Image © Paul Bausch onfocus.com http://bit.ly/rESKHYWe wanted to run something on Prop 8, as it’s called, one of the most notorious miscarriages of democracy in the ongoing disaster that is our state’s referendum system. Audrey Bilger, who teaches Victorian literature at Claremont McKenna College and who has closely followed the passage of the proposition and the legal challenges that overturned it, agreed. Bilger wrote some months ago for us about Jane Austen [here], the writer who perfected the marriage plot, and Austen’s continuing fascination for readers today. The story of Prop 8, Bilger says, is no less compelling as narrative, and although the trial transcripts and supporting documents weigh in at roughly twice the poundage of Austen’s collected works, she argues they make just as rewarding reading.
— Tom Lutz
As Proposition 8, my home state of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, makes its way through the courts, it leaves behind a trail of documents that will be required reading for anyone who wants to understand American democracy at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Now that Prop 8 has been declared unconstitutional for the second time and the Perry case may be headed to the Supreme Court, we can pause to take stock of this work-in-progress. The Prop 8 trial is, in fact, one of the greatest stories of our time.
I have a personal interest in following this tale even though I won’t be directly affected by its outcome. I cringe whenever I hear a politician intone that “marriage is between a man and a woman,” implying that marriages like mine are a sham, but my marriage remains legal here, as one of the 18,000 unions that were grandfathered in after the passage of the marriage ban. I was fortunate enough to be able to marry the woman I love, my then-partner of twelve years, during the 143-day period in 2008 when California affirmed the fundamental right of marriage for its lesbian and gay citizens. When all is said and done, the Prop 8 saga is about love, and we can only hope that as at the end of a Shakespearean comedy, obstacles, confusion, and misunderstandings will be swept away, and the marriage celebrations will begin.
But we shouldn’t ignore, or forget, those obstacles or misunderstandings: they’re part of the story, too. Indeed, I was surprised by how deeply satisfying I found reading the thousands of pages of legal proceedings. As an exercise in democratic citizenship, it sharpened my sense of how social change can take place through the courts and made me hopeful for the future. In everything I’ve written on the trial for Ms. magazine, the underlying message has been that everyone should read the record, and I urge you, too, to read for yourselves the unfolding pages of history.