Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 20, 2008

A sweet victory, but more work to do

“The judicial branch of government is charged with interpreting the laws of the State of California. It provides for the orderly settlement of disputes between parties in controversy … and protects the rights of individuals.” ~ California Court System web site.

Now that the California Supreme Court has ruled in the long-simmering dispute over same-sex marriage, and made the right decision to boot, get ready for the onslaught of doomsday scenarios from gay marriage opponents through Nov. 4, when Californians will likely vote on their attempt to build discrimination into the California constitution.

It’s starting already, with members of the religious right reacting to the ruling with statements that make it clear that they don’t respect this country’s all-important separation of church and state.

“I’m soul-sick over this,” Pastor Dave Sawkins of Venture Christian Church told the San Jose Mercury News. “The Supreme Court is promoting a lifestyle that is destructive. We’re not angry at homosexuals, we’re trying to protect the family.”

Clearly, Sawkins is willing to overlook protecting families that don’t meet his church’s definition, for example, those comprised of lesbian or gay couples. He has every right to do that in his church, but he doesn’t have a right to impose his point of view everyone else.

The California Supreme Court recognized that with its ruling last week. The court determined that the state constitution’s equal protection clause applies to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Sadly, Sawkins is not alone. President George W. Bush, who supports amending the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, frequently talks about the importance of protecting the “sanctity of marriage.”

As I’ve said before, no government agency in this country has any business protecting the sanctity – holiness – of anything.

Given the separation of church and state, this is prima facie obvious to me, but not to folks who think that their religious views about homosexuality ought to be codified in state law or, worse, in the constitution.

Be prepared to hear the term “activist judges” from the right-wing echo chamber more and more as we approach the November general election.

Doug Ose, a candidate for the Republican nomination for California’s 4th Congressional District, already used the term in an interview with The Union in Nevada County: “I am disappointed that a handful of activist judges have decided to play politics with an issue that is so important to families.”

What does the term “activist judges” mean, anyway? As conservative author and prolific blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote on his blog last week, “The notion that courts have to do nothing in the American system – other than transcribe legislation – is a very strange and unconservative notion. Yes, they should exercise prudence and restraint. But they are there for something. And if they are not there to protect tiny minorities from majority oppression, what the hell are they there for?”

As far as I can tell, the term “activist judges” applies only to those judges with whom the speaker or writer disagrees. When judges issue rulings with which the speaker or writer agrees, those judges displayed wise jurisprudence.

Whenever you hear the term “activist judges,” remember, it’s a meaningless term that is echoed endlessly in an attempt to weaken an important and coequal branch of our government.

Last week’s California Supreme Court ruling was an important victory for civil rights, for separation of church and state and for civil liberties. But the battle is far from over. Beyond the November attempt by gay-marriage opponents to write discrimination into California’s constitution, there’s the stark reality that the marriages of same-sex couples that are legal in Massachusetts and will be legal soon in California aren’t recognized in the other 48 states.

That’s not a problem shared by opposite-sex couples. And remember, like the California constitution, the United States Constitution has an equal protection clause.

There’s a long, long way to go to achieve full equality for homosexual couples. I’m comforted that the majority-Republican California Supreme Court made the right decision last week. But much work remains.

“We’ve now had four years of gay marriage in … Massachusetts and it’s still there, even though by some accounts God punishes such things. … But Boston is still with us, Big Dig hasn’t collapsed, nor has the state descended into man-beast unions or polygamy. … We have had an outbreak of polygamy, but that’s in Texas, one of the 18 states where both gay marriage and civil union is absolutely positively and forever unconstitutional.” ~ CBS Radio commentator Dave Ross



  1. Thank you!

  2. […] conservative pundit to call this judge an “activist” who overstepped his authority. Remember, an activist judge is a term devoid of any real meaning. As the term is used today in the right […]

  3. […] (a ruling that was later overturned — unconstitutionally, in my opinion — by Prop 8), I wrote a column that included these lines: As far as I can tell, the term “activist judges” applies only to […]

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