David Benkof: Even marriage defenders should reject Proposition 8
Immediately after the California Supreme Court imposed same-sex marriage, I became a vocal opponent of that decision. In two months, I wrote opinion pieces in nearly 50 newspapers calling for a firm man-woman definition of marriage. But to my surprise, I then found myself reversing my initial support for Proposition 8 after learning of the offensive arguments — and especially the tolerance for anti-Semitism — on the part of mainstream, major backers of the ballot measure.
The first line of argument by supporters of the California Marriage Protection Act to make me seriously uncomfortable was included in an earlier version of the campaign's ProtectMarriage.com Web site. It mocked gay "families" — in quotes. No matter what one thinks of same-sex nuptials, to go out of one's way to argue that two lesbians and their baby aren't really a family is mean-spirited, pointless, and counterproductive in a diverse state like California.
As of this writing, Proposition 8's Web site links to only two similarly supportive Web sites, and one of them, iProtectMarriage.com, should be ashamed of itself. Two examples of that site's appalling arguments:
• It points to high rates of HIV in the gay community — "53 percent of new HIV infections in 2006 occurred in gay or bisexual men" — as if that affects whether same-sex marriage is a good idea or not. The rates of HIV among lesbians tend to be lower than those of heterosexuals - should we therefore restrict marriage to lesbians only?
• The Web site says "Rejecting the traditional definition of marriage (as between a man and woman) means it's open to whatever anyone thinks it is, and that includes extreme stuff like polygamy, man-boy love, and multiple partners." Raising the topic of pedophilia is an age-old way of scaring people away from any gay-related matter. But nobody - not even the kooks - has been advocating that men should be allowed to "marry" boys. This argument is raised only to instill fear in the populace — and it has no business in the marriage debate.
Again, I'm not supporting same-sex marriage; I just think there are mature, thoughtful ways to argue for man-woman marriage, and Proposition 8's supporters have been going way over the line.
Even worse, Proposition 8 has stubbornly defended and supported the anti-Semitism of some of its allies. The dictionary defines anti-Semitism as discrimination or prejudice against Jews, and by that definition, Prop. 8's legal counsel is anti-Semitic. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) refuses to hire Jews, Mormons, or even Christians who don't think Jews are going to Hell to work as lawyers, or even secretaries. (I'm not making this up - they actually boast of their discrimination at the "Employment" page of alliancedefensefund.org.) ADF even has the chutzpah to describe itself as a "Best Christian Workplace." Surely, California wouldn't tolerate a major ballot initiative with a law firm that calls itself a "Best White Workplace." Why is this any different?
Of course I honor religious organizations that choose only coreligionists as clergy and Sunday school teachers. But what is it about Jews (and Mormons, and others) that disqualifies them from typing up legal briefs and using the fax machine to help ADF?
Frank Schubert, the initiative's co-campaign manager, refused my suggestion that the campaign instead pick one of the many conservative law firms that does hire Jews by saying ADF was working pro bono — like that matters - and further that they were "not a firm, they are a ministry." Strange, ADF is listed at Schubert's Web site under endorsing organizations, not on the ministries page. In any event, calling itself a ministry may help ADF get around America's nondiscrimination laws, but that doesn't mean a fair-minded campaign in the state of California has to engage them.
Ah, but that's the problem. Proposition 8 is not a fair-minded campaign. As much as I'd like to see the man-woman definition of marriage restored in every state, Proposition 8 needs to be rejected so future such campaigns will not make the same narrow, bigoted mistakes.
David Benkof's opinion pieces have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the New York Post, and many other publications. He can be reached at DavidBenkof@aol.com.