November 05, 2008

Thoughts while watching prop.8 in CA, related state ballot measures

The Massachusetts state legislature killed a ballot referendum to criminalize gay marraige in my home state a couple years ago. The legislature made it clear, as did the governor and the state supreme court, that this is a matter of civil rights. IN A JUST SOCIETY, THE CIVIL RIGHTS OF A MINORITY GROUP CANNOT BE SUBJECT TO THE WILL OF THE MAJORITY MADE LAW IN A BALLOT REFERENDUM. I agree wholeheartedly with their reading of this issue, and it is with great sorrow that I see the executive, legislative and judicial branches of other states falter intellectually, in their reading of our founding documents and the guiding principles inscribed therein, in their shoddy study of our recent History -beneath the weight of inherited prejudice. They have failed to rise to the challenge- as judges, as lawmakers and as leaders.

I have been re-reading the 2004 decision that made same-sex marraige legal in Massachusetts (and may it always remain so). excerpts below.

civil marriage has long been termed a "civil right." See, e.g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967) ("Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival"), quoting Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942); Milford v. Worcester, 7 Mass. 48, 56 (1810) (referring to "civil rights incident to marriages"). See also Baehr v. Lewin, 74 Haw. 530, 561 (1993) (identifying marriage as a "civil right[ ]"); Baker v. State, 170 Vt. 194, 242 (1999) (Johnson, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (same). The United States Supreme Court has described the right to marry as "of fundamental importance for all individuals" and as "part of the fundamental 'right of privacy' implicit in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause." Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 384 (1978). See Loving v. Virginia, supra ("The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men"). [FN14]

For decades, indeed centuries, in much of this country (including Massachusetts) no lawful marriage was possible between white and black Americans. That long history availed not when the Supreme Court of California held in 1948 that a legislative prohibition against interracial marriage violated the due process and equality guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment, Perez v. Sharp, 32 Cal.2d 711, 728 (1948), or when, nineteen years later, the United States Supreme Court also held that a statutory bar to interracial marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment, Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). [FN16] As both Perez and Loving make clear, the right to marry means little if it does not include the right to marry the person of one's choice, subject to appropriate government restrictions in the interests of public health, safety, and
welfare. See Perez v. Sharp, supra at 717 ("the essence of the right to marry is freedom to join in marriage with the person of one's choice"). See also Loving v. Virginia, supra at 12. In this case, as in Perez and Loving, a statute deprives individuals of access to an institution of fundamental legal, personal, and social significance--the institution of marriage--because of a single trait: skin color in Perez and Loving, sexual orientation here. As it did in Perez and Loving, history must yield to a more fully developed understanding of the invidious quality of the discrimination. [FN17]

No comments: