America moves one step closer to gay marriage rights, and the silence from opponents speaks volumes

Today a panel of a federal appeals court in California ruled that state’s Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in 2008 to outlaw gay marriage, is an unconstitutional violation of the right to equal protection under the law.  The appeals panel agreed with the federal district court decision which found marriage to be a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution, and that there has to be a good reason to limit the exercise of that right to only certain people—in this case, one-man-and-one-woman couples.

Although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.

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All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of “marriage,” which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships.  Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California…

The ruling was limited in scope and does not address whether “same-sex couples may ever be denied the right to marry.”  The court found that since “California had already extended to committed same-sex couples both the incidents of marriage and the official designation of ‘marriage,’ and Proposition 8’s only effect was to take away that important and legally significant designation, while leaving in place all of its incidents,” the court was able to rule on Proposition 8’s constitutionality without need to address the larger issue.  But that is the grounds where the ultimate appeal will be argued.  Supporters of this discriminatory and downright uncharitable proposition have the choice of appealing the case to either the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit or the United States Supreme Court; since that’s where we know the case is going to have to go eventually, I say let’s get on with it.

I’ll continue to argue that there is no good reason for gay people to be treated differently than straight people under the law when it comes to the exercise of the fundamental right to marry, or in fact the exercise of any fundamental civil right.  Various religions may restrict their rites and sacraments among their members according to their beliefs, but civil law protects the rights of all Americans and there’s no room for exceptions that serve only to salve the theological objections of one religion or another.  That’s what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is all about: no restrictions on an individual’s religious practice, but no religion’s law takes precedence in civil life.

Many of the voices opposed to gay marriage claim to believe they are protecting “family values” or “conservative values.”  Fine; I take them at their word.  What I’m arguing in favor of are American values: equality; liberty; fairness; tolerance; justice.  The argument was made most persuasively by the plaintiffs’ attorneys in this case, Republican Ted Olson and Democrat David Boies.  In August 2010, when the federal district court overturned Proposition 8, Olson made the case so clearly in a discussion with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.  Click here to look at the clip and read the transcript.

We do not put the Bill of Rights to a vote….We ask judges to make sure that when we vote for something we’re not depriving minorities of their constitutional rights.

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…we have a 14th Amendment that guarantees equal rights to all citizens. It’s not judicial activism when judges do what the Constitution requires them to do, and they follow the precedent of previous decisions of the Supreme Court.

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If 7 million Californians were to decide that we should have separate but equal schools, or that we would send some of our citizens to separate drinking fountains, or have them be in the back of the bus, that would be unconstitutional.

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…we believe that a conservative value is stable relationships and a stable community and loving individuals coming together and forming a basis that is a building block of our society, which includes marriage…We also believe that it’s an important conservative value to sustain the rights of liberty of our citizens and to eliminate discrimination on invidious bases, whether it’s race, or sex or sexual orientation. It should be a liberal and a conservative value. It is a fundamental American value.

As I’ve argued before, the tide has turned.  Homosexuals serve openly in the armed forces; more states have legalized marriage between two people of the same sex, and are giving up efforts to stop gay people from adopting children; and now, when One Million Moms (hardly…it’s the American Family Association) calls on J.C. Penney to drop Ellen DeGeneres as its spokeswoman because she is openly gay, even Bill O’Reilly thinks it’s a McCarthy-esque “witch hunt”!  Surely, the times they are a-changing.

Judging news judgment

I boarded this train of thought reading  Ted Koppel’s op/ed piece in Sunday’s Washington Post in which he eloquently denounces the cable networks’ proliferation of opinion-as-news programming.  I mostly agree with his complaint that Fox News and MSNBC have given up any pretense of being objective in favor of creating an “idealized reality.”

They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.

In this essay Koppel seems to put a lot of the blame on the desire to turn a profit; I find that disturbing.  No one in this argument should be against the idea of the Koppel_11_25companies turning a profit, and Koppel himself has proudly noted in the past that Nightline made a pile of money for ABC, although he says they did so with high standards.  I see that Koppel, in the end, is lamenting the death of any effort at real reporting, the loss of any non-partisan effort to uncover facts that can illuminate the truth.

So last night on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann did what he does: protest perhaps a bit too much about being the subject of criticism and spend a lot of valuable minutes proving points that were never called into question.  Mostly though, he gratuitously blasted Koppel for not having done on “Nightline” what Olbermann believes he does on his program—seek for truth, particularly about the war in Iraq.  (Click on the picture to see the whole commentary; runs something over 12:00.)

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Credit where I think credit is due: Olbermann did his damnedest to get America to see the ugly truth about the Bush Administration and the Iraq war, in the spirit of Murrow’s takedown of Joseph McCarthy.  But as he himself has admitted, in a previous incarnation Olbermann squandered an inordinate amount of precious airtime on the Monica Lewinsky “story.”  Nobody’s perfect.

The important issue here is news judgment.  In Olbermann’s examples of Murrow’s reports from London, and when Cronkite made clear the fiasco of Vietnam and the importance of Watergate, their reports were  the result of a collective decision within their organization about what was news: what was important, what had lasting value, what did the audience need to know about.  In Koppel’s examples of the shouting heads on today’s cable network programs, the reports are the result of a collective decision within those organizations about what will grab attention: what is current, what has flash, what does the audience want to hear.

Koppel’s complaints focus on cable programs, not the broadcast networks and their news programs.  I don’t think those guys have any room to crow when it comes to news judgment when you consider their response to news from London of a wedding within the royal family: leading with the story as “breaking news,” dispatching armies of troops immediately to London, and planning major special reports.

Really?  Is there really anything more pointless, or with less real substance or import to our future, than the wedding of British royalty?  What does it say about our news media when we see them drool on themselves at this news?  Personally, I laughed at the headline Unemployed English girl to wed solider from welfare family, but that’s just me.

I’m not completely pessimistic about the future of journalism; I believe there will always be some place to get an honest recitation of what’s gone on, along with some perspective to help me make sense of my world.  But I know that it will not be from the Tribune Company’s TV station here in Houston.

KIAH-TV is moving ahead with a plan developed by the ousted corporate boss Lee Abrams to do away with traditional newscasts altogether.  They need “preditors” to run this new paradigm, and there’s no pretense: the ad says clearly that they aren’t interested in experience or credentials, they value the ability to make noise and grab attention; heat, not light…flash, not value.

And that’s fine, too—it’s their station and they can put whatever they want on their air.  But when it’s about news judgment, we all need to think about who we want to trust.

(Note: the spell-check dictionary didn’t like the word “Olbermann’s”; it recommended “Doberman’s”…I’m just saying.)

(Would you look at that: a post with Prince William, royal wedding, and Monica Lewinsky tags…I should be ashamed.)