by Abby Margolis Newman
Imagine this scenario: your child comes to you, years from now, and tells you he is gay. (I know, many of you are parents of very young children - just bear with me.) Then a few years later, he falls in love and tells you he wants to marry his boyfriend. You love your son, and you've grown to love his boyfriend, too. Yet the state you live in says no, he cannot marry the person he loves. How would you feel about this? To paraphrase the Facebook Queen Sarah Palin, would your "Mama Grizzly" come out roaring in protest?
Does irrational fear and loathing of homosexuality (which, for many people, is simply fear of the unknown) get to dictate with whom your child will make a family? Or do consenting adults, who love each other and want to make a lifetime commitment, get to decide for themselves?
Last week, a U.S. District Court judge in California ruled that Proposition 8 - which limited marriage to opposite-sex couples, and was passed by California's voters by a margin of 52 to 48 percent in November 2008 - is unconstitutional. The judge, Vaughn Walker, wrote a blistering opinion, asserting that the defenders of "Prop 8" had not even come close to proving their case - in fact, he dismissed their "expert witness" testimony (consisting of only two witnesses, one of whom was clearly a religious extremist) as totally unreliable.
The judge concluded that Prop 8 violated the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal treatment of all citizens. When it comes to marriage, the proponents of Prop 8 want the laws of California to apply unequally to a certain class of citizens - gays and lesbians - and to deny to them the protection the 14th Amendment provides.
Marriage is a fundamental civil right in our country, and it must be available to all our citizens. Fortunately, the generational polling on this issue shows that the country's support of gay marriage is growing and will continue to do so: majorities of people under the age of 50 support gay marriage, and the younger those polled are, the more shoulder-shrugging responses the pollsters receive: essentially, our young people are saying, "So what's the big deal?" (A 2009 CBS News poll found that 64 percent of those 18-45 supported gay marriage, while 46 percent of those over 50 did.) I know that "Who cares?" is the attitude of my three boys, who are 16, 15 and 11 - and it is shared by most of their friends.
Hak-Shing William Tam, an "expert" witness for the pro-Prop 8 side in the case, testified that he is the secretary of the "America Return to God Prayer Movement," which operates a website called "1man1woman.net." His website encouraged support for Prop 8 on the basis that "homosexuals are twelve times more likely to molest children" (a blatantly made-up statistic) and that defeating Proposition 8 would have "cause[d] states one-by-one to fall into Satan's hands" (an eventuality difficult to prove or disprove). When asked for the sources of his information, Tam cited "the Internet." Tam's testimony was quickly discredited by the judge - the obvious point being that fringe religious beliefs cannot determine laws or social policy.
Judge Walker reserved the bulk of his criticism for the proponents' other "expert" witness, David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values (an organization which has characterized gay marriage as a "threat" to straight marriage), who testified that the main purpose of marriage is procreation, and this is reason enough to exclude gays. Blankenhorn, wrote Judge Walker, lacked any qualifications to be an expert witness, he failed to provide any relevant factual information, and his testimony was unreliable and therefore inadmissible. Ouch. Remember: Blankenhorn was the defense's "star witness" - he was the guy who was supposed to make the most credible argument for upholding Prop 8.
Even if we were to accept Blankenhorn's assertion that the main purpose of enabling people to marry is so that they can procreate, what happens when you take this to its (il)logical conclusion? Does this mean that straight couples who either cannot or choose not to have children should not be allowed to marry? Should women who are past the age of childbearing, too, be prevented from marrying? What about a lesbian couple who use their own eggs and donor sperm, and become pregnant - aren't they "procreating"? Blankenhorn's entire argument is absurd on its face, which is why it rightly fell apart in the courtroom under Judge Walker's scrutiny.
And - sorry to be so blunt about this - if you feel your own marriage is "threatened" by the prospect of gay unions, you have more serious things to worry about than whether the two male "roommates" down the street want to make a life commitment to each other.
Because I cannot possibly say it better, I will follow this with verbatim "Findings of Fact" from Judge Walker's ruling.
But first, let me leave you with this thought: what makes a family? Yes, sometimes it is a man, a woman, and 2.5 children. But often, it's not. It's a single mom who, though it hasn't been easy, has been raising her child by herself. It's a divorced couple, trying mightily to do what's best for their kids. It's a grandmother helping raise her son's kids, because his wife died in an accident and he needs to keep working. And yes, a family is a gay or lesbian couple who make a lifetime commitment to each other and to their children, present and future. And shouldn't we be encouraging that? Aren't stable, loving families in the best interest of all our children?
From Judge Walker's "Findings of Fact," based on credible (academic, research-laden and peer-reviewed) expert testimony:
- Marriage in the United States has always been a civil matter.
- California, like every other state, has never required that individuals entering a marriage be willing or able to procreate.
- Individuals do not choose their sexual orientation. No credible evidence supports a finding that an individual may, through conscious decision, therapeutic intervention or any other method, change his or her sexual orientation (emphasis mine).
- California has no interest in asking gays and lesbians to change their sexual orientation or in reducing the number of gays and lesbians in California.
- Same-sex couples are identical to opposite-sex couples in the characteristics relevant to the ability to form successful marital unions.
- Marrying a person of the opposite sex is an unrealistic option for gay and lesbian individuals. (This would be filed under “Well, Duh.”)
- Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages.
- Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians.
- Proposition 8 requires California to treat same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples.
- Proposition 8 reserves the most socially-valued form of relationship (marriage) for opposite-sex couples.
- Proposition 8 does not affect the First Amendment rights of those opposed to marriage for same-sex couples. Prior to Proposition 8, no religious group was required to recognize marriage for same-sex couples.
- Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment. Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents.
- The sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent. Children raised by gay or lesbian parents are as likely as children raised by heterosexual parents to be healthy, successful and well-adjusted. The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology.