Prop 8: The Court and the People

Earlier this morning, the California Supreme Court released its decision in the marriage cases.  It’s been pretty clear for a while that they would uphold Proposition 8 and refuse to nullify existing marriages.  I’d like to talk about why that is not necessarily a bad thing, a position that I know is sort of  unpopular, but which is not an endorsement of bigotry or stupidity, qualities I don’t actually think California’s citizens are guilty of en masse.

You wouldn’t know that, by the way, if you, like me, worked in the State Building, where the Supreme Court is located.  The sign-waving people were out in force this morning.  But then they always are.  Today, they were hating California’s gay and lesbian citizens.  Last year, it was women who wanted abortions.  A few decades ago, it was African-American Californians who wanted a decent public education.  All they do is switch out the slogans and pictures — but the message is the same.  Those who are different are scary and hateful. 

But those people are so clearly a minority.  Having skimmed the court’s opinion, it’s obvious from its tone that the court feels no sympathy for the social views of those who passed Proposition 8.   In fact, their earlier opinion in the marriage cases, the opinion in which they announced that the California constitution is violated when marriage is made unavailable to gay Californians, makes their views about the civil rights issue quite obvious. 

I’m not sure what I’d have done if this was MY issue to deal with, but I’m going to guess that their limited view of their role in this debate is not a tragedy.  Look at one of the great civil rights decision of the 20th century, Brown vs. Board of Education, and then ask yourself whether the public schools in the United States are still segregated and you will see the limits of a court’s ability to change the way Americans think about those who are different.  Judicial efforts to integrate the schools have not been huge triumphs, at least not at the local level.  Even in a city like Berkeley, where I live, the public schools, particularly in the lower grades, are largely filled with children from poorer households, children who are overwhelmingly African-American and Hispanic. 

Why is this?  It’s complex, but my guess is that parents — even in places like Berkeley — didn’t like being told to drive their children across Berkeley to kindergarten.  And they are no more comfortable with racial and economic differences than their counterparts in less obviously liberal communities across the country, a discomfort that cannot be mitigated by a judge telling you that you must ignore your fears.  This discomfort can only change with familiarity with difference and good will — something we are all capable of, I’m certain.  When California’s generous financing of public schools was dismantled by Prop. 13, private schools became even more attractive to wealthier, white Californians, and gave well-meaning,  liberal, white people cover for pulling their kids out of public schools, and, well, there you have it, a story that’s true across the country and one I think is still being told.   

My point is this:  there’s only so much the judiciary can do and California’s Supreme Court has done about all it feels institutionally capable of doing.  It’s announced an important principle, one that isn’t popular with some Californians.  The thing to remember is that our attention is now very much focused on this issue in a way that it hasn’t been for decades. And most of the people who are now thinking about whether it’s okay to say gay people can’t marry are not in front of my building wavy nasty signs.  They’re thinking about how Mr. Sulu from Star Trek married his partner last year and how they’ve always liked him and that show.  Or about the teacher at the school where their kids go who got married last fall and looked really cute in those pictures where she was wearing a tux, and really, why shouldn’t she wear a tux?  I think it’s undeniable that we have begun to see that we are not so different from each other after all. 

Today the message is really that the courts cannot force social change to happen, not alone, anyway.  The thing to focus on is that the people can do and should do a lot more than the judiciary in this area.  The Proposition 8 opponents ran a poor campaign.  Much thinking needs to be done about how to run a better one.  It’s clear that the majority of Californians did not support Proposition 8.   They need to make that point much clearer, the next time this issue is on the ballot.  

And then somebody really needs to think about the wisdom of running our state government through initiative, an experiment in populism that has so obviously failed us — everywhere you look, you can see how California’s institutions have been weakened and even ruined because of whimsical and short sighted initiatives — Proposition 13 being the most obvious.  A proposition that bans the whole initiative process is looking very good to me at this moment. 

There’s more to be said, and more will be said, on this issue.  But I am going to guess that in the next five years, there will be another initiative, one amending the constitution to reflect the views of most people in California and that initiative will not look like Proposition 8.

All About Him and Me

It probably comes as no surprise to many of you that I am married, although I am rarely allowed to mention any details about this alliance because my husband thinks it’s weird for me to write about him.  He’s not really into the whole web-revelation thing.  In fact, he had a Facebook account for about thirty seconds, but then people like his ex-girlfriend and those he went to high school with began to ask him to be friends and he couldn’t keep up with the whole dizzying whirl that those four friend requests seemed to him to represent, so he shut the whole thing down.  (I am still on Facebook:  and yes, I would LOVE to be your friend.)  

But I asked him nicely if I could tell people his middle name is John because I would like to participate in the “about our marriagething that has swept through the blogworld, and which requires that you reveal your middle name, for starters.  He said yes, which means he can’t say no to anything else I ask him for the next half hour as he heats up the black bean soup I made earlier today.  Me?   My middle name is Fay.  Through much of my childhood I was referred to as Lily Fay, but only by members of my family, and not now, ever, so don’t even think about trying it or I’ll un-Friend you.  

How long have you been together?

Oh god.  Forever, basically.  Since 1986.  

How long did you know each other before you began dating?

