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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gay "marriage" is the left's flag pin:
SPECIAL NOTICE: I put this post up last night, then pulled because it was intemperate and likely to offend readers. Now it's up again because I'm still angry about what I'm reading on various liberal/left blogs. It's probably going to offend you, so apologies in advance.

Here's what's going on. I live in California. I know people dependent on California state support services and have helped them navigate the system. I follow the action in the state legislature and the reality is that more Democrats are needed there to enact fair taxation to pay for services for the poor and unfortunate (instead we get a circus of silly tax and revenue proposals). These are basic dollars-and-cents/food-in-the-belly issues, especially critical given the state's current budget problems. Services are not keeping pace with population or inflation. In fact they are being cut back in a number of places. To cite one example to give you an idea of the situation:
In order to qualify for the state's version of MediCaid (MediCal) you cannot have assets over $2,000 (excluding your car). That number hasn't been revised upwards since 2002. It's already a ridiculously low number and failure to adjust means that poor people are being denied medical services.
MORE: When Gavin Newsom went handing out marriage certificates in 2004 and the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled allowing gay marriage, I was worried that it would hurt Democrats that election year. With the several-state initiatives that Rove supported, a good case can be made that it hurt Kerry. It could have made the difference, preventing Roberts and Alito from being on the Supreme Court for decades.

I see yesterday's ruling in a similar manner: the practical effect is that it will make it harder to help the poor and unfortunate (an umbrella category that covers job loss and illness, to mention two).

I'll conclude this section with a thought-experiment: Let's say that you live in California, are gay, and in an already-established civil union. Let's say that you are also poor and need MediCal and other state safety-net services. Are you going to be happy the California court ruled the way it did? You get a change in the name of your union (from "civil" to "marriage"), no additional legal guarantees, but enhanced "dignity" (according to the court). You also get a riled-up conservative base ready to head to the polls in November to vote to reverse the court ruling and also to vote Republican.
Many liberal/left bloggers are celebrating the California Supreme Court's ruling. Here is part of what it said: (emp add)
... because of the long and celebrated history of the term "marriage" and the widespread understanding that this word describes a family relationship unreservedly sanctioned by the community, the statutory provisions that continue to limit access to this designation exclusively to opposite-sex couples — while providing only a novel, alternative institution for same-sex couples — likely will be viewed as an official statement that the family relationship of same-sex couples is not of comparable stature or equal dignity to the family relationship of opposite-sex couples.

Furthermore, because of the historic disparagement of gay persons, the retention of a distinction in nomenclature by which the term "marriage" is withheld only from the family relationship of same-sex couples is all the more likely to cause the new parallel institution that has been established for same-sex couples to be considered a mark of second-class citizenship.

Finally, in addition to the potential harm flowing from the lesser stature that is likely to be afforded to the family relationships of same-sex couples by designating them domestic partnerships, there exists a substantial risk that a judicial decision upholding the differential treatment of opposite-sex and same-sex couples would be understood as validating a more general proposition that our state by now has repudiated: that it is permissible, under the law, for society to treat gay individuals and same-sex couples differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals and opposite-sex couples.
To recap:
  • There is a parallel institution for gay unions
  • It's got a different name
  • This is deemed unacceptable by the court
What this ruling will do is motivate conservatives to come out and vote in November for a ballot initiative that will reverse the court. In addition, it will enhance the ability of Republicans to win seats for Congress, the state Senate and Assembly. That will end up hurting the poor and unfortunate on real tangible issues, like qualification rules for MediCal (the state's version of Medicaid) and funding for low-income programs (energy, food, welfare), emergency services, urban transit, and so on. That loss for the poor will be compensated by having gay unions being allowed to use the term "marriage" for reasons of stature and dignity. The court's ruling will not provide any additional legal benefits (hospital visits, joint-estate, survivor benefits, etc).

This is symbolism trumping the hard realities facing the poor and unfortunate. Is it worth it?

As Kevin Drum points out, acceptance of gay "marriage" is steadily growing, but still several years away from a solid majority. The trend is clear. The benefits are purely verbal (since civil union laws duplicate marriage privileges). The costs could be substantial. Instead of 10 years of better support for the poor, liberals are excited that they can use the term "marriage" for gays 10 years before it becomes normative.

