I didn't write anything about Prop 8 here in the lead up to the election, largely because I didn't really have any new thoughts on the subject. It was just another state adding a constitutional provision that defines marriage as a heterosexual institution. Sure, it's the most progressive state in the nation, and one of just two that was allowing same-sex marriage, but ultimately it was just another typical constitutional battle. It was marked by some heated and misleading ads on both sides, a lot of intolerance from both conservatives and liberals, and the strong support of a religious community (in this case Mormons), but basically it was nothing all that new.
And then Prop 8 passed. Same-sex marriage has banned in California. And now, at least to me, things have gotten interesting.
In the interest of full disclosure here, let me just say that I personally support civil unions, but not same-sex marriage. I would like to see all the same rights and privileges available to everyone, but I can see that a reasonable distinction can be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions.
There have been a ton of protests by same-sex marriage supporters. The other day I saw on CNN that gay rights advocates are calling for a federal constitutional ruling allowing same-sex marriage. And the backlash against the Mormon church has been, quite frankly, frightening. Protesters are picking Mormon temples as targets for protests. People are calling for a boycott of Utah, where the Mormon church is headquartered (this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of. Would they be boycotting Italy if Catholics had been a little bit louder in their support for Prop 8?). And, maybe most frightening of all, there are serious calls for the Mormon church to lose their tax exempt status.
People who want to eliminate the church's tax exempt status argue that it is because the church was overly engaged in the political process. But that's about the least honest argument ever. If the Mormon church had taken a view in opposition to Prop 8, I can guarantee you that the Prop 8 opponents wouldn't be calling for the loss of tax exempt status. I can guarantee you this because those same people aren't calling for the Episcopal church to lose their status (they opposed Prop 8), or any of the Jewish groups that opposed Prop 8. No, this is based entirely on a vindictive desire to see the Mormon church punished for opposing same-sex marriage.
This is upsetting enough in this isolated context, but it really conjures up more fears for a lot of conservative religious people. One of the biggest worries opponents of same-sex marriage have is that if same-sex marriage is legal, then their churches might be looked at in a different light. I don't think anyone actually thinks their church will be forced to perform same-sex marriages, and that's not a realistic or rational fear. But it isn't unreasonable to think that somewhere down the line, if same-sex marriage becomes more culturally acceptable, that churches that don't perform it will be seen as bastions of discrimination. And if that happens - if churches are seen as the bad guys - then it'll be much easier to pass laws limiting those churches, including laws that take away tax-exempt status.
What we're seeing in California is perhaps an accelerated version of what social conservatives fear. The ban didn't pass, but all the same it is a religious community that is being targeted by gay-rights advocates. They released ads that bordered on defamation of the Mormon church. They're now protesting at those churches. And they're calling for laws that change the way the Mormon church is treated. All because same-sex marriage supporters see the Mormon church as a bastion of discrimination. Instead of being a battle to convince their fellow Californians that same-sex marriage is a good thing, gay-rights advocates have decided to battle against the people they've identified as the bad guys: a religious organization.
This might give some credence to the fears that religious people have regarding same-sex marriage.
Two other quick points on Prop 8: First, I think it's fascinating that when you had the fight for racial equality it was largely churches leading the way, while with the same-sex marriage debate the reverse is essentially true.
Second, the ban passed 52% to 48%. That seems like a really close margin, but given the very impressive list of people who came out against the ban (including every major paper in the state, the Governor, the U.S. House Majority leader, both of California's U.S. Senators, the mayors of the biggest cities, gigantic corporations like Google and Apple, and most of Hollywood), the fact that Prop 8 opponents spent more money than supporters did, and the huge turnout for Obama that California had, I'm inclined to think that 48% is more than the ban opponents would normally get to turn out.
We're falling apart to half time