When I was in High School, I remember distinctly taking the position that, if I could do one thing right in my life, it would be to never in any way get involved in politics. sigh.
The coming election is an important one. In addition to the president, the entire U.S. House of Representatives is up for re-election, 1/3 of the U.S. Senate is as well, and there are a variety of state propositions and county and citywide measures that will appear on our ballots.
I've been reviewing the propositions that will be put before California voters. Some are matters of logistical progress: Prop 1A is the high-speed train bond measure I discussed in a previous entry, Prop 7 and Prop 10 have to do with solar and wind energy. Others are the usual suspects: Prop 4 is the latest of many attempt to force doctors to notify parents 48 before a female minor has an abortion, a proposition that has appeared in at least the last two state elections, was voted down, but seems likely to pass this time, based on polls taken a few months ago, due to the inclusion of parental waivers.
Such propositions have a flavor of business-as-usual to them. They are either interesting ideas that need to be analyzed to see whether they are the best way forward, or old standbys on which I had formed on opinion long ago.
But there is one proposition on the ballot this year that gets to the core of the freedom and equality on which U.S. citizens often pride themselves: Proposition 8. This is important.
My friend Molly already wrote a great blog on her reasons for opposing proposition 8. All are good points. My own reason for opposing it is simple: it takes the right to marry away from a group of people. That is wrong. Inherently wrong. Disgustingly wrong. I feel as if the "separate but equal" Jim Crow laws that civil-rights era leaders of the 1960's fought to overcome are being completely forgotten by everyone who has been convinced to support this ban on gay marriage.
Prop 8 seeks to add the following words to our state Constitution: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." It's quite simple: the ONLY thing this proposition does is take a right away from a group of people because of their sexual orientation. That's it. It takes a right available to the heterosexual population away from the homosexual population. No matter what argument anyone who has been convinced to vote yes on the proposition makes, that fact will remain. Insert the word "white" in front of the words man and woman in the proposed language, and any cosmetic differences between this and the divisive Jim Crow laws fades into transparency.
It's bad enough that there are enough homophobic people in this state that Prop 8 has made it onto the ballot, what's infinitely worse is that, at the current rate, the proposition actually has a chance of passing.
It's interesting that recent polls show prop 8 gaining ground since the earlier polls this summer all showed it was likely to be rejected. It seems the "Yes on 8" community has struck a nerve with their recent TV advertising campaign. They use a form of fear-mongering and misdirection that is really working on some people.
The yes-on-8 ads, funded largely by the Mormon Church and the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic organization), allege that, unless we ban gay marriage, students as young as Kindergarteners will be taught that men can marry men in public school. Apparently this actually happened in Massachussetts for a class of 2nd graders.
Here's why this argument is misleading:
-Prop 8 has absolutely nothing to do with education. I already wrote above the entirety of what prop 8 proposes: to take away the right of gay people to marry. It only ads those 14 words to the constitution. Nothing about education. At all.
-If students are learning about gay marriage in elementary school, it is due to ambiguities in the state health education standards. The statute to which the yes-on-8 ads are referring is California Education Code Section 51890-51891, which lists the expected topics of instruction for school districts that want a state-funded health curriculum. Among the topics is the following:
"For the purposes of this chapter, "comprehensive health
education programs" are defined as all educational programs offered
in kindergarten and grades 1 to 12, inclusive, in the public school
system, including in-class and out-of-class activities designed to
(1) Pupils will receive instruction to aid them in making
decisions in matters of personal, family, and community health, to
include the following subjects:
(A) The use of health care services and products.
. . .
(D) Family health and child development, including the legal and
financial aspects and responsibilities of marriage and parenthood."
What this basically means is that, if a school district wants state funding for its health-education curriculum, it must, at some point between kindergarten and 12th grade, discuss the legal and financial aspects of marriage. The Code says nothing about exactly which grade marriage is to be discussed in. The issue of what topics are to be taught at which grade level is addressed in the Standards for Health Education, which doesn't mention anything about teaching marriage until it gets to high school:
As a result of health instruction in high school, all students will demonstrate the ability to:
. . .
