Thursday, June 13, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #112 - Part 1

Progress on marriage equality

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its rulings on two cases related to marriage equality within the next two or three weeks, those cases being whether or not to uphold California's Proposition 8, or PropHate as it came to be called, which stripped away an existing right to same-sex marriage in the state, and the question of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, a section of which defines marriage as one man-one woman for all federal purposes, meaning that even same-sex couples legally married in their home state are denied marriage-related federal benefits.

While obviously no one can say for sure what will happen, legal observers are predicting that the Court will strike down the relevant section of DOMA on the grounds that it creates two groups of legally-married people and treats them differently - which you can't legitimately do. As a result, legally-married same-sex couples would have the same access to marriage-related federal benefits that legally-married straight couples do.

Those observers are also predicting that the Court will punt on Proposition 8, avoiding a decision. If that happens, it will leave intact a Court of Appeals decision that struck down Prop8, making same-sex marriage again legal in California without affecting the laws of any other state.

So with that coming up, I thought I'd take a couple of minutes to check out some recent news on this front.

I've said a number of times before that this may be the only area about which it's true, but on this issue, on marriage equality, we - that is, we progressives, we believers in justice - are winning.One example of that is how attitudes about same-sex marriage have changed in California since the passage, in 2008, of Prop8 by a margin of 52-48.

According to a USC/Los Angeles Times poll two years later, that is, in 2010, 52% of registered voters in the state favored gay marriage and 40% opposed it, a 12-point spread and a dramatic shift from the Prop8 results.

Now, just three years after that, in 2013, another USC/Los Angeles Times poll shows 58% of the state's registered voters believe same-sex marriage should be legal, compared with 36% against, a margin of 22 points and a gap 10 points wider than just three years earlier. The poll showed that support for legal same-sex marriage had increased, sometimes dramatically, across every age group and every region of the state. Only those over 65 and those living in the Central Valley did not show majority support for marriage equality and even in those categories opinion was evenly split. Which is itself telling, since those even splits mark clear gains from three years before, at which time Central Valley residents opposed marriage equality by a margin of six points and those over 65 did so by a margin of 19 points.

In fact, the change in the US in general, not just in California, is notable enough that both supporters and opponents of marriage justice agree on one thing: ultimate legal recognition has become inevitable. According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, nearly three-quarters of Americans say same-sex marriage is certain to become legal. That includes 85 percent of supporters of the idea and 59 percent of those who oppose it.

Even places that have supposedly iced same-sex marriage out entirely may find change coming their way: Michigan is one of the states that adopted a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man-one woman. In 2004, that measure passed by the substantial margin of 58-42. But a poll released last month found that 55% of likely voters in the state said they would vote to amend the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage.

That number needs to grow; conventional wisdom says you need 60% support for a referendum to be confident of passage when the votes are finally counted. Even so, the shift to date is clear enough that marriage justice activists are planning a ballot drive in 2016 aiming to overturn Michigan's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Even the traditional arguments against same-sex marriage are falling apart. Consider the famous "the Bible says" argument, the claim that the Bible defines marriage as one man-one woman. Three Iowa-based Biblical scholars recently ripped that apart in an op-ed in the Des Moines Register.

In fact, they noted, the Bible offers multiple descriptions of marriage. For example, it endorses polygamy, practiced by both Abraham and David. 2 Samuel has God telling David "I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom. ... And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.”

Deuteronomy says that rape victims must marry their rapist. Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Ruth all say a man is obligated to marry his brother’s widow, regardless of his own marital status. Ezra forbinds interracial marriage and orders those who already had foreign wives to divorce them immediately. Paul said it's better to not marry at all and remain celibate, and the gospel of Matthew has Jesus encouraging those who can to castrate themselves “for the kingdom” and live a life of celibacy.

So while it wouldn't be true to say that biblical texts specifically allow same-sex marriage, saying the Bible defines marriage as “one man and one woman” is complete claptrap.

That, of course, doesn't mean the bitter and bigoted opposition won't continue. Just consider Illinois, where the hope for a legislative victory has been put on hold. The state Senate has passed a same-sex marriage bill, the governor has said he will sign it, but a vote in the state House of Representatives has been put off until the fall.

It now develops that the Catholic Church is trying to financially force local groups in the state that work with the poor to oppose same-sex marriage. The groups in question receive grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the anti-poverty arm of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. They are also part of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

On May 23, the coalition issued a statement in support of “marriage equality” for same-sex partners. In response, Catholic Church officials contacted the groups involved that receive grants and told them that they either withdraw from the coalition and renounce its position in favor of marriage equality or forget about the funding.

So faced with a choice between aid the poor and immigrants and "protect our bigoted notion about marriage," the Church has made its very revealing choice.


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