Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prop 8 Ruling

This is a longish post taken in large chunks from a conversation with a friend who is understandably quite upset about the news from California.

My friend takes cold comfort in the fact that existing marriages stand. To paraphrase him, why should those 18k couples have valid marriages and the rest of the GLBT community not. He has a point: it is offensive to most sensibilities of justice that some GLBT couples get "marriage' whereas the rest must settle for "separate but equal."

I say the blow to equality was dealt in November, and today's opinion merely reminded us of that problem, but didn't itself strike an additional one unless you put all your hopes onto a slim, almost impossible chance of reversal.

I have not read the full 186 page opinion, so I may still be mistaken, but it seemed that the controversies at issue were about amendment versus revision of the California State Constitution and not directly Equal Protection Jurisprudence, such a ground seemed shaky one at best, but the only one that could really assert that the "constitution is itself unconstitutional."

As for Equal Protection, although California recognizes the GLBT community as a suspect class deserving strict scrutiny (this designation allows courts more easily to overturn discriminatory laws and is why the court was able to overturn the legislative ban on same-sex marriage in the first place), currently the Federal courts do not. Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas came out our way despite this (thankfully), but in the case of marriage I fear that the opponents have arguments that can reach the very low bar of "rational basis" (which doesn't even require factually correct basis).

The fact is that Equal Protection Jurisprudence does a good job of mocking itself, and the California Supreme Court, as far as I can tell, didn't have much choice except to uphold the odious amendment. If we want to continue through the courts, the real challenge is to convince the federal courts that the GLBT community deserves "suspect class" designation. By my count, we seem to fit all the criteria: a discrete and insular minority who possess an immutable trait, share a history of discrimination and cannot adequately protect themselves via the political process.*

But, my friend reminds me, good reasoning or bad, the outcome is morally wrong.

And my firend is absolutely correct, but sadly the strength of the reasoning matters a great deal. A good result on flimsy grounds is in many ways worse than a bad result on solid ground.

A poorly reasoned result intensifies the resolve of opponents and creates the kind of legal and political minefield we have seen with regards to abortion jurisprudence. A good result on bad reasoning becomes a talisman for both sides, who perceived it as being forever vulnerable to the whimsy of the court. Therefore both sides devote resources to either upholding it or defeating it, making it difficult for the matter to be settled socially or addressed through sustainably long term means. Also, it may have the consequence of lowering the bar for both sides, meaning it becomes easier for our opponents to win their battles.

On the other hand, a bad result on good reasoning (like this) allows the losing side to accept the defeat and work to either change the circumstances of future battles (remember California still has unbelievably lax constitutional amendment procedures) or find battles within the current circumstances that are more winnable. Once we change the circumstances or the battles, battles won are much more robust than if they rested on flimsy opinions.

In a generation, Prop 8 and amendments like it will be remembered as disappointing and embarrassing hiccups on the road to true equality, if they are remembered at all.
*Update: Someone is moving forward on making the Equal Protection arguments in Federal Court (as well as Due Process arguments). Read the complaint here (PDF). Also note that the attorneys filing are the attorneys who argued each side of Bush v. Gore, and according to Ted Olson (the Republican) "This is about the rights of individuals to be treated equally and not be stigmatized." And that the two attorneys from each side side of the political spectrum "wanted to be a symbol of the fact that this not a conservative or a liberal issue. We want to send a signal that this is an important constitutional issue involving equal rights for all Americans."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

No kidding, Andrew

Andrew Sullivan is starting have a little buyer's remorse.

But I have a sickeningly familiar feeling in my stomach, and the feeling deepens with every interaction with the Obama team on these issues. They want them to go away. They want us to go away.

Here we are, in the summer of 2009, with gay servicemembers still being fired for the fact of their orientation. Here we are, with marriage rights spreading through the country and world and a president who cannot bring himself even to acknowledge these breakthroughs in civil rights, and having no plan in any distant future to do anything about it at a federal level. Here I am, facing a looming deadline to be forced to leave my American husband for good, and relocate abroad because the HIV travel and immigration ban remains in force and I have slowly run out of options (unlike
most non-Americans with HIV who have no options at all).

And what is Obama doing about any of these things? What is he even intending at some point to do about these things? So far as I can read the administration, the answer is: nada. We're firing Arab linguists? So sorry. We won't recognize in any way a tiny minority of legally married couples in several states because they're, ugh, gay? We had no idea. There's a ban on HIV-positive tourists and immigrants? Really? Thanks for letting us know. Would you like to join Joe Solmonese and John Berry for cocktails? The inside of the White House is fabulous these days.

What did you expect?