In the on-going struggle between the tax-paying voters of California and the liberal elites sitting on judicial benches across the state, this week's ruling against the Proposition 8 ballot initiative that passed in November of 2008 is anything but "surprising." For more on legislative and legal events surrounding Prop 8, click here.
Basically, this all started in 2000 when the people of California voted to add specific language to the law that stipulated "marriage" was, by definition, the legal union of a man and a woman.
In May of 2008 the Supreme Court of California, in a 4-3 decision, decreed that the state's 2000 legal definition of marriage (one man-one woman) was no longer legal. In November of 2008, after months of contentious public discourse on the matter, Proposition 8 (which stated that marriage would return to its original, traditional definition) passed. This was a message, sent from the voters to the judiciary, that clearly stated: "Stop forcing your progressive perspective on the rest of us." In March 2009, the Supreme Court of California upheld Proposition 8 as legal and binding.
Fast-forward to 2010 and another legal challenge, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, was brought against Prop 8. The judge in this case, Vaughn R. Walker, is one of only two openly gay federal judges in the nation. In a case like this, Walker is the judge, jury, and executioner. He made it clear from the beginning that marriage itself was on trial. He said he would not be swayed or affected by the views of the majority of California voters (or "the wisdom of the millennia").
"Shockingly" Judge Walker ruled against Prop 8 and the people of California have had their voices silenced and ignored yet again. Dana Mack, writing in today's Wall Street Journal, explains what underlies this obsession the secular-Left in this country have with seeing marriage re-defined.
In the Proposition 8 case, the counsel for the plaintiffs, David Boies, argued that marriage is no longer an institution but, rather, a private contract. And as if affirming Mr. Boies's statements, Judge Walker challenged defense attorney Charles Cooper with searching questions during closing arguments: "Do people get married for the benefit of the community? Why couldn't the state start saying marriage is entirely a matter of private conduct?"
Such inquiries beg the underlying question as to why same-sex couples would want to take part in such a deconstructed, even quaint social arrangement as marriage. If marriage today is little more than a declaration of emotional commitment with tax and inheritance benefits, why not settle for the alternative of civil union—which ideally would grant the same legal and economic privileges to domestic partnerships as marriage does, and without the messy burden of history?
Fact is, the gay-marriage movement derives less of its animus from the material benefits society at large accords marriage than from the social and cultural dignities granted it by its long history. In lobbying for marriage, gay men and women clearly care much less about legal advantages than they do about weddings, rings, and the spiritual trappings of married life.
They care about marriage precisely because in a culture searching for meaningful symbols, marriage is the veritable symbol of culture. Jonathan Rauch, a leader in the gay-marriage movement, puts it succinctly enough: Gay people want to marry because "marriage is the foundation of civilization."
For those same-sex couples in California and elsewhere who are striving for deeper affirmation of their sexual partnerships, Judge Walker's decision —while hardly the final judicial word on the subject—is balm. Gay couples have moved closer to sewing lives in patterns borrowed from their own birth families' cultural histories and traditions. The question, however, is whether giving them license to piece together remnants of so decayed an institution as marriage will not aggravate all the more the fraying of its fabric.
This issue matters, and I'm interested to hear what the rest of you think about this week's controversial ruling.