It has been a monumental week for civil rights. The election of Barack Obama has validated more than 145 years of struggle for equality. Obama has been scrutinized by the American people and elected for the quality of his character, not the color of his skin. While we celebrate the advent of this historical occasion, a shadow has been cast on our revelry. Proposition 8, a California ballot proposition aiming to amend the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman, has passed. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; unless, of course, those men are gay.
The campaign for and against Proposition 8 was the most largely funded campaign on any state ballot. Proponents raised $35.8 million, while opponents raised $37.6 million. Of all the campaigns in the nation, it was only outspent by the presidential race. A majority of the funding in support of Proposition 8 came from members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Their heavy-handed involvement in the passing of the proposition has led many to call for the Mormons to lose their tax-exempt status. According to IRS law, "In general, no organization, including a church, may qualify for IRC section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying). An IRC section 501(c)(3) organization may engage in lobbying to an extent, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status."
The involvement of the Mormon churchis dubious but demonstrates the role faith played in the decision Californians made in passing Proposition 8. No one is questioning a person's rights to his or her beliefs. However, when personal faith affects the outcome of state law, we should all be worried.
According to the U.S. Constitution, Congress is expressly prohibited from making laws "respecting an establishment of religion." Our forefathers in their wisdom separated Church and State. The purpose of dividing the two was not to remove faith from the land but to protect both institutions. Churches needed to be free from oppression by the State, and the State needed to be free to govern with the best interests of all citizens in mind, regardless of their choice of faith. More than 220 years later, the line separating the two is beginning to blur. As a nation, we must guard against allowing our personal religious prejudices to govern our laws.
Faith has inspired some of our greatest thinkers, such as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., when he declared, "Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." However, faith was also readily used as a justification for the enslavement of millions of indigenous peoples from around the globe. James Henry Hammond, for instance, a U.S. senator from 1857 to 1860, asserted: "The doom of Ham has been branded on the form and features of his African descendants. The hand of fate has united his color and his destiny. Man cannot separate what God hath joined."
Religious involvement aside, matters of civil rights should not be left to the people to vote upon. Civil rights issues should be decided by the Supreme Court. If the population at large had the same level of education and understanding of constitutional law as a Supreme Court justice, it would be a different matter. Unfortunately, when such issues are put to a vote, knee-jerk reactions and personal bias decide individuals' right to equality and justice. With that in mind, it is worth noting that Supreme Court justices are obliged to at least attempt to leave their prejudices out of their decision making. Brown v. the Board of Education, the case which ensured equal education opportunities to black children, was not put to a vote. The California Supreme Court recognized same-sx marriage in California as a fundamental right; 52 percent of Californians decided it was not.
We cannot be satisfied with the progress we have made as a nation. We cannot be content, believing that the struggle for equality is over. It is imperative that the fight for justice and equality continues until all citizens are granted the rights that all deserve.