Originally published in The Daily Nexus, UC Santa Barbara’s official student newspaper, on November 19, 2008.
“Courts Will Right Unjust Laws”
Everywhere I look, people are angry about Prop 8. I’m not entirely sure where it came from. Yes, there is now an amendment to our constitution that defines marriage as only between one man and one woman, but since when did legislation mean the death of an issue? This is the ultimate beauty and frustration of our legislative system: People who disagree with you can also influence the law.
There is no final answer to questions regarding gay marriage, abortion, immigration law, rights of the accused, etc. Do I disagree with changing our state constitution to deny privileges to citizens based on their sexuality? Absolutely. Do I think that people shouting about injustice in the middle of a bike loop is going to change voters’ approval of Prop 8? No way. Why? Election Day happened. Now it’s checks and balances time, when contestations to unfair legislation through appeals to the court system can overturn unjust laws. How freaking cool is that?
Maybe it’s just ’cause I have a nerdy crush on the law, but I think my excitement about law working in favor of traditionally disadvantaged identities – like people who have alternative sexualities – comes from spending the summer reading the thoroughly racist, sexist, xenophobic language in the last 150 years of U.S. Supreme Court rulings and realizing that, holy shit, we’re making progress. How so? Because the California Supreme Court decided on May 16, 2008 that “an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation.” Also, “An individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.” This from the court that will be presiding over the cases challenging Prop 8. It’s pretty damn exciting. Even with judges like this, however, the debate will not be over.
The law does not create social change. It can help, it can coerce and it can even be a firm “shut the hell up” to certain oppressive forms of expression, but legal battles do nothing to solve the struggles of individuals who live in fear of violence because of who they are. By fostering a discussion – not a screaming match – with people who disagree with us, we can hopefully break up the back-and-forth struggle and raise awareness about the real dangers of homophobic thinking.
But erasing stereotypes around sexuality also involves individual choices to stop demonizing the opponent. Not everyone who voted for Prop 8 is an ignorant gay-bashing lunatic, but those are the images we’ve been presented. And those who support gay rights need to be aware of the image being given to the other side. Are we concerned citizens, earnestly trying to promote equality and recognize committed, loving interpersonal relationships? Or have we merely joined the fray, determined-to-be-proven right?
Public assembly in the form of protest has been an integral part of social change in this country, but method matters. The greatest advantage of gathering to protest Prop 8 is the political pressure it puts on the California Supreme Court through sheer numerical representation. By all means, get out there and support the people you know and love who want to get married and are presently not able to do so. But please, keep in mind that the back-and-forth about ‘moral’ issues is not softened by one-liner reactionary slogans. In terms of social injustice, we have come a very long way from where we were, but it is essential to recognize what goes into the process of social change. We must start by listening to those who disagree with us, understanding their position and acknowledging their concerns while respectfully offering our own.