Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Proposition 8

2008
Different picketers, same deal

Long, long ago... October 2008 I'd just descended Eastmoor Road from Skyline in Daly City to Mission Blvd and stopped at the long traffic signal there. I was riding home from the peninsula and was taking the scenic route home: over San Bruno Mountain to squeeze an extra thousand feet of climbing out of this hilly ride. But at the intersection I was amused to see a large crowd of people, mostly hispanic and, to be blunt, mostly morbidly obese, marching around with signs that said "Yes on 8" along with various slogans indicating that the sanctity of their marriage unions was in peril.

I was amused, I say, because I couldn't comprehend what so motivated them to spend their day walking around this crowded intersection supporting removing the rights from individuals on a matter which had absolutely no effect on the marchers' lives or their well-beings. Whether 8 passed or not, whether the right for same-sex marriage was removed or not, was totally irrelevant to them. Why were they here?

I was extremely confident at the time 8 would fail. It was a hopelessly cynical play to get the ignorant-conservative electorate out to boost the vote for other issues and candidates. Perhaps in that regard it would be effective, perhaps not, but when you threaten a group with the removal of rights they presently possess, that group is intrinsically more invested in the outcome of the vote then the group calling for the removal of those rights... at least unless you're dealing with some sort of zero-sum resource where one group is trying to take something another possesses, like land. But there's no zero-sum constraint on marriage. Obviously 8 would go down in flames.

But of course, it did not. It passed. The trend was clear: year after year support for same-sex marriage was increasing, and the vote was close: had it been in 2009 instead of 2008, more of the old generation would have died, and more of the new generation would have reached voting age, and 8 would have failed as it so clearly should have. But it wasn't 2009, it was 2008, and so it passed.

I was furious: not at the ignoramuses who voted for it, but for the apathetics who didn't vote at all. Despite the importance of the Presidential election, despite the obvious importance of this and other propositions on the California ballot, the young-voter block made a tepid turn-out to the polls, as usual. You get what you deserve, voters. If you can't even be bothered to pop into a voting booth on election day, you forfeit the right to complain about the decisions reached by those who do.

But in the years that followed, the case went to the courts, where it bounced around for a half-decade until finally, today, the Supreme Court said it didn't want to deal with the matter, and so the decision of the state court holds: Prop 8 was unconstitutional because it stripped a subset of individuals of a right they'd already been granted. I initially had mixed feelings about the court case, because I don't view the role of the court to correct the errors of the voters, but rather their role is to decide on the legality of the laws which result. And in this case, nobody was denied the right to marry someone of the opposite sex. Proposition 8 was stupid and pointless and grossly unfair, but on the question of whether it was illegal, I was uncertain.

But eventually I came around, so I was glad when the lower court issued its ruling, and I was even gladder when the Supreme Court said due process had long since run its course. But it's a bit like when you finally recover from a long-term injury. Here we are, 5 years after Proposition 8, and we're just back where we started, having flushed enormous quantities of money, time, and attention down the proverbial toilet. And given the problems we face in our society, problems which should be receiving far more money, time, and attention, that's a terrible waste.

So I think back to those people marching in the street that day. I hate apathy more than anything else, but to be honest, I wish they'd been a bit more apathetic, at least on this matter.

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