Friday, November 14, 2008

Historical note on legislating discrimination in California

Back in 1964, California voters pondered a constitutional amendment. After long debate, the legislature in Sacramento had approved a measure the previous year to outlaw discrimination by race or creed in housing sales and rentals. Governor Pat Brown had signed the law. Residential segregation was now illegal.

The California Real Estate Association quickly gathered up signatures to repeal "open housing" -- their measure became Proposition 14.

In 1964, like most of the country, Californians repudiated right wing Republican Barry Goldwater in the Presidential election. On the same ballot, voters passed Proposition 14 with a 65 percent share. They liked their "right to segregate" and wanted to keep it.

Despite the will of the voters, Proposition 14 did not stand. Very practically, the feds cut off all housing funds for California. And eventually the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the measure violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing equal protection of the law to all citizens.

The argument over Prop. 8 is an argument over whether gay people will have full, equal citizenship -- or the constrained, half-baked citizenship that some religious traditions would confine us to.

Kermit Roosevelt, in the Christian Science Monitor, takes a very lucid look at the legal context in which lawsuits against Prop. 8 are now being pursued. He argues that in U.S. experience, expansions of rights to new classes of persons have always begun facing majority opposition -- that is why successive struggles to assert full human rights have been necessary. If the persons asserting equality can whittle away at the majority against them enough to make their asserted right more "controversial" than "unthinkable" -- but still not yet universally accepted -- courts step in to protect what has functionally become a recognized minority. As this point, a majority could still repudiate the minority's rights by a majority vote -- but at the federal level, U.S. Constitution makes it very cumbersome to do that. (Note, there is no federal anti-gay marriage amendment.) The lawsuits argue that the California Constitution doesn't allow this either, requiring not the ballot measure procedure we've just witnessed, but the much harder "revision" procedure to take away rights. We'll see.

Do read the complete Roosevelt article -- it makes some basic issues extremely clear. H/t to Rev. Susan Russell for the reference.


Michael Ejercito said...

If defining marriage as between a man and a woman is discrimination, then almost every marriage law in American history was discrimination.

Anonymous said...

If defining enslaved people as 3/5 of a person was discrimination, then the founding document of the United States, the Constitution, codified discrimination.

Oh, wait. It did.

Times change. People expand their definition of humanity. This is a good thing.

Darlene said...

Sometimes bigoted people have to be led kicking and screaming into doing the right thing. I hope there is a legal remedy to end that horrible proposition 8 law and that it will soon be overturned.

The basic tenet of our country was to state that "all men are created equal and they are endowed by their creators to the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". (I hope I got the wording right - memory so often fails me now.)

naomi dagen bloom said...

jan, this morning's ny times has a front page article on the money/effort from the mormon church that made the difference about prop 8.

then there is the opposition to abortion by the same group...and the catholic church. this is hard for me, as i struggle with how those of us who would never attack these two religious groups are ourselves under attack from them.

in the organized women's movement the issues of choice and gay rights were always entwined. i feel we need new ways of conceptualizing our enemy. there! i said it.

janinsanfran said...

Naomi -- what you write is exactly the complex set of issues I am warming up to try to untangle for myself in a blog post soon.

I've conceptualized the question: will the issue of same-gender marriage end up being more like overcoming segregation in public accommodation or like abortions and choice? I want to think hard about that -- and about what we can do to make it more like the former than the latter.

By the way, the NYT article you cite suggests the Mormons got into Prop. 8 at the request of the Roman Catholic authorities in San Francisco. Not surprising as the RC Church here has been under papal pressure to hold back reality ... but very sad.

Unknown said...

Did you get your information from Wikipidia? If so you might have noticed that it has NOT been cited. Where did you get the information about the Fed cutting housing funds to California?