Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Propositions 97, 98 and 99

I'm in favor of the idea of direct democracy, and the referendum system that has long been in place in the West Coast states is about as direct as you can get: Any bunch of clowns who can gather up enough signatures are able to submit laws directly to the voters.

I admit there's some problems with this process. These laws can be confused, or confusing--sometimes deliberately, but more often because the people who drafted them have IQs that span the range of readings on a rectal thermometer. Outside money can flood into the state, as in the case of recent Proposition 8, where the campaign was mounted as much from Utah as from anywhere within the state boundaries.

The Mormons were the main backers of Prop 8, asserting that marriage has been universally and traditionally recognized as a union between a man and a woman. Now anyone who has studied anthropology knows that contention is a crock of shit. Delve back into history or prehistory and it's clear that the most common form of marriage is between a man and multiple women, and we're not just talking about obscure jungle tribes here: We're talking about the Bible. (The Bible also says that a man is duty-bound to marry his brother's widow, which would make guys a lot more opinionated about their brother's dating choices.)

There's plenty of other arrangements in various cultures, including polygyny and, yes, gay marriages, and even family systems where children are raised by a woman and her brother (which turns out to make a lot of genetic sense if there's any doubt about paternity [and there always is]; a brother shares a lot of genes with his sister's children.) But polygamy is widespread, and an element of the Jewish/Arab cultures that spawned Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. So the Mormons, who were polygamists from the start (until they suddenly found out that God changed his mind), were probably on the right track in terms of universality and tradition. ("Tradition" in the United States means "my personal impression of what was normal in the past based on the television shows we saw in my childhood.")

My theory is that Mormons don't really oppose same-sex marriage. It's just that the law spoiled their own fun, and so now they want to ruin someone else's day. Legislative Schadenfreude.

Note that most of the billowing smoke around this tiny fire is about the word "marriage." California already has a strong domestic partnership law, and no one seems to be attacking domestic partnerships. (At least not these days. But the poor Disney Company--they get assaulted by the left for perpetuating inappropriate stereotypes, and by the religious right for offering same-sex-partner benefits before required by law.)

In any case, I'm here today to clear up both the California referendum mess and the Calfornia same-sex marriage mess. After these three propositions pass, I, like Cincinattus, will retire from Rome to my farm, and engage in politics no more.

Proposition 97. People may not be paid to gather signatures to put propositions on the ballot in California. I'm all in favor of referenda. If the people feel strongly about something, it ought to be brought to the people without the inteference of the politicians. But the people should feel strongly enough about it to gather sufficient signatures through volunteers. As it is, any damn fool thing can--and does--get on the ballot if someone is willing to pay millions of dollars to minimum-wage workers to carry clipboards and stand in front of supermarkets and lie about what the proposition represents. Anything can--and does--get on the ballot in this state if there is enough money behind it. The framers of the state ballot initiative never intended this to become an industry--and it's a dead certainty that they didn't intend for millions of dollars to flow in from businesses or churches in other states to influence California elections.

Proposition 98. While a law may be passed by referendum with a simple majority vote, any amendment to the California State Constitution will require a supermajority. Amending the US Constitution requires approval by two-thirds of the Senate, two-thirds of the House of Representatives, and then the amendment must be ratified by the individual states. But in California an amendment to the State Constitution may be made by a referendum that wins by the barest majority vote. Although Prop 8 proponents keep talking about their "landslide," Prop 8 got only 52% of the votes. You shouldn't be able to amend the Constitution with a tiny margin. Amending the Constitution ought to be a damned serious affair that demands overwhelming support.

Proposition 99. 'Marriage' will no longer have any legal standing whatsoever in the State of California. Marriage is a confounding of religion, tradition, and legal rights into a mishmash that makes no sense and causes endless headaches for the court system. So Prop 99 will make marriage a matter of personal belief and get religion out of the public domain, in alignment with the founding principle of this country's separation of Church and State. If you want someone--anyone--to inherit your money, or make medical decisions when you are incapacitated, then designate them by legal contract. Why should those be the same person in the first place?

