Marriage Is More Complicated Than ‘I Do’

Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Original Article
Prop. 8 protects rights of those who support traditional marriage

Marriage in California isn't just about the rights of loving and committed gay couples. If that were the issue, Proposition 8 wouldn't be on the state ballot. All Californians respect the right of gay couples to live the lifestyle they choose and to enjoy the same legal protections of every citizen. California's laws, including our expansive domestic partnership statutes, already provide every legal right to gay couples that are provided to married spouses.

The California Supreme Court's ruling last May gave birth to a broader perspective on same-sex marriage, and that is how it affects the rest of society. That's why Proposition 8 is on the ballot, and that is why we are working hard to pass it.

If the California Supreme Court's ruling is not overturned, then the consequences facing voters are serious and real. First, it was wrong for a narrow majority of the court to ignore the decision of more than 61 percent of the electorate, more than 4 million voters, who decided that marriage should be as it always has been - between a man and a woman. To ignore the will of the voters, the court should find in unequivocal terms that the voters have done something they cannot legally do. That was not the case here. This case hotly divided the court and resulted in a narrow decision to overturn the voters' will - not because what voters did was legally wrong, but because four judges decided to change the meaning of the law to suit their own views.

Second, the court elevated same-sex marriage to the highest legal class possible: a protected class. That means when the rights of people opposed to same-sex marriage on moral or religious grounds conflict with the rights of same-sex couples, the courts will almost always side with same-sex couples because of the protected class status conferred by the state Supreme Court. Even expressing a view in opposition to same-sex marriage often exposes people to personal attack, ostracism, and even threats of loss of employment for standing for what they understand to be true about marriage. This goes beyond acceptance and tolerance. Many supporters of Proposition 8 are already experiencing these pressures to some extent, but the ruling of the court clears the way for lawsuits and further legislation to penalize people who do not cooperate with the desires of same-sex couples.

Finally, perhaps the most profound consequence will be to our children. California law provides for the teaching of children about marriage. Under the court's ruling, they would have to be taught that there is no distinction between the same-sex marriage and traditional marriage, and it would be discriminatory to view them otherwise. This interferes with a parent's right to teach their children the true meaning of marriage, which is important to their futures. This is the case in Massachusetts, which also legalized same-sex marriage. In one recent and famous case, a teacher taught a second-grade class using a book recounting the story of a prince marrying another prince, rather than a princess. Instructing young children about same-sex marriage in school undermines the rights of parents to approach this subject with their children on their own timetable and according to their family's values and beliefs, religious or otherwise. This is a major concern to California parents.

These are the issues that are fueling the views of voters on this crucial issue. It is no wonder that supporters in every corner of California are preparing to make their voices heard. Everything we as a people hold dear is on the ballot.

Bill May is the chairman of Catholics for the Common Good, a nonpartisan Catholic organization focusing on issues related to the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

This article appeared on page B - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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