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”.
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.