Amendment galvanizes activism
California citizens torn between definition of marriage, human rights
Published: Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Updated: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 15:10
Nestled within more than 60 pages of proposed state law text, sits a group of 13 words which has arguably gathered the most attention of any issue on California's upcoming November ballot.
If passed, Proposition 8 would add a provision to Article I of the state's constitution specifying, "Only marriage between a man and woman is valid or recognized in California."
This means both present and future gay couples would not be legally recognized by the state as married.
Given its succinct phrasing and connection to civil rights, the proposition has triggered a fury of debate, with supporters focusing on maintaining a particular definition of marriage.
"Marriage between a man and woman should remain between a man and a woman. It should remain that and nothing different," California Family Council Legislative Coordinator Everett Rice said.
Opponents, however, argue that Prop. 8's intent to explicitly define marriage strips gay people of their human rights.
"It would be a disaster if Proposition 8 passed," said Matt Coles, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. "This would be Californians building inequality into their constitution."
Strong opinions on both sides can be seen through the deluge of contributions made to each campaign, totaling roughly $60 million as of Saturday, according to the New York Times.
Along with the traditional signs, buttons and shirts, donated funds have also been funneled into projects such as statewide bus tours as well as MySpace and Facebook accounts to spread awareness and convert the undecided.
Perhaps the most prominent form of promotion is the television advertisements advocating both viewpoints aired daily.
A large portion of the debate stems from these commercials, as one of the key arguments given in favor of Prop. 8 deals with the teaching of same-sex marriage in public schools to children, possibly as young as kindergartners.
Spokesperson for the California Teachers Association Mike Myslinski said these advertisements are fallacies, however, as the proposition does not deal with education.
"Those efforts amount to lies that are really crafted to scare people into voting for Proposition 8," Myslinski said. "It's a scare tactic and they know it. They're deceiving the public."
The California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act and Comprehensive Health Education Act of 1977, the only two articles in the Education Code that deal directly with the instruction of marriage in public schools, request teachers encourage children to develop "healthy attitudes" and "respect" for marriage, as well as inform them of the legal and financial aspects and responsibilities of the union.
Nothing is mentioned about the gender of couples involved or how old the children should be when they learn about it.
Both chapters, along with the entire Education Code, can be found at www.leginfo.ca.gov.
Sara Martin, president and founder of the Gay-Straight Alliance at Contra Costa College, said this misleads voters, as she does not remember marriage being a topic of discussion in classrooms with such young students.
"They're feeding people wrong information," Martin said. "I didn't even learn about straight couples getting married in kindergarten."
In an effort to spread information about Prop. 8, Martin and a handful of fellow CCC students spread awareness of the proposal at Rock the Vote, held in the campus quad on Oct. 16.
They held "No on Prop 8" signs and spoke to passersby about the proposition and its possible effects on individual lives.
Although the event did not display a large percentage of CCC's students openly voicing their opinions, another college in Northern California had a similar lack of enthusiasm for the democratic process until its Student Association decided to endorse Prop. 8, galvanizing its campus' interest in politics.
In an Oct. 1 meeting, the Student Association at American River College in Sacramento voted on and eventually endorsed Prop. 8, making the news available to the campus shortly after.
That same day, groups of students rose up in protest and started a petition to recall the association members who voted in favor of the proposition.
The resulting recall election attracted more than seven times the average amount of students who voted in recent campus elections, ARC Vice President of Student Services Pam Walker said.
While the occurrence could be seen as an isolated incident, an Advocate random survey of 200 students, faculty, staff and administration at CCC revealed that 38.5 percent of those polled view Prop. 8 as the most important proposition on the ballot.
Additionally, 74.5 percent of the same 200 people plan to vote the proposition down come Election Day.
Many on campus hope such a trend will translate well to the final state tally.
Ellen Seidler, media and communication arts professor, would like everyone who believes in human rights to vote against the amendment.
"I call it prop hate," Seidler said. "It's a hateful thing to take away what are essentially human rights."
Yet, voting may not be enough to ensure Prop. 8's defeat, she said.
Along with donating money, Seidler plans to spend time talking with people about the proposition and add a human element to the dilemma.
She advises anybody who feels strongly about the amendment to do the same.
"You can't just be complacent," Seidler said.
Contact Alec Surmani at firstname.lastname@example.org.