Proposition 22, State's Rights, and Marriage

by Janis Cortese

By now, we all know that California, bastion of freethinking and liberalism, voted to reject any recognition of marriage between two men or two women. In between gritting my teeth and laughing at the tragic comedy of it all, I've been making a few predictions that I figured I'd share with you all so you can't say I didn't warn you. In short, this presumption that a state can recognize whether or not someone from another state is married opens a can of worms that not one heterosexual in this country has yet recognized.

The 15th Amendment was passed after the end of the Civil War, and it explicitly gave the vote to black males only. For the first time, the word 'male' had been inserted into the Constitution. Many black males supported it, most white women and many black women did not. And the history of the country's reaction to that limitation on the vote is instructive in the wake of the passage of Prop 22.

Women had fought hard for the right to vote ever since 1848 and the Seneca Falls convention in New York state. After the passage of this limited amendment recognizing only the right to vote of as few people as possible, they continued to do so. Eventually their fight made it all the way up to the Supreme Court, where they were told that the right to recognize a citizen's enfranchisement was a state's right and not one that could be mandated by the federal government. That's was why they could bar women from voting.

Well, you can guess what happened then. That crack in the door was forced wide by many states to take the vote away from black males again. It's like alcohol addiction. You can't keep away from it unless you go cold turkey; one little shot once in a while is often used by an addicted person as all the excuse they need to never move forward and recover.

Once the Supreme Court allowed that states had the right to restrict voting at all, the states that had been forced to enfranchise black males immediately used that to roll back that one victory -- because the 15th Amendment failed to enfranchise women, it ultimately failed to enfranchise black males as well, the very people it claimed to protect. It was not seen (and truly not passed) as an amendment of voting extension. It was seen and passed as an amendment of voting restriction. And that's precisely how it was used.

Similarly, if states are given the right to refuse recognition to marriages on one ground, there will be no end to the tricks and excuses they'll employ to refuse it on all sorts of grounds. Ultra-conservative states will institute bills refusing recognition to interracial marriages. Bible belt states will refuse to recognize marriage between Christians and Jews.

And this queer will uncork the wine, sit back, and laugh at the silly, foolish people who will act as if they never anticipated that. I plan on laughing my backside off at the people who will act stunned, poleaxed at the idea that one excuse for discimination opens up the floodgates to others. There's something about a species that is so thunderously stupid that it never learns to walk around the dog poo without stepping in it first.

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Copyright © 2000 by Janis Cortese

05/26/07 at 4:28