We met in 1984 when he jump started my car, which is one reason why I married him.  (That I married him seven years after we met is another story altogether.)  For two years, every time I saw him, I thought he was very attractive and quite interesting, but not at all my type because he was, well… nice.  At the time, I liked men who were dark, and mean to me.  My husband is honest, smart, tall, blond, handsome, nordic, sporty and a former Eagle scout.  He is a truly fine man.  At some point, he declared his interest — my memory is that he did it in a letter he wrote to me while I was living in New Orleans and about to leave the country for a trip to Spain.  At the time my brother was living with him and I think maybe he wanted to let me know that, when I came back (if I ever did), it would be more fun if I spent time at his house instead of my brother.  (He likes my brother.  But he likes me more.)  

Who asked whom out?

I’m thinking he did, via the aforementioned letter.  I mean, we had lots of dinners and outings as friends, but our first romantic moment was his idea. And then he broke up with me immediately afterwards, because he thought the whole thing was too serious.  That lasted for about four months and then he stopped worrying about whether things were too serious.  As it turned out, we lived together for a very long time and it wasn’t until 1991 that we got married.  

How old are you?

Oh, pretty old.  You can probably work that out.  He is two years older than I am.  That gave him time to acquire the jumper cables that led me to love him.    

Whose siblings do you see the most?

His.  They live closer than mine.  But my siblings like him a lot.  They view him as a total miracle and all of them, including my parents, are even now — years and years later — relieved as hell I did not marry any of the many unreliable men I dated before him.

Which situation is hardest on you as a couple?

Because we are utterly opposite in most ways, most situations were hard for us in the beginning of our marriage.  But we have discovered what matters most to each of us and even though we think the other person is a lunatic for caring so much about that particular thing, we tend to respect these areas (which means, basically, give in on them) — the net result being that we don’t argue as much as you’d think.  

Did you go to the same school?

No.  We did both go to very bad public high schools (his was in Lake Tahoe, mine a suburb of Tacoma, Washington).  And then we went to ivy league colleges — he to Dartmouth, where all the nordic, blond skiers go.  And I went to Yale, where they seemed to be interested in badly educated girls from the Pacific Northwest.    

Are you from the same home town?

He grew up in California.  I grew up in Europe and in the wet, dreary Pacific Northwest.  We met here, in the Bay Area.  We both love living in Berkeley, something we have never, ever argued about.  

Who is smarter?

His answer:  “I know what you think, but I disagree.  I have more of an aptitude for science and math.  You’re good at everything else.”  In other words, I am smarter and he knows his times tables. He can also make the car start just by giving it a stern look and mouthing the words “I own jumper cables and I know how to use them.”  

Who is the most sensitive?

I appear to be but, in fact, he feels things quite deeply.  You’d just never know it, under that nordic calm.

Where do you eat out most as a couple?

Please.  We don’t eat out.  Unless you count Gordo Tacqueria, the burrito place where the guys glare at you when you get to the front of the line to order five totally distinct burritos, because no one in our family ever eats the same thing.  

Where is the furthest you have traveled together as a couple?

Nice.  A lovely trip.    Wait!  We went to Italy on our honeymoon.  Rome is further from California than Nice, I’m pretty sure.  My husband would probably know.  We once went on a bike trip through the Dordogne, before we were married, and every night he would take out our map and measure carefully, using dental floss (perfectly clean, unused floss I would like to add) to trace the lines of our routes, so he could announce, with admirable precision, the number of miles we had covered that day on our bicycles.  I could always guess it was far.  He could always tell you just how far.  

Who has the craziest exes?

Neither one of us.  We’ve been together so long that the exes have basically disappeared from memory, except for the vaguest of impressions (dark, not always nice to me: my exes.  little, cute: his exes).  Facebook saw a small resurgence of exes, but they weren’t crazy.  Just friendly. 

Who has the worst temper?

According to him, I do.  According to me, I do.  He has no temper at all.  When he gets mad it’s just funny because it’s so lame.

Who does the most cooking?

We both cook.  He was out front early in this area of competence because he knew how to grill really well, but then I discovered that if you read enough cookbooks and follow the directions, you can leave a competent griller in the dust of the lovely sprinkling of powdered sugar with which you are annointing the madeleines you learned how to make from reading Patricia Wells’ book on Paris food, which contains an incredibly delicious recipe for madeleines.  

Who is the most stubborn?

That would be both of us.  Fortunately, we are stubborn about different things.  

Who hogs the bed most?

He does.  He takes all the pillows and pulls the covers over himself and, basically, is a rude, rude bed partner.

Who does the laundry?

One of the triumphs of our marriage is our joint decision to hire someone to do our laundry.  How do you think I manage to write novels, work as a lawyer, raise my children and answer questions about my still-intact marriage while wearing clean clothes?  

Who’s better with the computer?

I am.  In fact, my computer expertise is legendary — mystical, even.  This comes from the simple fact that I — and I alone — read the directions before I plug anything in.  Thus, almost everything I try to fix or install computer-wise works beautifully.  For the rest of them, things work about half the time, maybe a little bit more if they sacrifice a small goat and pray really hard.  

Who drives when you are together?

50-50.  Well, now that I have glasses that let me drive at night, totally 50-50.  And this is a good question to end on because that’s what our marriage is:  a partnership of people who are equal, most of the time, except when it comes to jump starting the car (him), grilling (him), installing software (me) and yelling about basically inconsequential things (me).

On Marriage

It’s a lovely day in San Francisco, a day so warm it feels like summer. A perfect day to issue an opinion, if you happen to be the California Supreme Court, in which you say that it’s no longer acceptable for the state to call committed, loving, gay relationships anything other than marriages.

The opinion’s here, on the court’s website. To find it, you just have to scroll down to “In Re Marriage Cases.”

Today I am so proud to live in California, and very proud of our court system.