HS.1.G.3 Discuss the characteristics of healthy relationships, dating, committed relationships, and marriage.
. . .
HS.1.G.10 Recognize that there are individual differences in growth and development, body image, gender roles, and sexual orientation. "
So, according to this, marriage and sexual orientation are to be discussed in high-school "careers and family studies"-type classes.
Here's the rub: though the standards clearly say that students should learn about marriage and sexual orientation in High School, they seem to also leave open the option to discuss marriage in earlier grades. It seems to be the prerogative of the school district:
51933. (a) School districts may provide comprehensive sexual health education, consisting of age-appropriate instruction, in any kindergarten to grade 12, inclusive, using instructors trained in the appropriate courses. (b) A school district that elects to offer comprehensive sexual health education pursuant to subdivision (a), whether taught by school district personnel or outside consultants, shall satisfy all of the following criteria:
. . .
(7) Instruction and materials shall teach respect for marriage and committed relationships.
(8) Commencing in grade 7, instruction and materials shall teach that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only certain way to prevent unintended pregnancy, teach that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and provide information about the value of abstinence while also providing medically accurate information on other methods of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
. . ."
"Age appropriate instruction" seems to be up for interpretation. I included number (8) to show that some of the curriculum standards DO state clearly at what grade the instruction is to begin (in the case of birth control, it clearly states that it can be taught starting in grade 7). This does not seem to be the case for marriage, and leaves some leeway about when it can be discussed.
-Now, what does all of this have to do with gay marriage? Well, obviously, if gay marriage remains legal in this state, then it should be discussed and addressed whenever the school decides it is time to instruct the children about marriage. Those who oppose gay marriage probably wouldn't want their kids learning about it at a young age in public school.
The reason the fear-mongering ads of the "yes-on-8" campaign are misleading, however, is this: the age at which certain topics are taught to public school students is a matter that can be addressed by revising state school standards and codes. One could petition to make these laws more clear about only addressing the topic of marriage in junior high or high school, for example. Putting a "Beginning in grade 7. . ." before the bit about marriage in the Standards above would do it. One could also pull their child out of the class. One could discuss the interpretation of the state codes with the school district. All of these are better options for clearing this up then just taking the right to marry away from an entire population of people.
But no, the yes-on-8 campaign wants you to believe that the best way to solve this ambiguity in our state health education code is to eliminate the right of gay people to marry entirely. It's not right to take a civil right away from a whole population just because some people don't want their kids hearing about it in school. This is not the right way to address the problem of what kids learn and when.
And then there's a more fundamental issue: Why did this argument convince some people, who would otherwise have been content to leave well enough alone and let homosexuals continue to marry, that they should now remove that right entirely? Before these recent ads started running, polls were showing that prop 8 was likely to fail. After the school-ads, polls show it likely to pass. So some people who previously were against prop 8 suddenly were for it. If you are ok with it being legal for gay people to marry, why would you want to keep it a secret from your children? Say your child asks you if two men can get married; what are you going to do, lie to them? You can teach your children anything you like in your home and your church, but if you expect the public school system to preach inequality, I have little sympathy for you.
Underneath all the fear-mongering and obfuscation of the "yes-on-8" campaign, the primary motivations for passing this ban are religious. Well, marriage in the sense that we are talking about is NOT a religious institution. It is a civil one. And there are real differences between marriage and domestic partnership.
In the end, this issue is much simpler than everyone is making it out to be. Heterosexual couples enjoy the right to marry. Homosexual couples now do as well. Prop 8 would take that right away from them. It would be the first time I know of that an entire demographic would be stripped of their civil rights in a constitutional amendment in this state.
History does not look back fondly on those who support taking rights away from people. Think of how we regard those who espoused the "separate but equal" doctrine in the '60's. We think of them as racists. Those who vote Yes on prop 8 this November 4 will join their prejudiced predecessors in attempting to ensure that certain people do not get the civil rights and equal treatment under the law that is supposed to be guaranteed to all men and women in this country and in this state. Shame on them. They should be smarter than this. Don't let fear mongering and religious dogma cloud your judgment. Vote no on prop 8!