Column: Gay Marriage Wins Battle, Culture War Continues

This story was written by Rosaleen O'Sullivan, Daily Trojan

In fewer than 30 days, marriage licenses will be issued to gay couples across the state of California -- unless, of course, opponents of the new ruling ask the California Supreme Court to rehear the case.

If the high court accepts, the wait period is undeterminable, and even if it declines, licenses will be denied for up to 90 days.

If the court denies the request to rehear the case or agrees with its original decision, many happy couples will receive the full rights now granted to them - that is, unless a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn the court's decision qualifies for the November ballot. In that case, Californians could nullify their own Supreme Court's ruling and the fight for gay marriage could once again be lost in piles of legal documentation.

In re Marriage cases might very well go down in history as a moment of critical judicial activism on a question of national cultural and moral standards. They might one day be compared in history textbooks to Roe v. Wade, the decision that sparked the modern war on abortion, or perhaps Loving v. Virginia, in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared a ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional.

Thursday, May 15, 2008, the day the California court gave its decision, will go down not just Californian, but in American history -- the question is only whether or not it will mark the day that naivet ruled the courts.

As goes California, so goes the nation -- the age-old paradigm of U.S. politics. But the decision on the California case was made on the basis of a slim 4-3 vote.

While millions of Californians are rejoicing over this momentous step in the fight to free Americans of institutionalized homophobia, millions of others are doing everything they can to save the God-given law that preserves the sacrament of marriage for heterosexuals.

The California Supreme Court's ruling was broadly stated, but its message was powerful, invalidating virtually any discrimination against same-sex couples in the state. The ruling declared that while civil unions give couples the same legal rights as straight couples, the fact that there should be a separation in terminology is a type of discrimination, subtly suggesting that a civil union is somehow less than an actual marriage.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa followed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's example, stating he would like to officiate as many gay marriages as possible.

Having two major cities in the state openly supporting the bill is a step in the right direction, but a solid 51 percent of Californians still disapprove of gay marriage, according to a 2006 Field poll. True, this is a sizable drop from the 61 percent of Californians who approved Prop. 22 in 2000, a measure that banned gay marriages, but it is still enough to make the November ballot box a very serious issue for committed gay partners.

This phase in the American-culture wars has made international news, and created more than a little stir throughout the United States.

When Massachusetts declared gay marriage legal in 2004 there was as much, if not more, negative sentiment than positive. It's not surprising, however, considering that in the same year 27 states adopted bans on same-sex marriage, while 11 others adopted its prohibition, in large response to Massachusetts' presumptuous audacity.

For those opposing the nationwide adoption of gay marriage, California presents an even greater source of fear.

Although its political power looms large, Massachusetts' actual size is fairly small; California, on the other hand, could potentially empower millions of gay people, who could then spread their message to millions f other gay people, and so on; perhaps the only possible worse scenario would be if this had happened in Texas.

Yet this very atmosphere of fear and the resurgent vehemence of anti-gay sentiment should not be ignored, nor should the question of gay marriage be treated as an irresolvable disagreement of ideologies. Dismissing the values of others in favor of one's own is the very definition of prejudice. As such, it is important for those who wish to protect these new civil rights to engage in discussion with those who disagree.

An open dialogue will not necessarily lead to open minds. But by accepting the concerns of those who would once again prohibit gay marriage and putting a face on the issue, it might be possible to help such people acknowledge the very reasons for which the indiscriminate right of marriage is essential to a fair and democratic state.

If there is any moral issue that should encourage students to vote in November, than surely this is it. Polls show that young Americans, regardless of sexual or political orientation, tend to see gay marriage as a civil right, making them a critical component of the voting body on this issue.

Although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says that he will oppose the proposed ballot, experts agree that current feeling in California politics is leaning toward the ballot's approval. If the proposed ballot goes into action and receives a yes vote, gay people in California will lose the right to marriage.

It is not simply advisable, but imperative that the electorate's youth vote on this issue and spread the word to all those who will hear.