If the court's ruling would have affected gay unions so that they would enjoy some legal benefits that only the officially "married" have, that would be one thing. But the only change is one of words and claims that an amorphous, unproven, social status revision will take place. From the dissent: "California statutes already recognize same-sex unions and grant them all the substantive legal rights this state can bestow."

Checking California right-wing outlets (blogs, radio), they are very excited with this ruling. They think that it will help revive the moribund Republican party in the fall. They're probably correct.

UPDATE: From the court's ruling: (emp add)
[O]ur task in this proceeding is not to decide whether we believe, as a matter of policy, that the officially recognized relationship of a same-sex couple should be designated a marriage rather than a domestic partnership, but instead only to determine whether the difference in official names of the relationships violates the California Constitution.
WOW: Joan Walsh at Salon: (emp add)
... some people are saying this gay marriage decision will doom the Democrats again, and I had two quick reactions: I honestly don't think so, and if it does, that's just the way it is.
California is unable to raise income taxes because of the need for a 2/3 majority in the legislature, and the Republicans always stop such efforts. If Democrats could win more elections then they could enact progressive tax schemes and wouldn't end up facing regressive sales taxes as a way to get out of the current budget dilemma (as detailed here). Joan Walsh is saying that if the California Supreme Court ruling on the use of the word "marriage" leads to Democrats losing at the polls and more misery for those already struggling, hey, that's just the way it is.



8 comments

Well, I think you're wrong.

In Massachusetts, the SJC (rightly) ruled that the constitution prohibits the state from discriminating when assigning a legally protected status to couples that assigns them state benefits.

There was a supposed popular outcry against it, but in the succeeding period of time we've seen a Republican governor kicked to the curb, a massive increase in the number of Democrats in our state legislature and mayorships, and the near death of the Republican party here. Additionally, we saw a constitutional amendment banning equal marriage defeated at the constitutional convention, effectively settling the issue.

Maybe the rest of the country is different. I say, it's time for the rest of the country to grow a pair and do what's right instead of what's expedient.

By Blogger J.Goodwin, at 5/16/2008 5:42 AM  

j.goodwin: Thank you for your comment. Part of my case is based on the realities out here in California: How the state constitution makes it harder to pay for safety-net services, plus the fact that there is a considerable conservative population in the interior of the state (and in the southernmost Orange County to San Diego section). Your state voted against the constitutional amendment, which is great, but in California there was, and still is, substantial support for legally banning gay "marriage". It is a potent political issue.

By Blogger Quiddity, at 5/16/2008 5:51 AM  

It's going to vary for state to state sure, because each state has different constitutional protections for it's citizens, but I'm pretty shocked that you're angry with your judicial branch for making what I consider to be the right decision. Not that I'm an expert in California constitutional law.

If your state's party isn't strong enough to deal with challenges to the status quo...i.e. your own constitution, then it might be time to get new party leadership.

All these ballot questions that you guys have out there baffle me. And that's before we even get to Arnold as governor. WTF is going on out there?

By Blogger J.Goodwin, at 5/16/2008 6:03 AM  

http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/tapped_archive?month=03&year=2007&base_name=post_3153

basically, the "backlash" is just overblown. Yes, I'm sure that there are some bloggers and talk radio blow hards that are going to get completely riled up. But those individuals were going to vote repub anyways, and the issue simply does not drive all that many votes.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/16/2008 7:41 AM  

Unless teh gay marriage issue threatens to flip California from the Democratic into the Republican column in November, I don't give a flip.

Having had experience myself in Wisconsin with a constitutional ban of gay marriage on the ballot along with a Democratic governor where the ban passed and the governor won re-election handily, I have a very hard time imagining California going Republican this election cycle

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/16/2008 8:54 AM  

California is unable to raise income taxes because of the need for a 2/3 majority in the legislature...

That's not such a bad thing, given that it's property taxes (or, at least land taxes) that really need to be raised.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/16/2008 12:23 PM  

Google California Prop 13 Jarvis and then you'll realize the unlikelihood of what you propose..................

By Anonymous The Dark Avenger, at 5/17/2008 8:38 PM  

By all means, those Gay and Lesbian people should just shut up and wait until the coming of the Messiah before clamoring for equal treament before the law because the poor will suffer disproportionately as a consequence.

There are so many things wrong with your logic and reasoning here that I don't know where to begin.

By Blogger Houston, at 5/19/2008 1:23 PM  

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