The Prop. 8 Case: Findings of Fact

Check out the findings of fact related to today’s decision, especially from page 60 onward.

And this is what it comes down to: all the arguments same-sex marriage opponents use are not provable in a court of law. In fact, in many cases, the opposite of their arguments is provable.

The next time you hear somebody calling this proof of an “activist court” take issue with them. What they are saying is that a court should only base its decision on feeling and opinion, not on legal (provable) fact.

The next time you hear somebody say this was an “anti-democratic” decision because it overturned the voters’ will, remind them that democracy has its limits, too. That line is always reached when it abridges the legal right of another person.

The “Border Beat” (June 10, 2009)

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?  I’ve been meaning to call, but, well, you know, things got busy.  But I’m back.  You got the time?  Nice.  Well then, let’s get our nice clothes on, and our fancy shoes, because baby, THE BORDER BEAT IS BACK!!

• “State of Shame” (NY Times)
For those who thought agricultural workers faced deplorable conditions only in the West or South, this Times editorial teaches us about the ways the lack of legal protections for ag workers is exploited for, in this case, feeding ducks until they die.

• “How an immigration raid changed a town” (Christian Science Monitor)
The CSM provides this sad update on the town of Potsville, Iowa. About a year ago, Potsville found itself in the national headlines as ICE agents raided the town’s primary employer, their largest raid to date. Agriprocessors, once the largest kosher meat plant in the nation, is now bankrupt; the town has been abandoned by most of the immigrant workers rounded up on that day; and the future is very uncertain. You could say they got what they deserved, but you’d be wrong, trapped in your own limited visions of what is “right” and “wrong.” The question blowing in this breeze is, why?

• “Bill Proposes Immigration Rights for Gay Couples” (NY Times)
It’s called the Uniting American Families Act. It allows gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their long-term partners for a green card, the same way the law allows this for married, straight couples. It is fair, sane, and long-overdue. Now let’s hope it doesn’t get scuttled by reactionary homophobes who are calling it everything from an attack on “traditional” marriage to a continuing dismantling of our borders.

• “GOP risks losing Latino vote for decades” (SF Chronicle)
Ruben Navarrette is, perhaps, the most read Latino journalist in the U.S. His column is syndicated in papers across the nation. He is a paragon of neutrality and moderation, while consistently representing a “Hispanic voice.” I don’t often agree with him to the letter, but I can appreciate where he is coming from. Here, he opines on the tricky game Republicans are playing in trying to smear Sotomayor. The long-term consequence, says Navarrette, may be the loss of the Latino vote for the foreseeable future. You know what? He’s right.

• “US vows crackdown on illegal immigrant worker abuse” (Reuters)
While in Mexico City, John Morton–the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)–vowed to enforce the U.S. laws “responsibly, humanely and thoughtfully.” What does that mean? Well, one element, says Morton, is cracking down on employers who “abuse” illegal immigrants. “I intend to try to identify and prosecute those people much more vigorously than in the past,” he said. His elaboration of the nature of employers’ abusing practices (as distinct from their mere employment of them) is a welcome sign for those of us working for a more humane immigration policy.

• “Boy Scouts make big push to get Latinos to join” (Chicago Tribune)
[(Ding-dong!) What’s that? Somebody’s at the door? Finally! Looks like we have a social call!! (Ding-dong!) We just might have a date tonight! Yes! Somebody wants us. Hello? Who? Awww. It’s just the Boy Scouts.] Well, the Boy Scouts are trying to double the number of Latinos earning badges for canoeing. . . and all that other stuff, too. Seems they’re having some problems, though. Some are wondering if the problem is a lack of cultural familiarity, some fear and mistrust. As a former Boy Scout, let me suggest it is more a case of not wanting your child to look like he’s joined a youth paramilitary troop.

• “UFW Alums Battle Over Labor’s Future” (Beyond Chron)
There is an ugly fight happening out West in the labor movement. It is pitting some UFW legends against each other (again) and perhaps tearing apart some organizations that once had a tremendous amount of potential.

How Republicans spin ‘gay marriage’

On yesterday’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich responded to questions regarding the recent advances for the legalization of same-sex marriage.  “It’s very dangerous for the country to have the judiciary become the chief agent of social change,” he said.

