Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No on H8 Tuesday (via Gershon Shafir)

[Click on the photos to see them full-size.]

This fall I am a visiting faculty member at the University of California in San Diego, which puts me in California for Election Day 2008.

I voted by absentee ballot myself, but people who vote here have to confront the notoriously lengthy California ballot, which always includes an endless list of referendum initiatives in addition to the national, state, and local elections. This situation is a long-term result of well-intentioned good-government reforms a century ago. The idea was to allow ordinary citizens to break through the corrupt tangle of crooked or unresponsive party machines and influential special interests (including big corporations, organized criminals, and the like) through the exercise of direct democracy.

Like many well-intentioned ideas, in practice this one has fallen victim to the law of unintended and perverse consequences. Everyone can point to specific Propositions they find valuable (this time around, for example, Proposition 2 mandates humane living conditions for farm animals, and the fact that it looks likely to pass by a comfortable margin strikes me as a victory for human decency). But often they just provide new vehicles for well-funded special interests to use deceptive ballot measures to slip their agendas into law; the unchecked profusion of Propositions has rendered that whole part of the ballot incomprehensible to many voters; and the cumulative overall result of all the disconnected single-issue measures passed by referendum has contributed significantly to the startlingly dysfunctional aspects of California's state government.

But be that as it may ...

=> One of the California referendum initiatives that has attracted the most national (and international) attention is Proposition 8. In May 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the California Constitution. Proposition 8 aims to overturn that right by directly enacting an amendment to the state constitution. It was originally submitted for the ballot as the "California Marriage Protection Act," but California Attorney General Jerry Brown (remember him?) argued--correctly, in my view--that this title was perversely misleading and changed it to something more straightforward and accurate: "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry".

There have been extensive TV ad campaigns on both sides. Polls have generally shown more voters opposing Proposition 8 than supporting it, but the gap narrowed rapidly in September and early October, and now the outcome is unpredictable. Either victory or defeat for Proposition 8 is going to affect a lot of people directly and send a powerful national message, so I hope it is solidly defeated.

=> My friend Gershon Shafir sent me two photographs of pro- and anti-Proposition 8 demonstrators in his neighborhood (Rancho Peñasquitos in northern San Diego) and suggested I post them. One person in the first picture, who looks like a counter-demonstrator, apparently regards supporters of this measure as bigots on parade. Well, passions run high in this matter--even, as Gershon says, "in quiet Rancho Peñasquitos"--and appropriately so. At least people aren't shooting each other.

Yours for equal rights,
Jeff Weintraub

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