Why does marriage need defending?

Prop 22 backers use curious language

Daniel Duart lives with his wife in Forest Ranch, is a freelance writer and a minister with Chico’s As You Like It Weddings.

With so much potential change in the air this year, it can make you a bit dizzy just to take a deep breath. One of the hottest items is the debate over the constitutionality of Proposition 22, designed to prevent California from recognizing same-sex marriages.

For more than 125 years, the California Constitution and the Family Code (then known as the Civil Code § 4100) said nothing about preventing same-sex marriage. This went relatively unchallenged until 1977, when Bill 67 amended the Family Code to define marriage as between a man and woman.

Flash forward to 2000, when staunchly conservative state Sen. William J. “Pete” Knight introduced Proposition 22, whose entire text, merely 14 words, stated: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Also known as the “Defense of Marriage Act” or the “Knight Initiative,” after its author, it passed in 2000 with 61.4 percent support. Ironically, Sen. Knight’s son, David, married long-time partner Joe Lazzaro during the 2004 flurry of same-sex marriages authorized by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Opponents to same-sex marriage appear to be losing ground. The state Supreme Court declared these weddings legal, and with the denial of petition to delay the decision until a November vote, same-sex couples started getting married June 17. So there’s an army mobilizing to defy the decision—notably ProtectMarriage.com—proposing a constitutional amendment using the exact same 14 words as the Knight Initiative.

The language they’re using is curious. The “Defense of Marriage Act” and “ProtectMarriage.com” both imply a need to put up arms against same-sex couples, and to deny them the right to publicly and legally commit to their loved ones. This language belies ProtectMarriage.com’s agenda, which is not pro-marriage, as the institution of marriage is assaulted regularly by the legality of divorce (at the very least), but is apparently anti-gay and anti-lesbian.

What they want to defend marriage against and protect marriage from is same-sex couples. This is a prejudice that implies that all gay and lesbian people are the same in that none of them deserve the respect shown to their heterosexual counterparts.

Momentum is certainly in favor of a historical shift toward the acceptance of same-sex marriages. A Field Poll from May 28 shows 51 percent of Californians approve, 42 percent disapprove and 7 percent have no opinion on the matter. That same poll shows voters “leery of changing the state constitution to prohibit such marriages.”

Notwithstanding any November vote to the contrary, gay and lesbian couples, together with open-minded ministers, will keep making arrangements to finally have their conjugal ceremonies sanctioned by the state.