I wasn’t surprised to hear what he had to say.  If anything, Gingrich has been a consistent representative of the most mainstream “conservative” viewpoint.  If you have been anywhere near a state that has been confronting the issue of same-sex rights in the past decade, you’ve heard the rhetoric already.  The “assault” on “traditional marriage” has been led by a cabal of “activist judges.”  Leave it up to the masses, they say, or else we are walking down an “anti-democratic” road.

Sadly, this analysis is not a new one.  You might think this strand of judicial skepticism within “conservative” thought is the result of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case making abortion legal.  It’s not.  This argument stretches back to the Brown v. Board decision almost two decades earlier, as well as to a host of federal circuit court decisions relating to civil rights which were adjudicated in the years immediately after WWII.

As the courts increasingly recognized the disparity between the Constitution and “real life”–a material condition which included legalized segregation, discrimination, and bold political disenfranchisement–they were persuaded to side with the parties fighting for equal rights.  They did not see their work as that of “activists.” The opinions they issued were framed according to their interpretation of what the law required.  In fact, in a host of cases before and after 1954, judges did EXACTLY WHAT IT WAS THEIR JOB TO DO: make decisions about the law apart from whether or not those decisions were popular or whether or not people wanted them.

It is significant to note that a clear majority of the U.S. public disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board.  Whether or not they agreed with school segregation is a matter of debate, but they clearly did not agree with compulsory desegregation.  Apart from arguments we would see as “racist” from today’s perspective, many people just thought the courts couldn’t change people’s hearts.  The only way for racist practices like school segregation to end, these “progressives” argued, would be when people felt differently and realized the error of their ways.  Sound familiar?

If you want to read the most famous reply to this kind of thinking, read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

The anti-same-sex marriage movement uses its critique of “activist judges” to suggest the quest for equal rights is the work of people not following the rule of law.  They imply these judges are engaged in a form of social engineering where they disrespect the “will of the people” and the “democratic tradition.”  More than anything, that analysis is political spin.

The “will of the people” has a historic tradition of racism, sexism, and other forms of widely recognized unjust practices.  Would these “conservatives” have left them in tact because of public support?  Do they believe any law is a just and moral law simply by its existence?  What about laws that contradict the Constitution?  What about laws that contradict other laws?  What about capricious laws?  What about those Republicans who sound off anytime somebody encroaches on the Second Amendment?

There are too many contradictions in their line of argumentation to deal with here, and this is why is use the term “conservative” so cautiously.  The same “conservative” mainstream using the “activist judges” arguments are also the old guard when it comes to the “law and order” and “Constitutional rights” arguments.  The reason they see no conflict here is that none of these positions is about philosophy or ideology as much as it is about political expediency.  The “conservatives” in question don’t want to see LGBT people get married, and they are willing to use rhetoric that spits in the face of principles they claim to uphold because it suits their purpose.

Most perspectives in this world depend on the position from which you are viewing a given issue.  The “suicide bombers” who constituted the “terrorists” who “attacked” the United States on September 11, 2001, are “heroes” and “freedom fighters” to others in the world.  Timothy McVeigh, the man who committed a “terrorist attack” on the U.S. is seen by others as a “hero” and a “patriot.”  The list goes on and on.

Many who support the cause of obstructionism and stand opposed to same-sex unions are people who deeply believe in their stance.  They see queer folk the way others saw people of color forty years ago–living in ways that challenge the “norm.” Of course, their norm is hell for the rest of us.  While they long for a time that never really existed, and try to stop the tide of change that takes them further and further away from their mythical “America,” they bypass contradiction because some things become more important than others in the big scheme of things.

The Republican spin doctors who help mobilize them, however, are conscious in their work.  They are out in full force right now doing what they have done for decades, digging in their heels to try and preserve a power imbalance that the force of social conscience and the rule of law are both disabling.  They do so for many reasons, not the least of which is that change brings with it the loss of a tool to mobilize for their causes.  A half century after civil rights became a household word, people have to work a lot harder to use racial fears in the work of politics.  Make a wrong step, and even people sympathetic to your cause may flee out of a sense of guilt and morality.  The Republicans in question recognize same-sex marriage will go the same route if they don’t do something about it.  And they are doing their best to spin their way to success.

