Maybe it is a free country, after all. Slowly, but surely, we march toward that ideal.
Tuesday, The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on a 2-to-1 vote, upheld a lower federal court ruling, which had declared California’s controversial Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The matter is now expected to travel to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Proposition 8 was a voter-passed initiative which made it illegal for gays and lesbians to get married. The law also meant that California could not legally recognize same-sex marriages from anywhere else, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Canada, Spain, and so on and so forth.
I went to law school at Berkeley and broke into journalism in Los Angeles. I started my career as a clerk in the California Supreme Court and so was uniquely disappointed, but not surprised, by the opinion of that court, back in 2009, that upheld Prop. 8. Those state court justices were loath to overturn a decision made by a majority (however slim) of voters.
Prop. 8, as you may recall, came about in response to the decision by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome to issue marriage licenses to any couples that applied - gay or straight. Conservatives rallied against that magnanimous gesture, with their mean-spirited response – Prop Hate.
In my humble opinion, the California initiative process is a cop-out. It relieves lawmakers of the responsibility of making the difficult decisions they were sent to Sacramento to make, and it leaves the public holding the bag containing the really tough questions. But it’s not too late, on Prop 8. While the courthouse battle continues and is likely to take another several years, perhaps the action of our leaders in New York, where legislators and the governor demonstrated the courage of their convictions can serve as an example for California and the rest of a nation that has yet to step into the 21st Century.
California has always been a leader on civil rights and liberties - leading the free speech movement in the 1960s; the first state to send two women to the Senate; the world leader on the environment. But history will show Prop Hate to be an ugly and inconsistent blemish on California's progressive record.
In California, a state in which voters make much of the law through statewide referendum, the legislature has remained silent. It is time for the leaders to speak up. It is time for the people to rise up. It is time for Californians reverse the ugliness of this moment in history.
California need not wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to tell us what we already know about the rights of citizens in a democracy. Californians should do the right thing and give all citizens of the Golden State equal rights under the law.