Response to the Prop 8 Ruling: It’s a Red Herring

Pardon me while I briefly interrupt the series about making friends as an expat to provide this commentary and feedback on today’s ruling by the California Supreme Court, upholding Proposition 8, which defines marraige as “between one man and one woman”.

07 While my initial reaction to today’s California Supreme Court ruling upholding Proposition 8 was one of disappointment, I really am not that worked up over it, for two reasons:


First, the court was ruling on whether the ballot initiative process was a legal way to change the constitution.  For better or for worse, the supporters of Prop 8 did follow the process.  The problem here is less one of equality and more one of California having a dysfunctional ballot initiative process.  As a Californian for more than thirty years, I’ll be the first to say that the initiative process has caused many more problems that it has solved.  So, if you’re upset at the ruling, turn some of that righteous indignation towards changing the state’s way of creating laws.


Second, while the word “marriage” is very powerful, same sex couples in California still have all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges of marriage through the state’s civil union process.  So, from a practical standpoint, a couple who gets a civil union tomorrow is afforded all of the same state benefits as couples who have one of the 18,000 same-sex marriages that the court ruled are still valid.


The fight over Prop 8, while important, is a red herring.

Here’s the real battle, friends: At the federal level, regardless of whether we have a “marriage” or a “civil union” in any of the fifty states or the District of Columbia, same sex couples do not have ANY federal rights.  There are 1,138 specific federal rights identified by the Government Accounting Office that married couples are afforded, including (most importantly for me and Tawn) immigration rights.


The struggle to gain full equal rights will be a long one.  Along that road we will face significant setbacks, obstacles and distractions.  We need to look at things in a broad context at each step of the way, making sure our efforts are focused on the endgame.  While winning back the right to have a “marriage” versus a “civil union” in California is important, and something that I look forward to, in forty of the states we can’t even have the civil union and at the federal level, having either doesn’t matter.  That’s where the real battle lies.


0 thoughts on “Response to the Prop 8 Ruling: It’s a Red Herring

  1. The bright side is that our govenrment is dynamic (though slow) and there are processes that allow for change, interpretation, amendments and rulings.  

  2. I totally agree with you. While some of my gay friends here were very upset  about the ruling, and rightly so. I was not at all worked up about it cause in some ways I think this Prop 8 is a distraction to what is more important, which is to keep fighting for the exact benefits the heterosexual couples have and to have more benefits. I dont particularly care what you call our marriage. Call it  SHEEP SAME SEX MARRIAGE for all I care just as long as my partner and I have the same benefits as a heterosexual couples then I am happy. Prop 8 is about keeping the definition of marriage between one man and one woman only, okay let them have it please. Why are we wasting our time trying to over throw this propisition and besides the majority of Californians have already decided and voted on it and it should be upheld. Imagine if the majority of us have voted for something we all believed in and the judges decided to just over throw them then what is the purpose of voting? just give me my benefits and I will be happy.

  3. I thought you were going to say it’s a red herring because deep down inside, people are homophobic.  It has nothing really to do with the sementics, they just think it’s wrong.If it were as simple as sementics of the word, then people wouldn’t make any argument against changing it.

  4. @Wangium – Yes and no.  If “they just think it’s wrong”, why wasn’t Prop 8 written to deny same-sex couples any sort of recognition, as has been done in many other states?  Because the authors of Prop 8 knew that, in California, the majority of the population would not be in favor of removing the benefits of civil unions from same-sex couples.  The only way they could win was to limit it strictly to the semantic argument over the definition of “marriage”.@devonferris – Good point.  As much as I don’t like CA’s initiative process, I have to respect that it is the law of the state.@murisopsis – Very true.  If you look at what has been accomplished in the last few years, let alone the past few decades, we’ve come a long way as a society along the road of tolerance, understanding and equality.

  5. I live in Ohio where the topic of gay marriage has never been an issue; the homophobia here has always been way too strong here for any ground to be gained by gay marriage supporters, even despite having one of the highest gay populations in our capital city in the country. I feel like in order for federal law to change, whole generations of gay-hating, (usually) racist, religiously-‘justified’ bigots needs to simply die out. Until these people are gone and no longer voting, nothing will ever change on the federal level. The lack of immigration rights for gay couples has always pissed me off, and doesn’t make any sense for couples married in countries where gay marriage IS legal. More bigotry on part of the US law.

  6. @secade – The challenge while waiting for the bigots to die off is to make sure that more of them don’t grow up.  We need (broadly, as a community) to engage and become more visible so that more young people growing up don’t get set in bigotted ways.

  7. That’s an interesting way to look at it! There are going to be set backs like you said but it helps to remember that this is only one very small battle in a big war. This is not the end.

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