Why Aren't You Voting?

Meghan Lane is an HIV counselor at the Berkeley Free Clinic and a student coordinator of the Health and Sexuality Peer Education Program. Respond to her or send her questions at [email protected]

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Super Tuesday has finally arrived. All of you registered voters will now have the chance to speak your minds about various initiatives and propositions that are too complicated to talk about here, but I would like to mention one in particular that seems to fall into the scope of my column: Proposition 22, also known as the Knight Initiative.

I'll give a bit of background to those of you unfamiliar with the initiative. The law is actually quite simple on the surface. The initiative seeks to insert the following words into the Family Code of the California Constitution: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

To paraphrase the words of one of my roommates, we have to preserve the sanctity of marriage because straight people obviously take it so seriously, right? This initiative is borne from the minds of the same population whose divorce rate is over 50 percent and is still climbing. This from the people who made the television show "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" a smash hit. I think that it's absurd for one segment of the population to deny bestowal of a beneficial social status upon another group because they are different. The whole thing stinks like the talk not so long ago of not recognizing interracial unions.

But I digress. Because the Knight Initiative is not really about granting or preventing same-sex marriages. Same-sex marriages are already not legal in this state. What the initiative seeks to do is preempt California's recognition of same-sex marriages granted in other states. Since state law currently requires legal marriages in other states to be recognized here, Pete Knight and his supporters want to ensure that we won't have gay and lesbian folks prancing across the border, getting married, and then coming back to our lovely state, corrupting the meaning of marriage.

What exactly is marriage, and what meaning does it have? I'm not in a position to make that call, and neither is the government. It's why we have that whole concept of "separation of church and state," which seems to have been thrown out the window on this one. In the "Voter Information Guide", the woman who writes in favor of Proposition 22 says, "It's tough enough for families to stay together these days. Why make it harder by telling children that marriage is just a word anyone can re-define again and again until it no longer has any meaning?"

My response is that the only meaning marriage can have is that which you confer upon it. I know people who have married for love, but others who have married for money, or because they were drunk and did it for shits and giggles. Students and immigrants get married to obtain residency status. Men and women sometimes marry because an unanticipated baby is on the way. Others use marriage as the key to political and social mobility. (If we can't even elect a black president, what makes you think we would elect a single one?) Since marriage is traditionally defined (loosely) as a strong bond between two people, why should anyone other than those two people decide what marriage means? If you think that gay marriage weakens the strength of your heterosexual marriage, your marriage wasn't that strong from the start.

I am clearly opposed to the proposition, but my opposition goes much deeper than my simply wanting equal rights for all people. First, state Sen. Pete Knight, the man who proposed the initiative, has a history of introducing legislation preventing the granting of same-sex marriages. In 1996 and 1997, Knight tried to pass bills through the state legislature characterized as "anti-gay marriage bills." I find it highly interesting and disturbing that Knight has a gay son from whom he is estranged. Knight seems to be fulfilling a personal vendetta with the help of the citizens of California. Of course that's just my interpretation, but I wonder if Knight would be supporting this measure as vehemently if he had only straight sons.

Second, Proposition 22 is divisive. Even after legislation blocking gay marriages has been systematically passed in a growing number of states, some California voters feel the need to assert: "Straight good, gay bad." What possible good can be had from a law that in effect has straight people wagging a finger at the queer community and saying, "We have something you don't have, and we're not going to let you get it"? One of the components of the debate about Proposition 22 that irks me most is that the conversation is no longer about the legislation itself, but has become a condemnation of homosexuality. Some proponents of the initiative are so scared of homosexuality and its implications that they must take every step necessary to distance themselves from it, to the point of denying social benefits.

I could go on, but I think that I have made my argument clear. If you have time to vote, get to the polls and speak your mind. I know some of you are apathetic and choose not to vote at all, but at least vote on this one. Proposition 22 is not about whether you think homosexuality is wrong, or whether same-sex marriages should be allowed. The question that you have to answer for yourself is: Does the government have jurisdiction over what is considered a valid marriage? For me, the answer is no. The government's responsibility is to decide what benefits, if any, to give certain people, not to decide what marriage means. As for the feelings of the rest of California, I guess we'll know tomorrow.


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