Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Reason #127: Semantics

I know I've beaten this drum a good bit now, but it's nice to be able to follow up on specific stories as they continue to pan out in a positive way - the federal appeals court to which California's Proposition 8 fight was bumped last November finally ruled on the matter today, and for the first time in over three years of messy legal shenanigans, the measure was officially deemed unconstitutional.

Though many in Cali are rightfully celebrating, if you're really paying attention, there are a couple important aspects to this ruling, neither of which involves gay couples in California actually being able to get married - because no matter how the ruling went down, there would almost certainly have been an appeal, in which case the matter would likely have been put on hold legislatively until it was entirely settled.

For one thing, the ruling just so happened to hinge on California's pre-existing civil union law, and the fact that gay couples already had the right to all the benefits of married couples, and were being denied only the term "marriage". In other words:
"Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for 'laws of this sort.'"
So while that kind of language sounds awesome on its face, it's actually a fairly narrow means of overturning Prop 8, in that even if the ruling magically applied to the entire nation already, it would only enable gay marriage in states that already have civil unions.

Likewise, because of the possibility that a Supreme Court ruling on the case could end up applying to the entire nation, there is a chance that Prop 8's attorneys might actually decide not to appeal - which would mean that gay marriage would be back in action in Cali, but the rest of us would have to keep doing things the old-fashioned way.

Aside from an extremely unlikely constitutional amendment, the only way to finish this fight off all at once is for the Supremes to rule in favor of gay marriage themselves--and not the way the appeals court did today, because even if Prop 8 does go to the Supreme Court, and even if they did rule against it, the ruling would have to be much broader in scope than today's is.

Nevertheless, the point of all this--and this is what I love about the judicial system--is that if gay couples in California want to win the day for everyone, they're in an odd position wherein they might actually want the ruling to be appealed (and this just in: as I was writing this, word came down that there will indeed be an appeal), even if it means another year or two (or three) of no marriage for themselves.

(Side Note: for the next four weeks, I am conducting a survey of visitors to this blog. Whether you're a regular reader or this is your first time, I'd love to hear from you - just follow this link. This notice will accompany every post this month, with Saturday, March 3rd being the final day to participate. Thanks for reading!)

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