsel who investigated President Bill Clinton. He argues that by upholding the initiative and invalidating 18,000 same-sex weddings performed before the election, the court would preserve the people's lawmaking powers. "Proposition 8's brevity is matched by its clarity,” Starr wrote. “There are no conditional clauses, exceptions, exemptions or exclusions." He would know since he was one of its authors.

Although I am not a lawyer, it occurs to me that there is also the pesky matter of ex post facto law, also known as retroactive law and prohibited by the Constitution. The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition, says, “A law that makes illegal an act that was legal when committed . . . “In the case of Proposition 8, same-sex marriages may no longer be performed, at least for now. However, to invalidate marriages performed while they were legal makes the Proposition an ex post facto law.

The new bigotry has plenty of articulate spokespeople to espouse its specious cause. I would be interested to know what they think about repealing laws that prohibited marriages between blacks and whites. But that is the old bigotry.

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Originally published in Blogcritics Magazine on January 1, 2009.

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