Monday, May 19, 2008

Organized Bigotry Ready for the Next Round

Now that California's Supreme Court has recognized that civil rights should apply to homosexuals, Indiana's bigots are ready for a renewed fight to be sure that gays in Indiana can't possibly be recognized as having civil rights by a Court. Proponents of the proposed amendment to enshrine discrimination into Indiana's Constitution are apparently gearing up to take the issues to voters and make gay marriage an "important" issue this fall. I strongly oppose the proposed Constitutional Amendment and I support gay marriage. I'm not quite sure why the issue resonates so strongly with me, but it does. And I'm not shy about saying so. I suspect that, over time, I will write on this issue at length and I want to make several things clear right from the start.

First, if my tone (such as the use of the word "bigot") seems aggressive or strident, it is supposed to. Personally, I believe that anyone who opposes gay rights is just as bigoted as someone who opposed interracial marriage or allowing a "negro" into the local country club or keeping quotas on the number of Jews in certain colleges or ... well, you get the picture. Gays are people and, no matter whether we think homosexuality is a choice or a function of DNA, as people, they are entitled to dignity and respect, just as are those of us in the heterosexual community. Anybody who thinks that a certain group is not entitled to basic human rights is, in my estimation, a bigot. End of story.

Second, even though I am a staunch supporter of gay rights, I am not, myself gay. So what? I'm not African-American either, but I support equal rights without regard to race. I'm male, but I support gender equality, too. I'm neither Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, but I support rights for all religious communities as well. You see, I support the concept of human rights and civil rights and equal protection and I don't believe that some of those rights apply to certain groups but not other groups. Perhaps it's because I'm a member of a religious minority group myself that makes me sensitive to the rights of other minority groups, be they religious, racial, or whatever. But when people take a stand against extending rights (and that must be distinguished from privileges) to groups on the basis of race, gender, religion (or lack thereof), national origin, disability, or sexual orientation (and don't think that list is exclusive), then they are being bigoted.

Plus, ask yourself this: What is it about gay marriage, in particular, that makes people so outraged, so nervous, so angry, that they are willing to amend the Constitution to, for the first time in Indiana's history, enshrine discrimination into our basic governing law. Look through Indiana's Constitution and the US Constitution and see how many times we've amended those documents to take rights away or to limit the extension of rights. I think you'll find that, with the exception of prohibition (which was quickly repealed), both the Indiana Constitution and the US Constitution are documents that have been used to grant and extend rights, not to limit rights or to prevent their extension.

Third, if gays are allowed to marry, it will not weaken the institution of marriage. My wife and I may argue about lots of things (and who doesn't?); there may be lots of things that put stress on our relationship, whether it be work, money, family, which TV show to watch, whether to have chicken or fish for dinner, whether we want to the front door to stay green or be painted blue, instead, or who gets to feed the goldfish tonight. But whether a gay couple is allowed to marry or ... gasp ... adopt a child, will certainly not be one of the things that puts a strain on our marriage, make our marriage any less meaningful, or make us love each other or our children any less. To those who believe that allowing gays to marry will weaken the institution of marriage, I suggest that they first watch a TV show like Extra for the latest on celebrity hook-ups and divorces (how long was Britney married that first time?). Next, they should look at divorce rates and the difficulties presented to children of divorced parents. Then they should visit an orphanage or check out the lives of children living in foster care facilities. Finally, they should take a big time out and really evaluate what is important in their own marriage and what makes it stronger or weaker. Then, they can then tell me about the "integrity" of the institution of marriage.

Fourth: What exactly does the government have to do with marriage anyway? Most objections to gay marriage are, at their core, based on religious opposition to homosexuality. If a religious tradition does not support gay marriage, then that religion does not have to marry a gay couple. But marriage is about more than words spoken by a priest or rabbi or imam; marriage, from the perspective of our government and laws, is also about property rights, health care decisions, family planning, and other matters that have nothing to do with religion. Perhaps religious marriage and the government should be separated completely. Let religions marry people and let the state recognize civil unions (both hetero- and homosexual). Then, property rights and other legal implications of "marriage" could be divorced (pardon the pun, I couldn't resist) from the religious "meaning".

