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Legislating Inequality: Last year in California, this year in Maine?

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Mary Shaw       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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A lot of Americans pay very little attention to the off-year elections, like the ones that will take place on Tuesday, November 3. After all, we're not electing a president, or members of Congress. This year's election is mostly about judges, school board members, and a handful of state governors.

However, there are often some ballot measures that merit a greater turnout than they usually see. This time around, the one I'm watching most closely is the Maine referendum on same-sex marriage.

Last year, Californians passed Proposition 8, which amended that state's constitution to declare that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Prop 8 overturned the California Supreme Court's prior ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

This year, the same kind of battle is taking place in Maine. Depending on the voting results, Maine's Question 1 could repeal the recently passed law legalizing same-sex marriage in that state.

If Question 1 passes, Maine -- like California -- will have legislated inequality. In a nation founded on the principle that all men are created equal, the law will now say that gays and lesbians are not so equal. It will officially define gays and lesbians as second-class citizens who are not entitled to equal rights in that state.

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State constitutions, like the federal one, are designed as living documents, amendable as society progresses, to address new issues that the original founders might never have anticipated. But, traditionally, constitutional amendments have been used to grant new rights, not take rights away. Now they're looking to take rights away from people who already have those rights in Maine. That's like suddenly telling women or African Americans that they can no longer vote, or like outlawing interracial marriage at this point. Who would stand for that (outside, perhaps, the Deep South)?

A big driving influence for the anti-gay bigotry in the U.S. is religion, particularly Christianity. The religious extremists like to scream that the Bible condemns homosexuality. Case closed. So they are out to save the soul of America by fighting against the so-called homosexual agenda, i.e., equality, which they see as an affront to their god.

But these people fail to recognize -- or refuse to recognize -- the fact that the U.S. was not founded as a Christian nation. They conveniently ignore the language of the First Amendment, which explicitly prohibits government from establishing a religion, and which protects each person's right to practice -- or not practice -- any faith without government interference. In other words, you cannot impose your own religious beliefs on others. So religion is not a valid justification on which to judge the validity of civil marriage.

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But this is exactly what the anti-equality crowd insists on doing. And they do it using scare tactics, claiming that allowing gay marriage will destroy the institution as a whole -- apparently more so than divorce, and more so than their own hypocritical, often-closeted ringmasters. (Hi, Ted Haggard! Hi, Larry Craig!)

And the sheep -- whipped into an emotional frenzy by these scare tactics -- actually believe that their own marriages will be threatened if the gay couple down the street is allowed to marry. And so they will vote accordingly on Tuesday, even as I question whether these people -- led by emotion rather than reality -- are really qualified to make constitutional decisions that will affect all the state's citizens. After all, it has been said that true democracy requires an informed electorate -- not a frenzied mob of bigots.

They would do well to ponder one of my favorite quotations on the subject, by political commentator James Carville: "I was against gay marriage until I found out I didn't have to have one."

And they would do well to ponder the words of their very own Jesus Christ: "Judge not, lest ye be judged."


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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)

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