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Exact Change is Appreciated

March 1st, 2009 No comments

This coming Thursday the California Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments in the case challenging the validity of Prop 8, which purported to rescind the marriage equality that the court had granted in May of 2008. So I will offer a Blog in Three Acts, running Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

I have at least one serious topic to post before that, but for today I thought something lighter (it is the weekend) might be in order. How about the imminent, and likely utter, collapse of the American and global economies. (Think I’m exaggerating? I would have thought the same before I listened to this downer of a show. “Bad Bank,” Feb. 27-March2).

Yes, there is a lighter side. As you may have read, many states are trying to come up with novel revenue sources, suggesting taxing “things” from marijuana sales (yes, even though they’re illegal) to prostitution (legal in certain parts of Nevada) to pornography. (This last met with unexpected resistance, when the lawmaker who dared suggest it was besieged with phone calls by “people call[ing] up saying their marriages would fall apart.” And we’re worried about same-sex unions?) Apparently, taxpayers won’t put up with increases in the sales or state income taxes, but taxing what were once vices [but] are now habits can be slipped past the populace.

Clearly, government is taking its cue from private industry, and here airlines are the best model. On Thursday, our family flew from Philadelphia to Orlando. As this was my first flight since a year ago at this time (we’re now bound to visit both sets of grandparents annually), I wasn’t fully aware of how comically irrelevant the actual air fare (cheap!) has become.  Here are some of the a la carte charges:

  • You’ll be charged for each checked bag. Thinking about not checking a bag? Gone are the days when people successfully carried on sarcophagi large enough to accommodate floor lamps, toolsheds, and the occasional deceased relative. Now the bin into which the putative “carry on” must fit holds approximately seven (7) M & Ms.
  • Soft drinks on USAirways are $2. Cocktails, which sold briskly, cost $78.50.
  • Want a blanket? Leg room? You’ll pay. People with leg room need larger blankets, of course, and these cost double.
  • Oxygen masks are a reasonable $17. When there was a sudden drop in air pressure, I was delighted to learn that kids under age six (we have four-year-old twins) get a two-for-one-deal. The guy next to me, apparently willing to play the odds, neglected to bring exact change. His heirs have learned a valuable lesson.

I’d write more, but I’ve run out of quarters to deposit in the side of my computer.        

Golden State Vortex

February 10th, 2009 No comments

“As goes California, so goes the nation.”

I don’t know whether anyone has stated the proposition in such cliched language, but it reflects a view many share. Whether on environmental issues, the post-racial society, or the healthy lifestyle, California often spits out trends that later come to be more generally accepted.

But what if an issue gets stuck in a Golden State Vortex, and isn’t resolved and spit out? What meaning for the rest of us, then? That’s just where we are on marriage equality in California today.

Only the most dedicated partisans on the issue have any hope of keeping up with the swirl of news relating to the marriage struggle. Perhaps doing so requires the kind of skills usually associated with following the plot developments on “Lost.”

Here’s a brief recap to ground some observations that follow. Get your scorecard ready.

In 2000, California voters approved Proposition 22, which statutorily defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In 2004, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom began performing same-sex marriages; he was soon ordered to stop by the California Supreme Court. The California legislature several times expanded the rights of domestic partners until they approached those of married couples, and twice passed marriage equality bills. Both of these were vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, who opined that the court should resolve the issue; he turns out to have been correct, as the California Supreme Court held that Proposition 22 barred marriage equality legislation.

In May, 2008, the California Supreme Court held that marriage equality was required by the state’s constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights and equal protection, and directed the state to begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, forthwith. In June, 2008, the first of these licenses were issued. At the same time, though, the anti-marriage forces had succeeded in placing Proposition 8 on the November 4 ballot. Prop 8 purports to amend the state’s constitution by removing marriage equality from the otherwise unqualified guarantee of  fundamental rights and equality: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

In a highly bitter and contentious campaign occasionally redolent of “eau de Jerry Springer,” over $80 million was spent on Prop 8, divided roughly equally between the two camps. Prop 8 passed, 52% to 48%. Nationwide protests followed, as did litigation seeking to throw out Prop 8 as improperly passed through the initiative process. (I discuss the legal issues involved in that litigation in more detail here; search archive for 12/2/08.) The California Supreme Court has taken up the case; it will hear oral arguments next month (March 5) and must, under California law, render a decision within 90 days of that argument. At the same time, Equality California and other groups are following a multi-pronged approach to achieving marriage equality: supporting the litigation challenging Prop 8; organizing to place repeal of Prop 8 on the ballot for 2010; educating fellow citizens about the real human costs of marriage exclusion; and organizing peaceful protests.

To say the future of marriage equality in California is uncertain is to state the painfully obvious. So what can be drawn, if anything, from this confusion? Is the California experience in any way instructive, given its uniqueness? (For one thing, the state’s ballot initiative process complicates things greatly. Not (just) because of Prop 8, I’ve come to be convinced that the process is just nutty. Just look at the kinds of things the voters are asked to vote up or down.)

Here are just a few observations about lessons from California:

(1) Even in a progressive state, marriage equality is a tough sell. I was frankly amazed that the voters would vote to undo what the California Supreme Court said was a fundamental right.

(2) Most of the problem concerns the word “marriage” itself. Domestic partnerships conveying the same rights are greeted by Californians, and indeed by a national majority, with a “ho hum.”

(3) Taking the “gay and lesbian” out of marriage equality is a doomed strategy. The campaign in opposition to Prop 8 relied mostly on straight people (the quasi-sainted Diane Feinstein, the parents of a gay daughter) to opine gauzily on the ills of discrimination. Here is a more visceral and effective approach, precisely because of its amateur construction:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u67v7wParas&feature=related

(4) California is playing out, at relative warp speed, a debate that will proceed more slowly as it moves across the country in the ensuing generation or sue. After that, given the support for marriage equality by younger voters, the issue will disappear. One day the struggle for marriage equality will be just after the fight for interracial marriages in history books.

As I make these observations, it seems to me they’re all of the “d-uh” variety; many have been made by others. California, can you please spit equality out a bit faster so the rest of us can follow? With Priuses all over the road, we’re ready for the next Big Thing.