Thoughts on Proposition 8

California’s Proposition 8, which proposes a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, has certainly been a recent topic of discussion around ours and many Californian’s dinner tables. I’ve talked with friends, family members, and colleagues, listening to the various arguments people have on each side of the issue. I’m still not sure how I will vote in November, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject.

What I Believe

Let’s start by framing the discussion a bit:

  • My religious faith is an incredibly large part of my life. As a Christian, I believe that living a homosexual lifestyle is a sin against God. I do not, however, believe that any one sin is fundamentally worse than another. We live in a fallen world in which all people live in sin to some degree or another.

  • In general, I do not believe that you can legislate morality. Passing Proposition 8 is not going to cause gay couples to change their lifestyles. If the Church wishes to witness to homosexuals in an attempt to save them from a believed sinful lifestyle, that is perfectly acceptable. The first amendment guarantees any religion the right to exist and express their belief system, and I don’t believe any level-headed person would disagree with the Church’s right to do so, whether they agree with them or not.

  • I believe that marriage is an institution created by God to be between one man and one woman.

  • Being a religious institution, I believe marriage has no place in government, either in being defined or performed. If governments wish to offer various rights and benefits to legally recognized family units, those rights should be equally extended without any kind of discrimination, whether based on age, race, sexual orientation, etc. I believe government should be involved only in the business of performing such civil unions, seperate from the institution of marriage.

The Ideal Scenario

As mentioned in my last point above, my ideal scenario is one in which governments perform only civil unions, which are equally available to straight and gay couples. Any and all rights and benefits currently afforded married couples are instead granted to these civil unions. Chris Messina and I completely agree on this point.

Where I do not completely agree with Chris is what we should do in our current non-ideal situation. Chris immediately jumps to the conclusion that if marriage must exist, then it should be non-discriminatory. While I agree with the sentiment, I think there’s more to it in this case.

Current Legislation

California domestic partnerships have quite a history. They were first established by the Domestic Partnership Act of 1999 and have continually been granted more rights in every session of congress since. At this point, nearly all of the state benefits available to married couples are also available to those in a domestic partnership. In fact, Equality California and the NCLR said in the introduction to their brochure for Gay couples explaining the law:

… registered domestic partners in California are provided with most of the rights and responsibilities of married couples under California law. However, registered domestic partners still do not receive any of the 1,138 rights and benefits of married couples under federal law. Registered domestic partners also continue to have less security than married couples when they travel or move outside of California.

In the absence of a recognized right to gay marriage, the state of California took the appropriate action of establishing another institution that would afford same-sex couples all the same rights (at the State level) as an opposite-sex couple. Now I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure that no matter what happens with Proposition 8, same-sex couples will have no more or less rights than they do now within California.

Beyond California, the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the effects of Proposition 8 from having any effect in other states or the federal level. First, the act establishes that no state can be forced to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

Additionally, it defines marriage at the federal level as being between a man and a woman:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

While I most certainly do not agree with this act (especially the latter part) and believe that it should be repealed, it’s important to note what this law means for Proposition 8. I would love to hear an analysis from someone more familiar with these laws, but it seems to me that Proposition 8 (whether it passes or not) is likely to have little effect with regards to the actual rights and benefits available of same-sex couples.

Moving Forward

So if my understanding above is correct, then how do we move forward from here? My primary criteria at this point is to identify which vote on Proposition 8 is more likely to be a step in the direction of my ideal scenario.

On one hand, I’m concerned that if we do not pass Proposition 8 and the marriage is made available to same-sex couples, then it will be viewed as having won the war and no more effort will be spent in trying to disconnect marriage and government. If instead Proposition 8 does pass, then at the very least it protects the traditional religious definition of marriage. At most, it would emphasize the need to continue expanding the rights afforded domestic partnerships if there are any shortcomings. Over time, additional legislation could seek the removal of marriage from state law, to be replaced by domestic partnerships (or civil unions) for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

On the other hand, I’m generally in favor of small government and don’t like the idea of passing laws that are not really necessary. Even more, amending the constitution pretty firmly plants the institution of marriage within the state government, which is not what I want.

So like I said, I’m not really sure how I’ll be voting next month. I’ve got pretty clear ideas (I think) on the issue, but there’s just no way of knowing what chain reaction this proposition could set in motion in either direction. I welcome any thoughts or comments.