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Proposition 8 and Religious Freedom in Northern Orange County

Posted: 11/03/08 07:57 PM ET

Los Angelinos won't naturally see the corner of Imperial Highway and Yorba Linda Boulevard in Northern Orange County, if they can conceive of where it is, as a mirror of social change. But every night last week dozens of people were demonstrating on both sides of Proposition 8, the attempt to roll back the California Supreme Court's decision in May to end the state ban on same-sex marriages.

The marching formed a revealing pattern. Late in the afternoon a group of middle-agers (with a few kids) would start waving "Yes" signs only to be equaled in number by young people waving "No on 8" signs, some handmade, by dusk.

Both sides believed they were standing up for the best traditions of this country. Some of the "Yes on 8" signs made the argument that voting against this civil right was a vote for "freedom of religion" and "free speech." Meanwhile, on Tuesday and Wednesday at least, I noticed that the only demonstrators carrying an American flag were those with "No on 8" signs.

American history, logic and justice are on the "No" side.

The "Yes on 8" forces are trying to win by confusing people about what this proposition means. Freedom of religion or free speech is not at stake. Our governments -- local, state and the federal government -- regularly license activities by consenting adults that some religious groups find incompatible with their beliefs. But do the existence of state liquor licenses imply a curb on the freedom of religion of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? And what about the Food and Drug Administration's monitoring of pork products? Is this, in any way, an attempt by government to hamper the religious practices of Orthodox Jews or Muslims? No, of course not. Our earliest founders were Puritans who had experienced discrimination because their beliefs and practices differed from those of the Established Church in England. As a result, from the Mayflower through the formation of the United States, our civic leaders sought to create a society where individuals were free to practice whatever religion they chose and where government would remain neutral on religious preferences.

The "No on 8" kids carrying the US flag had it right because Proposition 8 would do what this country was set up not to do: to use government (state government, in this case) to take sides in a religious debate.

In its decision, the Supreme Court of California did not mandate that churches perform same-sex religious ceremonies or that same-sex marriages be discussed in schools. It is left to churches and school boards to make those decisions.

Voting "Yes," on the other hand, would place a clause in the California state constitution that would discriminate against gays and lesbians. It would send a message that as a matter of principle same-sex marriages were illegitimate. One handmade "No on 8" sign in Yorba Linda pointedly reminded passing motorists that some of the same arguments used by the "Yes" side were once trotted out to outlaw interracial marriages. Indeed, until the Supreme Court of California's decision in Perez v. Sharp in 1948, interracial couples did not share the constitutional "right to marry" in California.

Somehow gays and lesbians forming enduring, loving couples is a threat to traditional families. It boggles the mind why American society would have an interest in promoting promiscuity and a sense of exclusion in our community. We are your friends and neighbors. The "No on 8" kids marching in Yorba Linda get that. The fate of this issue is still too close to call. But if "Yes" should eke out a victory tomorrow, it is only a matter of a few years before this blot on the California constitution is repealed. Let's hope that we don't have to wait more than a matter of hours for Proposition 8 to be consigned to the ash heap of bad political ideas.