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Lies and False Consequences: The Movement to Pass Prop 8

L.K. Regan

The November election is less than a month away, and in California the fight over Proposition 8—the proposed ban on the state's currently-legal same-sex marriages—is really starting to heat up. The "Yes on 8" campaign is airing its first television commercials, and they are full of scare-tactics designed to drive voters to deprive the LGBT community of its recently-won rights. Worse yet, there's evidence that the ads are working.

A SurveyUSA poll, conducted on behalf of several California television affiliates, finds that support for the ballot measure has increased over the last two weeks, to 47 percent in favor of the measure with 42 percent opposing. This reverses the five-point gap opposing the measure of two weeks ago. The one group to substantially move from the no to the yes column is young voters—notoriously the most volatile and polling-elusive of demographic groups. Furthermore, the change in polling numbers seems to track with the appearance of the first "Yes on 8" commercial, which features an excited San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom saying that gay marriage is here to stay "whether you like it or not." If you want to know what the LGBT community is up against, here's the ad (warning—it may make your blood boil):

Whether the polling accurately reflects any movement in public opinion—and, if so, whether Mayor Newsom's unfortunate turn of phrase is responsible—is unknowable. But it is clear that the forces in favor of Proposition 8 have begun an all-out media push. This has included a list of "Six Consequences to Expect if California's Marriage Amendment Fails," being widely circulated on the internet. Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign has a rebuttal authored by, as the HRC describes him, "Morris Thurston, retired attorney, adjunct professor at BYU Law School, and active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." In the coming days, you may encounter these various arguments. To prepare you for the dinner-table conversation with your relatives—or the street-fight, as the case may be—we've run down both the six alleged "consequences" and Thurston's debunking of them. You may want to print this out and carry it in your wallet.

  1. Consequence 1: Children in public schools will be taught that both traditional marriage and same-sex marriage are okay. The California Education Code already requires that health education classes instruct children about marriage. (§51890) Therefore, if the definition of marriage is changed, children will be taught that marriage is a relation between any two adults.
    Rebuttal 1: No provision of the Education Code requires any teacher to teach that same-sex marriage is "just as good" as traditional marriage. Teachers are to teach respect for marriage and committed relationships, and Proposition 8 will not change this law.
  2. Consequence 2: "Churches will be sued [over their tax-exempt status] if they refuse to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies in their religious buildings that are open to the public. Ask whether your pastor, priest, minister, bishop, or rabbi is ready to perform such marriages in your chapels and sanctuaries.
    Rebuttal 2: "The California Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage cannot have any federal tax consequences, and the Court so noted explicitly in its decision. The Supreme Court also noted that its ruling would not require any priest, rabbi or minister to perform gay marriages, which should be self-evident because of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of religion."
  3. Consequence 3: Religious adoption agencies will be challenged by government agencies to give up their long-held right to place children only in homes with both a mother and a father. Catholic Charities in Boston has already closed its doors because of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
    Rebuttal 3: If this situation ever faces a legal challenge in California, it will not matter whether Proposition 8 passes because California already has on its books (and has for several years) laws granting domestic partners (homosexual and heterosexual) the same civil rights as married couples....Therefore, the passage or failure of Proposition 8 will have no effect on the placement of orphans with gay couples in California.
  4. Consequence 4: Religions that sponsor private schools and which provide housing for married students will be required to provide housing for same-sex couples, even if it runs counter to church doctrine, or lose tax exemptions and benefits.
    Rebuttal 4: California's existing non-discrimination laws give all registered domestic partners, whether heterosexual or homosexual, the right of equal access to family housing. To date, however, no California private religious school has been forced to comply with this law. Neither the passage nor the failure of Proposition 8 will have any bearing on the law relating to family student housing in California.
  5. Consequence 5: Ministers who preach against same-sex marriages will be sued for hate speech and could be fined by the government. It has already happened in Canada, one of six countries that have legalized gay marriage.
    Rebuttal 5: This would never be an issue in the United States because we have far more liberal freedom of speech and religion laws than does Canada. There have been no hate speech lawsuits in Massachusetts, which has been a gay marriage state for four years.
  6. Consequence 6: It will cost you money. A change in the definition of marriage will bring a cascade of lawsuits. Even if courts eventually find in favor of a defender of traditional marriage (highly improbable given today's activist judges), think of the money—your money, your church contributions—that will have to be spent on legal fees.
    Rebuttal 6: In actuality, the net fiscal effect of Proposition 8 will be an influx of revenue to California because of the anticipated increase in marriage ceremonies and the related boon to the economy. The change in the definition of marriage will not bring a "cascade of lawsuits" because heterosexual and homosexual registered domestic partners already have all the rights of married couples in California.
Given the strength of California's domestic partners law, in fact, you may be wondering why Californians need same-sex marriages anyway. Isn't it all the same? Technically, within California, that is true—passing Proposition 8 would deny same-sex couples only the "married" designation, not its protections. But outside California the situation is different. To be recognized by the federal government for purposes of taxation, Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, a couple has to be legally married. So print out your rebuttals, and get to work.