Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Protecting families in the wake of Proposition 8

Recently, the step-mother of a prominent member of our congregation died suddenly. This member of our congregation happens to be gay. His partner of many years, who is also very active in the parish and who considered the deceased his mother-in-law, was unable to take bereavement leave from work. 

That hurt this family deeply. Such is the state of the civil law in Virginia, where only one type of family, between married people of the opposite sex, is recognized. Make no mistake: the civil law matters and has an impact on the everyday life of families.

I'd like to start there in reading yesterday's decision by the California Supreme Court on Proposition 8, banning gay marriage. We ought to be concerned with strengthening families, and to do so we need to recognize that there are a variety of families in our community -- straight, gay, and those with single parents. 

The tragedy of yesterday's ruling is it creates more outcasts in our society when we ought to be working to achieve unity. Inevitably, the decision will be read as affirmation by those who think their type of family is threatened by the existence of other types of families. That is simply wrong and has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Last night, I took the chance to re-read the California Supreme Court carefully (see post below from yesterday for my initial impressions, and for a link to the opinion). The court maintained that even with the repeal of the designation "marriage" for gay people, there remains in place a structure of rights to protect families -- all kinds of families -- in California. 

Nothing remotely close to that exists in Virginia. 

The ruling is likely to please no one. The court appeared to reverse itself from last year when it said that marriage is a right that cannot be confined to one class of adults. Yet yesterday the justices argued that the word "marriage" is simply a designation with no underlying rights. On pages 34-37, the opinion sets up a legal designation for gay unions with all of the rights of marriage as long as it is not called "marriage." Here's the crux of the court's opinion:
The new constitutional provision cannot properly be interpreted as having repealed, by implication, the preexisting state constitutional right of same-sex couples to enter into an officially recognized and protected family relationship except insofar as that preexisting constitutional right included the right of access to the designation of marriage...
[A]lthough Proposition 8 eliminates the ability of same-sex couples to enter into an official relationship designated “marriage,” in all other respects those couples continue to possess, under the state constitutional privacy and due process clauses, “the core set of basic substantive legal rights and attributes traditionally associated with marriage,” including, “most fundamentally, the opportunity of an individual to establish — with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life — an officially recognized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage.”
In other words, if the proponents of Proposition 8 believe they were peeling back all legal protections of gay people, they are wrong. What the court appears to have done is set up a new designation without name for legal unions among people of the same sex. The word "marriage" ends up with an unclear legal meaning.

Not to put to fine a point on this, but such legal verbal gymnastics do not pass the duck test: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If it looks like marriage, has all the rights of marriage, isn't it marriage? The California Supreme Court wrote a decision that might work in a law school classroom, but it lacks basic common sense. At best it creates more legal confusion around who is married, who is not, and what marriage legally looks like. There is no doubt that California voters will be asked once again to decide who can and cannot be married.

And that brings me back to Virginia. Yesterday evening, Lori and I joined a gathering of 35-40 people at "Free Speech Wall" in front of Charlottesville City Hall to show our support of our gay brothers and sisters who have been denied the basic right to be married, and to show our opposition to the California Supreme Court ruling. It was one of two demonstrations in Virginia on the issue last night. We then marched up to the federal building and stood with signs for about a half hour. Motorists driving by signaled support, and more than a few quizzical looks.

We were there for a simple reason: It is time that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Virginia are afforded the same legal protections for their families that Lori and I enjoy. Churches may marry whom they wish to marry, but that should have no bearing on our basic legal rights as American citizens.

It is time to protect families in this state. It is the right thing to do.


PJ said...

Not being able to take leave to attend to the death of a family member is unimaginable. I sometimes wonder if people really understand what they're voting for when they pass these laws. It isn't about sex.

Reuven said...

Note to supporters of same-sex marriage: Don't waste any money on EQCA, the organization that ran the ineffective and disastrous "No on 8" campaign. I gave them several thousand dollars and feel ripped off. Now they want me to support the very people who voted to end my marriage.

Janice Dean said...

Jim, did you get to talk to any of the folks at the Charlottesville rally/protest last night? I got to talk with a group of them after our protest when Prop 8 first passed last fall. There are some absolutely incredible people in that group. Two women in particular stick out for me--they have been together for a long time and one of them has adopted a child. Even though one of them is a successful attorney, they were describing the horrors they have gone through to try to get the other partner recognized as a legal guardian of their child. We're talking tens of thousands of dollars for their fight to simply hold their family together legally. Meeting these people, realizing that they are _individuals_, that they have everyday lives just like the rest of us, and that they are *hugely* negatively impacted by these laws is what, I believe, Americans who are anti-gay need to experience. PJ is right--it's not about sex. It is about each and every human being's inherent dignity based on the fact that we are all created in God's image. And don't let me get started on the larger gender issues at play, including social ideas about God's gender. These gender issues, especially in the church, threaten me, personally, even though I am married to a member of the opposite sex.

Auntie said...

Jim, thanks for your support. Two male friends of mine have been together for many years, paying a mortgage and taxes, being good citizens and neighbors, working hard,and just living their normal, boring lives together. One recently adopted a baby. In the eyes of the law, the other partner is absolutely NOTHING to their child: nothing except one of the two people who feeds, clothes, changes, plays with, teaches, and loves the baby- i.e., he's "nothing" but a PARENT. But not legally. It's infuriating and terribly sad.