Sunday, December 21, 2008

They like to hurt people

Hilzoy is pondering the latest development in the Proposition 8 drama.
Ever since I heard that supporters of Proposition 8 had filed suit to invalidate all the gay marriages that have taken place in California, I've been trying to wrap my mind around the fact that someone, somewhere had to actually initiate this process. That means that someone, somewhere must have decided that the best use of his or her time was not to perform some act of kindness or generosity, not to stand up for justice or to comfort the afflicted, not even to try to turn a profit, but to decide to get together a lawsuit in order to break thousands of people's marriages apart.

Yes on 8, the group that originally put Proposition 8 on the California ballot, have brought in Kenneth Starr to argue their case. Starr, you will recall, was the Independent Counsel hired to look into the Clintons' Whitewater land deals who, unable to find any wrongdoing there, expanded his probe to look at Bill Clinton's sex life. During that brouhaha, Starr was accused of pressuring witnesses to purger themselves and later investigated for leaking grand jury testimonies. Starr became a hero to the right and was rewarded with a chair at the Pepperdine University School of Law paid for by Richard Mellon Scaife. This, no doubt, will maintain his standing among movement conservatives of the extreme right.

Most American laws a not retroactive. To be so is considered a threat to the concept of of basic contract law, the ability of people to make binding agreements. More importantly, in this case, their effort to void 18,000 legal marriages is a dangerous intrusion into people's private lives. The right to privacy is something conservative legal theorists have argued against for decades, and it is a right that is already endangered by eavesdropping, sneak-and-peek warrants, and other actions that the Bush administration have committed under the guise of a war against terror.

The goal of this new effort in California is breathtakingly vindictive and mean-spirited. Starr and the religious right want the courts to invade the lives of 18,000 couples and break up their marriages. It's not enough merely to insult these people by telling them their marriages are something wicked that should never have been allowed to happen, Yes on 8's backers want to use the power of the state to hurt 36,000 people that they have never met. It's a common conceit among the religious right that they "hate the sin, not the sinner." It's an important bit of rationalization for them as it is the only way they can square Jesus' message of love and forgiveness with their own deeply felt prejudices. This bit of viciousness puts the lie to that claim.

People voted for Proposition 8 for a variety of reasons. Many believed the lies that trusted authority figures like Rick Warren told them. Many were motivated more by fear and confusion than by full-throated hatred. But anyone who supports Starr's move is no better than that arch-hater Fred Phelps and his gang of thugs. This is causing pain for its own sake and nothing more.

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