Fifth: Why are those on the right of the political spectrum so opposed to "judicial activism" when it overturns laws that discriminate or take away certain rights, but don't have any problems when other judges invalidate laws that take away other rights? The California judges who believe in equality are thought to be upsetting the will of the people, but judges who overturn gun control laws are viewed in an entirely different light. More importantly, there is a very simple concept that many opposed to judicial activism (and gay marriage, in particular) fail to understand. An example of this failure is evident in a letter to the editor published in today's The Indianapolis Star in which reader Tim McDowell bemoans the fact that the California Supreme Court dismissed the wishes of California voters. What is implicit in this letter is the notion that, if voters want something, then courts should always respect that decision.

The problem, of course, with this viewpoint is that it is anathema to the very way in which a constitutional democracy like ours is supposed to work. Mr. McDowell apparently does not understand the very premise that the role of the judiciary in our constitutional democracy is to protect the rights of the minority. As I've mentioned in the past, I suspect that a majority of voters could be convinced to outlaw Islam or Judaism or to make Christianity the "official" religion of Indiana, to stop newspapers from criticizing the government, or to take away any of a host of rights that have been recognized over the last 200+ years. But the point of the judiciary is to protect minority groups from the whims of a majority. Our Constitution protects freedom of religion, even if a majority thinks that Islam should be banned. Our Constitution doesn't allow a majority to decide that African-Americans can't live in a certain community. It was "activist judges" who recognized that "separate but equal" school segregation was unconstitutional as was a ban on interracial marriages. Yet people like Mr. McDowell would appear to suggest that the will of the majority should be allowed to trump the rights of the minority. That is not America. I wonder what people like Mr. McDowell think about popular decisions to ban guns in certain communities, even if that popular decision might be in violation of the 2nd Amendment? Should the will of the majority trump any individual rights that may be found in 2nd Amendment? And what if the women in society (who, I believe, hold a slim majority) voted to take rights away from men? What would Mr. McDowell say? Would he allow voters in Martinsville to ban African-Americans or Jews from moving to their town? Could voters in Marion/Hamilton County vote to outlaw Republicans/Democrats (as applicable) in their respective county? Why is it OK for judges to strike down some laws but not others? Why are some rights worthy of protection but not others?

It has always been easy for the majority to take rights away from (or refuse to extend them to) a minority group, but the very essence of our system protects all groups from the whims of the majority. That is one of the reasons that our system of government has often been described as flawed but still the best ever created. Just because a majority may not want gays to have full civil rights, is not reason for the courts to ignore what is right, even if unpopular. Judicial activism is rarely anything more than the courts intervening to protect the minority from the majority as our judicial system was designed to do.

OK, I know. I got a bit off topic there. But that's OK. My point is this. I support the right of gays to be left alone and treated like everyone else, and that includes the right to marry (although I'm willing to call it something else if that makes the objective easier to obtain). And, I believe that those who oppose extending civil rights to groups on the basis of sexual orientation (not to mention numerous other reasons) are, essentially, bigots. So, as the issue begins to be debated again (and used as a wedge issue to divert attention from more serious issues like Iraq and the economy), I intend to speak up, often and loudly. I oppose the proposed Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage and I intend to use this blog to help explain why and to take to task those bigots who would deprive others of basic human rights.

Or maybe we should just find a majority willing to pass a law to make bigots just shut up and go away. What would they say to a majority who didn't want to hear them spew their bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and hatred. Then again, much as it pains me, I believe in the 1st Amendment and the rights of idiots to say what they want. But I also believe that I have the right, if not the duty, to tell them what I think of their ideas.

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