My previous posts to “Madolin’s Blog” have focused on health and nutrition information. Today, however, I am posting an article I wrote during the California election of 2008 because it is relevant to issues the Supreme Court will be hearing beginning this week on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage in California. After 4-1/2 years, the case has finally made its way to the highest court. I wrote this piece because it seemed so urgent at that time to lay out basic historical information that was lacking in the political discussion then current. Now, just a short time later, public opinion has shifted so dramatically that the need to write the original article seems almost quaint now.

Why Proposition 8 is a Mistaken ConceptMadolin Wells, 11/2/08

Marriage is a sacrament, according to many religious traditions. If marriage referred only to holy matrimony, and civil union only to government-sanctioned unions, there would be no debate. Couples identifying with a particular religious tradition could choose to have their union blessed by family, friends, and clergy; and those seeking rights under the law could apply for legal status – or both. Without the conflating of religious and legal definitions, it would be harder for municipalities and states to justify denying equal rights.

The primary battleground over what constitutes church-sanctioned matrimony would then devolve to the religious arena, where it belongs – and where some, but certainly not all, of the culture wars are currently being waged. Marriage rites and family customs are as varied as the cultural traditions from which they arise. While many religions have defined marriage as the union between a man and a woman, polygamy is still practiced today in West Africa, throughout the Middle East, and by some fundamentalist Mormons in the US. (Hence the irony of California Prop 8’s “one man and one woman” [emphasis theirs] being underwritten largely by the LDS Church in Utah.)

Marriage as a legal entity arose for reasons of political expediency. The institution of marriage was used to legalize and codify inheritance – to ensure the continuance of property rights through primogeniture (patrilineage), thereby consolidating succession of power through the generations within the moneyed classes, and providing for instant accretion of power through alliances made by arranged marriage of royals from competing rival clans or countries. King Henry the Eighth of England was notable for his flagrant, craven, and at times desperate use of marriage as a means to seek, maintain, and pass on political power through his heirs.

Hunting and foraging had been the means of survival for primitive tribal peoples, who used up what they needed on a daily or seasonal basis. With the development of agrarian civilization, the accumulation of wealth became possible beyond what was needed for immediate survival, and some individuals could then exert power over others through their possession of property. The structure of the family unit and its legal underpinnings – marriage, property ownership, and inheritance – were essential elements to the development of city-states, nation-states, and the rise of capitalism. All of these factors have to do with economic and political power, not with what is regarded as sacred within spiritual traditions.

The need to recognize present-day marriage and civil unions between same-sex partners could not have happened without important developments of the twentieth century, namely, the right of a woman to own property, the availability of safe and effective birth control, and the accessibility of higher education for women. These three advances obviated the need of a woman to depend on a husband for her survival and that of her children. Reliable birth control, for the first time in history, freed women from the inevitable lifetime of indentured servitude resulting from childbearing – whether children came about by choice, by force, or by accident. For the first time in history, women born in the second half of the twentieth century could choose to enter into marriage freely – for love, not merely of necessity. With this freedom also came the possibility of two women entering into lifetime intimacy.

Reproductive self-determination, the right of property ownership, and higher education as the means to achieve it meant that women, for the first time, could live independently. Although men did not have these same strictures to overcome, gay men could marry for love rather than be closeted by social and economic pressures, in the wake of the cultural and social changes of the late 20th century – the civil rights, free speech, anti-war, and feminist movements all mirroring the same overall expansion of respect for life, truth, authenticity, free will, and self-determination.

Proposition 8 attempts to limit a person’s legal status using a religious definition of marriage, and flies in the face of separation of Church and State. There is no way such an amendment to the State or Federal Constitution can ever, ultimately, be upheld by the Judiciary, because it constitutes writing unequal treatment – discrimination – into the law of the land, whose purpose is to protect individual liberty and justice for all.