Sunday, February 15, 2009

California (XXXIV) Congresswoman Diane Watson

Because the representative of California's 32nd district, Congresswoman Hilda Solis, Democrat, is departing the House to join President Obama's cabinet as his Labor Secretary, today I continue with Congresswoman Diane E. Watson, Democrat, representative of California's 33rd Congressional District:

Dear Congresswoman Watson,

I write to you as a concerned citizen to solicit your support for a Marriage Equality Amendment to the U.S. constitution, one that would recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry throughout the Union. As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, you have been a strong advocate for civil rights in the House. For that reason it was vey distressing for me to hear these remarks you made at a CBC Panel Forum held at Williams College on November 17 of last year:

Question: The panelists have been discussing about how they believe in the humanity of the American people, how then do we accept the crushing blow that was dealt to the gay rights movement [on November 4, 2008]?

Congresswoman Watson: I come from California. Proposition 8 was on the ballot, and Proposition 8 would be a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. As you know, it was a highly contentious battle, and put on the ballot by a group of people who felt that their moral and religious beliefs were offended by the decisions of the [California] Supreme Court some time ago. I believe in civil rights, but I don't think you can equate the battle of the sixties, the battles for civil rights, with the battle for the rights of homosexuals to marry. That's one of the things that I think get confused in this election. But I believe that people who believe certain ways ought to keep trying to convince others that what they are proposing is fair and just. The battle goes on.

I am very disappointed by the attitude you express here, Congresswoman. The battle for marriage equality is indubitably a civil rights struggle. Your sensitivity to the "moral and religious beliefs" of the proponents of Proposition 8 is all well and good, but with respect to the legal dimensions of marriage we must keep in mind that we are discussing a civil, not a religious institution. Surely if someone attempted to amend the constitution to prevent Jews or Muslims from marrying you would not deny that this was an assault on those citizens' civil rights, despite the fact that one's identity as a Jew or Muslim is more a matter of personal choice than one's race. Conversely, interracial marriage was once banned in many states on the basis of certain "moral and religious beliefs," albeit ones that you and I would no doubt find reprehensible. In Loving v. Virginia the Supreme Court wisely found that such "moral and religious beliefs," no matter how widely or passionately held, were not a fair basis upon which to exclude two consenting adults from the institution of marriage. The same principle holds true today with regard to the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The struggle of the Lovings in 1967 and that of same-sex couples today are all part of the same battle for marriage equality, as Mildred Loving herself declared before her passing in 2007:

"Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights."

Exclusion from the civil marriage bond has real and dire consequences for those against whom such discrimination is targeted. The Government Accountability Office lists 1, 138 benefits, privileges and protections that flow to a couple under federal law from married status. Lacking those protections couples are vulnerable to many forms of economic and social harm. Even more unfortunate and unjust is the plight of the thousands of children in the care of same-sex couples, who are unfairly deprived of the protections and security that most children enjoy from the legal sanction of their guardians' union.

To those of us who understand the urgency of the fight for marriage equality, Proposition 8 was a tragedy of monumental proportions, a low point in the proud history of our Republic. The amendment of a basic law to strip citizens of rights that have been legally recognized rebelled against the founding spirit of our democracy. The surest way to safeguard the rights of marriage equality for all Americans would be to amend the U.S. Constitution to read: "The right to marry shall not be abridged or denied by the United States or any state on account of sex or sexual orientation." Until such a reform is enacted, all Americans will be vulnerable to illiberal assaults like that of Proposition 8. Today the "moral and religious beliefs" of a particular group deprived same-sex couples of their rights. Whose rights will next be denied due to such views?

I hope that I have helped persuade you that the change I and others propose is "fair and just," Congresswoman. You speak with a moral authority earned by principled service to our nation, please consider lending it to this endeavor. I thank you for your service and for your attention on this matter. Please accept my best wishes for the success of the 111th Congress.


Andrew Meyer

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