Unpopular Opinions: California’s Ruling Was Right

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Whoah, there. Simmer down now! I believe in nothing less than 100% acknowledgment of gay rights and 600% equality for everyone involved. And, as Caroline said earlier, we get pretty upset when things don’t go well. That said, today’s California court ruling to uphold Prop 8— and the actual issue at hand — has been taken woefully out of context. Whether or not you agree with the court’s assessment, when you look at the ACTUAL issue, its logic is pretty unassailable.

Before anyone gets up in arms, let’s take a little look-see: the actual issue of whether or not gay marriage should be allowed in the state was decided in a ballot initiative last year. The rights of gays and lesbians to receive equal treatment under the law was decided even earlier (and was upheld). The issue at hand in this court case was not solely one of gays rights to wed: it was an argument over the finer points of legislative law.

The ballot put forth before the people and the resulting constitutional amendment were enacted though a populist process that didn’t initiate in the legislature. Amendments can be enacted this way, however fundamental shifts in the state constitution’s underlying ethos can only be placed on the ballot after carrying a 2/3 majority vote in the legislature. The argument in this case was not over the substance of the action, but the procedural correctness of the action itself. As the court said:

Our task in the present proceeding is not to determine whether the provision at issue is wise or sound as a matter of policy or whether we, as individuals, believe it should be a part of the California Constitution… our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values.”

One could argue that this provision does substantively alter the Constitution’s principles (and, indeed, the lawyers did), but since the court has already upheld the right for gays and lesbians to enter into a civil union, enough semblance of equality still exists to keep that argument out. The creation of this type of separate-but-equal intuition is, in my opinion, a charade, but that doesn’t mean it was enacted illegally (to determine that would fundamentally unravel the people’s right to a reasonably accessible referendum).

Rather than run this case through the wringer, we’d be better served getting another one going. A federal case addressing the issue of gay marriage itself — or a counter initiative at the ballot box — would be far more effective than getting up in arms about a case that, examined under a strict legal lens, never had a shot.