“America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight.” So spoke the fictional President Andrew Shepherd in the film the American President. Those words seem especially fitting today following the ruling by Judge Vaughn R. Walker in the Prop 8 case more formally known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger.
Just like any time when society awakes (or is roused from a self-induced slumber) to the need for change to further realize the interwoven dreams of equality, the rule of law, human dignity, the pursuit of happiness, liberty and of life worth living, the debate over gay marriage in the American public sphere has been messy. And it’s going to stay at least a bit messy for a while. But what happened today is akin to cleaning up one room in a cluttered house.
There’s a lot of work to do on the rest of the house, and there will probably always be that one space---we’ll call it a closet---that stays messy when it comes to gay marriage, gay rights and the place gay people occupy in society. But by holding a lengthy trial with hours of testimony from many witnesses, Judge Walker provided a sorely needed forum for real people to show how their real lives are affected by the reality of inequality and injustice. He also allowed argument and testimony from those who, mostly out of fear or sheer irrationality, oppose the rights of gay people to be full participating members of American society. And make no mistake, though the most vocal opponents of gay marriage couch their statements and actions in terms of the “dangers” of expanding the definition of “traditional marriage,” those who have put their weight behind Prop 8 and its siblings are members of a dysfunctional “family” of malcontents bent on limiting the scope of loving relationships between members of the larger human family.
Judge Walker’s conclusion sounds the final chords of masterful legal decision: “Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.”
While he granted a motion by the latter group to forbid live coverage of the proceedings, Judge Walker did make a video recording, which I hope he will release to the public at an appropriate time now that the trial is over and the facts are established on the record, subject to all the rules and process as in any other case. It will be very hard for even the most fearful or bigoted or merely uncertain person to deny the power of the testimony in the trial---both the enlightening and the shadowy.
This is not just a legal decision, though it certainly has impacts on the law. This is not just a move in one direction in a contentious public policy debate, though it undoubtedly refines that debate. This is our representative democracy at work, doing what the Founders and Framers of our nation hoped it would do: advance the cause of freedom, establish justice, secure the blessings of liberty for all its people, and perfect our Union.
As an American, I am proud today. Proud that the most important (and most sometimes vexing) of our ideals as a people have been vindicated, and that collectively we have lived up to the promise of America---at least for a day. I’m proud to be able to show up to our grand school of the public square to learn and struggle through advanced citizenship. And I’m proud that my humanity and that of gay people throughout this land of ours has been so powerfully recognized, and linked so eloquently with the humanity of us all.