But, eventually, they’re just going to get dizzy. . . or dizzier.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.

Oscar Wilde in San Francisco

I’m working on a section of my book-in-progress today, which is a history of Latin American-descent populations in San Francisco and I just came across an account of Oscar Wilde’s 1882 visit to the city.

He stepped off his train on March 26, 1882, wearing “a Spanish sombrero, velvet suit, puce cravat, yellow gloves, and buckled shoes.”

I am rather confident this was not the last time this outfit made a public appearance in the city.

This image–from the March 31, 1882 issue of Wasp–suggests how some in this bohemian paradise saw the figure of Wilde, in all its gloriousness.  You can learn a bit more about his visit here.

••The racial fallout of Prop. 8

This is what I wrote last July:

My great fear is that, in California and elsewhere, the coalitions fighting against these restrictive ballot measures won’t reach out in any organized and systematic way to Latino voters. This may be a huge mistake, because, I assure you, the other side already is.

Last month, I reiterated my analysis:

Last summer my fear was that the “No on Prop. 8″ movement would not reach out effectively to these groups, leaving them with no other channel of information than the steady stream of fear from intolerant zealots. I continue to have this fear. Poor and working-class immigrants and people of color are often ignored in political campaigns. It is not surprising, therefore, that they also tend to vote in lower numbers. In an ironic twist, the state of the economy and the campaign of Barack Obama are both contributing to a projected increase in these groups’ participation this fall. Where will they fall on Prop. 8 in California?

Sadly, my prescient words seem to have come true, with California’s Proposition 8 passing this past week with the support of Latinos (about 52%) and African American (about 70%) voters.  Also sad is the growing racial fallout of these numbers.

I want to make three points about what I see to be a troubling development in progressive/liberal politics, namely, the divide between race and sexuality:

ONE. While we may be conditioned to think in terms of race/ethnic voting blocs, the notion that there is a “gay vs. Black” problem is ludicrous and, itself, a little white-centered.  While “whiteness” often carries with it the notion of exceptionalism, let me assure you, queer folk come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  White folks aren’t the only gay and lesbian folks, making the sensibility behind (for example) the L.A. Times’ article “Gays, blacks divided on Proposition 8” as silly as saying “Gays, whites divided on Proposition 8.”  The analysis of “us versus them” in gay/straight and left/right terms, being merged with a white/black dichotomy, is very troubling and artificial.  The divide is really between queer rights advocates and their allies and a rabid, homophobic religious movement seeking to legislate their “morality.”

TWO. The “No on 8” effort was nothing like the organized, grassroots movement of the other side.  They had funding, organization, mobilization, and a host of messages to appeal to voters fears and ignorances while distracting them from the way this issue is about equality.  On top of that, the “No” side ran a poor ad campaign, always having to respond to the other side instead of running proactive messages on their own terms.  And, as I mentioned above, they did little to mobilize working class, uncollege-educated voters of color.  They did almost nothing to reach out to Spanish speaking voters in the state.  They gave up on the “religious vote,” despite the support from a number of progressive churches.

THREE. Homophobia is not any more part of Latino or Black cultures than it is part of white culture.  A majority of white voters in California voted against discrimination, but it wasn’t a huge majority.  And white folks voted the other way just eight years ago.  To suggest the 51 or 52% of white voters who voted against Prop. 8 are a reflection that homophobia is no longer a problem among whites is, well, stupid.  Just check out Florida and Arizona this week, and Ohio and 10 other states four years ago.  For those of us familiar with either (or both) Latino and African American cultures and the place of queerness within them, we know of many examples of loving, unconditional acceptance.  That is not to say that there aren’t examples of the opposite, but these are also well known to us no matter what our cultural background.

There are lots of ways to make sense of the passage of Proposition 8 (that include homophobia) without replicating the kinds of racist divisions we are beginning to see.  For the sake of justice, I hope we remember that.  And anyway, same-sex marriage will be legal in California again, someday, as it will be in this nation as a whole.  If there is a bright side to the passage of Prop. 8, it is the loud, visible, angry, and diverse movement now representing the cause of queer equality.  I wish it would have been here a few months earlier…