June 8, 2008

The Lines are Drawn

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At first glance, you may think I am referring to the general election, now that Obama has officially clinched the nomination. But to be honest, the shorter Republican primary was too long, so by now I have had my fair share of election politics. However, given the historical significance of Obama’s candidacy, I will make a brief remark since he became the first black candidate to win either the Republican or Democratic primary.

Obama’s victory truly is historic, and the runner-up, Clinton, also would have made history had she won. However, America unfortunately missed an even more historic opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. But alas, Condoleeza Rice decided not to run for President, so I suppose nothing could be done about that.

But I came here to write about California, not Obama. This past week, California voters successfully put a constituational amendment to ban gay marriage on the November ballot, yet days later, the California Supreme Court refused to stay its decision legalizing gay marriage until after November.

For those wishing to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision, they certainly have plenty of reasons to be fired up. In the process of legalizing gay marriage, the California Supreme Court turned overturned a voter-approved initiative banning gay marriage. This has been the second time the court has decided to overrule the voters, and anger has begun to peak; Mike Reagan has even sarcastically suggested that Californians mail all future ballots regarding voter initiatives to the Supreme Court and let them decide. And now that the court has refused even to wait until after another vote on gay marriage, they certainly have been raising the spector of judicial activism.

Yes, judicial activism. The term gets tossed around a lot by both parties, but it certainly has more merit here. In fact, in the dissenting opinion, Justice Corrigan expressed her personal support of gay marriage but objected to overturning a voter iniative to make it happen. To top if off, keep in mind that this is California. If you have to overturn the will of the people in California of all places, that does not say much about the strength of your movement.

Justice Baxter makes an even more chilling observation. To justify gay marriage as a Constitutional right, the majority had relied on a reading of statutory law passed by the California legislature. However, the California constitution clearly states that the legislature can not pass laws overturning voter initiatives. So not only did the court use statutory law in a way the legislature can not, but they have now provided an indirect way for the legislature to overrule the voters: pass some laws supporting your cause, and let the Supreme Court do the rest.

Though I suppose there is some benefit to this. If we just let the Supreme Court do the work, we do not have to hire people to count the votes. We can even one-up Mike Reagan, and not even bother mailing the ballots in the first place since the Supreme Court will take care of them anyway. California does have a huge budget deificit to erase, and every penny counts!

Looking beyond California as well, this amendment could potentially have national implications. Even though the New York Supreme Court ruled that their state constitution does not compel the legalization of gay marriage, and the legislature has not been able to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage, Gov. Paterson has single-handedly issued a directive ordering New York State to recognize gay marriages from other states. I thought the Democrats were trying to limit the power of the executive branch.

Additionally, the proposed amendment in California to ban gay marriage could potentially increase the turnout from conservative Christians and other groups angered by the court’s recent decision. This actually does make a difference for McCain more than it does for Bush. Not only does McCain actually have an outside shot of winning in California, unlike Bush, but the type of voter who would go to the polls to fight gay marriage would choose McCain over Obama but would rather not vote at all otherwise.

Basically, this vote is kind of a big deal. Voters in other states have more often than not voted against gay marriage, and if proponents of gay rights get defeated by the voters (again) in California, that would deliver a devastating blow. Additionally, it could potentially be a referendum on the tactics used to legalize gay marriage. Many of the major victories have been coming through any way except a popular vote, and it will be interesting to see how that affects those who could be on the line on this issue. But then again, if California’s proposed ban gets defeated, despite everything I just said, the momentum will begin to swing the other way for sure. The lines are drawn, and a lot is at stake (as if that were not already the case with the general election) in November.

Mike Wacker is The Sun’s Assistant Web Editor. He can be reached at mwacker@cornellsun.com.