A Progressive Alamedan

Various writings from a resident of Alameda regarding the political scene. The local perspective of local, state and national politics and a few other odds and ends of local concern. May not be particularly interesting to people outside of the Alameda area.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

No on 8 : Civil Rights and the Semantics of "Marriage"

I had dinner with some very good friends recently, who, though we agree on just about everything political, told me they were voting "Yes" on Proposition 8. I asked why, and we had a productive and enlightening debate/discussion about the issue. It really gave me an understanding of why they would have come up on that side of the issue. And though I am grateful for my dinner guests for offering me their perspective, this conversation also cemented my belief that voting NO on Proposition 8 is the better choice.

Proposition 8 is one of the simplest, shortest ones on the ballot. It merely appends the following language to the California State constitution: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Fourteen words.

To my friends, and I'm sure to millions of other voters out there, the word "marriage" is a sacred, religious word. And in Christianity, marriage is a sacred institution that is part of the Big Picture. It involves Man and Woman, being fruitful and multiplying, and so forth.

So to put those words into our Constitution, at least from my understanding of the matter, would just be a further manifestation of that sacred concept.

Except there's one thing wrong. What about the Separation of Church and State? The California Constitution, like our national one, is a Civil document. This separation isn't just a good idea, it's what's already in our State Constitution.

I am completely fine with any religion defining "marriage" in whatever way it sees fit. But the fundamental problem is that in our culture, a marriage is both a religious concept and a civil concept — and both use the same word. Unless we can magically come up with a separate word for each, we're stuck with this ambiguity.

California has recently managed to expand its civil rights to a large percentage of our population, and I don't think it's a good idea to take away those rights by the insertion of fourteen words into our state constitution. Doing so would change the fundamental meaning of other sections of the Constitution, as well as all our established systems, into taking away rights.

I've heard about (never been invited to) weddings in Mexico and European countries where many people get married twice: once in a civil ceremony, and once in a religious ceremony. We don't have that in the US, so it's very easy to get the two concepts mixed up, especially when the word is the same.

Given that we have this muddling of the word and the concept of marriage, we're going to have to live with the ambiguity, and just pay heed that the Constitution is a document about our government, not our religion. Let's leave the sacred, religious definition of marriage out of the Constitution, and continue to work on expanding civil rights, not reducing them.

The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.
--Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.

The No on 8 Campaign is trying to raise some funds to counter a huge out-of-state-funded advertising push. Make a donation here.


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