November 10, 2008

Liberty and Justice for Some?

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Many Americans are in euphoria this week. And with good reason. Barack Obama’s election has revived America’s reputation of equality for all–not counting California, of course. This week, voters in California passed Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Forty-eight percent of voters were against the ban and 52 percent of voters voted for it. The battle over Prop. 8 was one of the most expensive and intense campaigns in California’s history. Supporters and opponents to gay marriage poured a tremendous amount of money into the campaign. In particular, the Mormon Church devoted millions of dollars in hopes of passing the ban. At one point, proponents for Prop.[img_assist|nid=33432|title=Proponents of Prop.8 in California displayed their message loud and clear–in the sky.|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0] 8 even used skywriting to get their message across.

While challenges have already been filed in the courts by Prop 8 opponents on the grounds that the measure is unconstitutional, passing Prop 8 reversed a court decision in which people had the right to marry someone of the same-sex. But the larger problem with this issue is that people are thinking of the right to marry a person of the same-sex as a “gay right.” But it is a human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 16, which states, “(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Proponents for Prop 8 argue that marriage between a man and woman is the “natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State,” but what they don’t take into account is that “men and women have the right to marry a family found a family without limitation due to race, nationality or religion.” At least five percent of the population is reported to be gay and that figure is fairly on the conservative side as many people may not report being gay due to stigma surrounding it. But 5 percent of the population is a lot. The Human Rights Campaign estimates that of the 209,128,094 living in the U.S. according to the 2000 U.S. Census count, 10,456,405 people make up the gay and lesbian population. 10,456,405 people will be denied the right to marry at this current point in time.

I come from a fairly conservative part of California, probably the only county where the majority voted for the McCain-Palin ticket (you can probably guess — it was the basis of several popular TV shows). It is interesting to see more people willing to raise living standards for animals in confinement than people living in their own community (by 63 to 37 percent, no less). While many of my friends voted against the ban, they told me their parents voted for it. They said their parents simply could not think of marriage as anything but between a man and a woman due to cultural upbringing, religion and other such reasons. Another friend’s parents commented that they did not see why gay couples needed to be able to get married if they can already have civil unions. But what people are forgetting is that at one time it was acceptable to have slaves, beat women and participate in a host of racist and chauvinistic actions. But cultural relativism is no excuse for injustice.

The reason why gay people need the right to marry is to promote the image that all men and women are created equal and have access to the same rights just by being human. By passing Prop. 8, voters in California effectively slapped human rights in the face.

Our society was shocked when we found out about the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq; we were mobilized into action when we found out about the human rights abuses in Darfur, Rwanda and Kosvo. Granted, the U.S. has been very slow to act on many of the human rights atrocities occurring in these war zones, but there is a conscious effort to try to promote human rights in other countries. But it seems we cannot extend full human rights to people even within our own country. Aside from the issue of equality in the right to marry, there are still many disparities that remain; for example, women and minorities still do not have pay equity in this country.

Every generation has a civil rights battle, whether it’s the women’s liberation movement or fight for rights for African Americans. Equality for gay people has become our generation’s issue to bear. If advocates for equal marriage opportunity want to be successful, they should be framing this issue not as a gay right, but as a human right that all people are entitled to enjoy by virtue of being human.