Our current discriminatory laws unfairly privilege married heterosexual couples over same-sex couples. But extending the muddle of interlocking laws governing marriage to same-sex couples isn't the only fair solution. Toss it all overboard. If people want to announce publically that they are 'married' and claim that 'marriage' is some sort of sacred state, let them. Some people assert that because they are baptized, or circumcized, or never cut their hair but instead wind it up in a turban, that they are in some special sacred state. Let them believe that if they like, but keep it between themselves and God as they conceive Him or Her or It or Them. The State should get out of the religion business altogether and come up with a rational set of laws.

But, I hear you cry, what about child custody and support, what about spousal health benefits, what about inheritance? Well, child custody and support is already an intractable mess that uses up uncountable hours of court time, the health system is clearly broken and needs fixing anyway, and any large inheritance ends up being contested in any case. Marriage involves people signing a contract affecting all of these without actually examining the terms of the contract. That might work out fine...if people stayed married. Ha. (And conservative Christians get divorced more than anybody in this country.)

There. Three simple propositions. If these pass, not only will it settle the whole 'marriage' controversy once and for all, but we will have hardly any further propositions on our ballots.

I think having vastly fewer propositions in California would benefit not only the long-suffering voters of our state, but also non-Californians across the country and around the globe, who at present have to listen to endless news about California ballot measures.

Once 97, 98, and 99 are law, I can stop writing blog posts like these, and you can stop reading them. It's a win-win sort of thing.


Jen Ster said...

Bravo! I'm writing a check right now so Texas Democrats for Satan can hire half a dozen minimum wage petitioners to get a constitutional amendment on next year's California ballot to ban all marriages made in Heaven.

Interesting note, last month's issue of Texas Lawyer (a fine good ol' boy scholarly publication if ever there was one) had an op ed piece from a constitutional lawyer discussing Texas's Defense of Marriage Act. That's Texas's law about not recognizing same sex marriages performed in other states, and it uses some of the same language as the old racist laws about black and white folks intermarrying. This guy opined that this law invalidates ANY marriage from outside Texas. Not being a con lawyer myself I dunno if his argument has any merit. I can't get our con-lawyer-on-staff to read his 23-page brief for some reason, but I smell some serious state license-fee revenue upon the wind. We'd need to set up wedding chapels at all the border crossings and remarry any couple entering Texas from the rest of the 49. I can see the signs now. "Married? Not in Texas you ain't! Get over here and get hitched properly! That'll be 49 bucks! No gays!"

Actually, that part about constitutional amendments needing to pass by a supermajority may be the best thing to come out of the whole mess. Meantime I'll have my eye on the next string of Supreme Court arguments in March, which will be as much an existential argument as a legal one. Can a court uphold a provision of law that legislates it out of the debate entirely? If a liberal Democrat falls in the forest and nobody is around, is he still wrong?

Alis said...

In a piece of synchronicity, the book I've just finished reading (the Appeal by John Grisham) deals with vested interest and huge corporations buying votes - this time to the Mississippi Supreme Court. It's deeply depressing to see that the people with the money get what they want, whatever it is while most people aren't even aware that they're getting it until they see their own rights curtailed.
Makes a mockery of democracy, don't it?

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

Yeah, it's an interesting problem. We'll need to hire paid signature gatherers to get signatures prohibiting paid signature gathering. But I doubt they'll refuse to take the job. I suspect that few of them view it as a career.

And, yes, the debate among the Supremes will be interesting to watch!

David Isaak said...

Heya, Alis--

I'm jaded enough to expect money to speak loudly in our political process. But OUT-OF-STATE money?

California taken alone is something like the seventh-largest economy in the world. Can't we have our own influence-buying without importing it from places like Utah? Keep Corruption Californian!

Jen Ster said...

When I lived in AZ there was a petition circulating to make it a crime to sign a false name on a petition. I feel deep shame to tell you I lost it and screamed at the guy who had accosted me. I should have stayed cool and signed the thing "Margaret Thatcher."

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

You're so much more mature than I. I usually sign "Philip Space," or "Ben Dover."

But, then, I don't have the hair to convince anyone I'm Margeret Thatcher.

sexy said...