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VT, IA, DC: Perspective from California

I am overjoyed at the marriage equality victories in the past week.  As a native, expat Midwesterner, the Iowa decision carries a special place in my heart.  My fundamentalist family members will regularly visit an equality-minded state and hopefully contemplate what it means to treat same-sex couples with dignity and respect under the law.

 The DC and Vermont victories are similarly sweet:  they were achieved legislatively, taking the bite out of a key component of the anti-gay forces argument that we are usurping the democratic process by asking for legal equality.

 As a current Californian, though, I can't help but feel a little bittersweet.  The sting of Prop 8 still lingers.  Much has been written about what could and couldn't have helped us achieve victory at the polls in November.  While I think the No on 8 campaign had fundamental flaws, I tend to not want to play the blame game.  Mostly, I think California's ballot process is the leading culprit — it is FAR too easy to amend California's constitution, as Justice George pointed out in the Prop 8 oral argument recently.

That said, the recent action by Vermont's legislature reminds me of something that has occassionally kept me up at night since Prop 8 passed.  Was it the right time in California–given our easily-amendable Constitution–to bring a marriage case in court?   California's Legislature passed a marriage equality bill twice, only to be vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger twiceWould it not have been better to wait for a new Governor to push the issue again legislatively?  Yes, we certainly could have still faced a Prop-8 like amendment, but we would have been able to neutralize the argument that Judges were “imposing” their undemocratic values on the populace.

We will never know.  Gavin Newsom, for better or worse, pushed the issue in 2004 with his decision to marry couples in San Francisco.  That action paved the way for a lawsuit, whether LGBT litigators and strategists liked it or not.

But I do think it is worth noting, at least as a historical note, that California could have come out differently. . . if we had waited for a new Governor, or convinced Arnold to sign a legislatively-passed bill as a last, good act on his way out of the Governorship.

As it stands, we have a Constitution at odds with itself — a promise of equality, and a glaring, painful exception to that principle expressed by Prop 8.

What has happened with Prop 8 is in the past.  It is our responsibility to convince voters to undo the damage they have wrought.  

Ironically, Gavin Newsom is now running for Governor of California.  If elected, he certainly would sign a marriage bill.  Sadly, and perhaps because he put the cart before the horse in 2004, he will not get that opportunity unless and until Prop 8 is overturned. 

Civil rights never come easy and it is hard to know the right strategy to achieve these rights.  But in celebrating Vermont's tremendous victory today, I am an envious Californian.  And I think strategy has something to do with it.



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