Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Justice, Be a Lady
I'll start out by saying that I don't know crapola about the law. I'm a reasonably well-read person, and I'm always watching news programs and documentaries, I've known American lawyers and Italian magistrates on a social level, and I've seen lots of serious courtroom dramas, like Judgment at Nuremberg and My Cousin Vinny, so I have a rudimentary idea of the law which is perhaps even better than crapola.
So, I've got a problem with the way the California Supreme Court ruled in the Proposition 8 issue.
I know they ruled on this a week ago, but somehow I forgot to write about it in my blog, and just now, I was looking at some photos of protest march that I attended the evening of the ruling, so my mind is on the topic again.
Last Tuesday, Lady Justice was not being very lady-like when the state Supreme Court upheld Prop 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry in the state of California. People who are against legal same-sex marriage were very happy, because "the will of the voters was not overturned by the court".
But my issue is this: Did the voters even have the right to take away a civil right from a minority of the population?
I mean, the 50 states of the union all have their constitutions, but all of the states are bound by the federal constitution. I am fully aware that the Declaration of Independence is a separate document from the Constitution of the United States, but still, don't the famous words of the Declaration (Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness) still pertain?
And isn't the ability to marry the person you love and want to share the rest of your life with, isn't it a part of the "Liberty and pursuit of Happiness"? And doesn't the Declaration say that these are UNALIENABLE rights?
I just looked up "alienable" in the Webster's dictionary. The definition is: "Transferable to the ownership of another."
So UNalienable means NOT transferable.
So how could Proposition 8 have been kosher? It proposed that the rights of Liberty and pursuit of Happiness would be transferred from a group of people.
Unalienable rights are not to be put up for a vote. They can't be taken away from you. That's why they are called "unalienable".
And in any case, is this how it has been traditionally done in this country? Is this past practice? that the majority, by a referendum, can take way the rights of others?
It seems to me that in the past, when the constitution has been amended, it was to give people ADDITIONAL rights. The only instance I can think of, of an amendent taking away people's rights was the 18th amendment, a.k.a. Prohibition, which took away people's rights to buy and consume alcohol. But even then, it took away EVERYbody's rights, not a just a segment of the population, and it wasn't done by a referendum (because you can bet that had it been put to a popular vote, the majority of voters would not have eliminated their own right to get drunk).
So as far as I can tell, this popular vote which put the rights of gays and lesbians on the line, was an unjust method on deciding the same-sex marriage issue.
I mean really, if we had put up the most notable rights-gaining issues to a popular vote in the past, would this country have progressed as it has?
Do we really think that if we had put the slavery issue up to a vote in say, 1850 (a time when all the voters were white), that blacks would have won their freedom? If we had a referendum on women's suffrage in 1900 (a time when all the voters were men) would women have acquired the vote? What if, in 1950, we had put de-segregation on the ballot? Would it have won? And in 1960, when many states had miscegenation laws, would the majority have voted to say that it was okay for straight blacks to marry straight whites, and vice-versa?
In this country, the minority does not win equal rights by a popular vote of the majority. It is done in the courts and in the legislature. And constitutions are not amended to REMOVE rights from any one group.
The most bizarre thing to me though, about the California Supreme Court's ruling is that, while it upheld the elimination of the right to marry from same-sex couples, it DID permit those 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who had tied the knot before the Prop 8 vote to REMAIN married.
Now, I am very happy that those 18,000 couples were not forcibly divorced by the will of the "righteous" voters, but how can the court protect THEIR marriage rights, but not those of all the other gays and lesbians? How is that
EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW?
Again, I don't know much about the law, but it seems to me that these Supreme Court justices don't know much about the law either. They must have, in order get appointed, but since their appointment, has the California sun cooked their brains?
How is this justice? How is it just to uphold a popular vote that was unjust to begin with?
How is it justice to tell one segment of the minority that they have a right that other members of their minority no longer have, simply because they had the good luck to meet their life-partners and marry them before November 7, 2008?
This is equal protection?
I may not know much about the law, but I can say this: Lady Justice is not a lady in the state of contradiction that is California.