Proposition 8 Defeats California

12/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We live in two states, Florida and California, that on Tuesday voted to write vulgar discrimination into their constitutions. In Florida, voters passed Amendment 2; that measure, with its Orwellian alias "The Marriage Protection Amendment," prevents homosexual people from entering any "legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof." In California, Proposition 8--"Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry" -- appears to have passed narrowly.

On a day when so many of us choked up reflecting on how far we've come, we also revealed how far we have to go.

Our constitutions were designed to protect our rights, not strip them away. Co-opting constitutions to deny rights to minorities is a grotesque perversion of the principles upon which this country was founded. As a nation, we've come to these conclusions before. In Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court swept aside decades of precedent and exploded the concept that separate could ever really be equal.

That was 54 years ago. How aggravating, then, to see the marriage bigots in California point to same-sex civil unions as an appropriate alternative to marriage. (Florida's amendment was worded so as to prevent even the possibility of civil unions.) How utterly revolting to hear ban supporters, like Revs. James Garlow of San Diego and Joel Hunter of Florida, crow about their "victory."

We could go on and on about how these amendments (as well as one in Arizona and an equally offensive statute approved in Arkansas) are wrong and unfair; how they are fundamentally un-American; how they devastate individual people with genuine human feelings. But we won't.

Instead, we'll point out just one of the ways in which the voters of these states -- especially California -- have just shot themselves in the foot. California is nearly broke. Its voters, in addition to voicing their opposition to the equal treatment of all citizens, have just approved a series of expensive projects, including a $45-billion high-speed railroad.

How does a state energize its economy, fix its budget shortfall, and pay for social services in the midst of a national and potentially global recession of uncertain duration? That's not entirely clear. But what does seem obvious is that you don't do it by alienating up to 10% of the best talent. No state should understand this better than California, which has built large parts of itself around the science and technology industries.

Let's say you're a hotshot programmer or biomedical researcher looking for a job or a good home base for your startup. Let's also say you happen to be homosexual. Do you pick the place that, while sunny, has just officially declared you a second-class citizen? Or do you move to another hotbed of scientific and technological activity, like Massachusetts or Connecticut, where you'll be allowed to marry the person you love? This kind of decision is being made by brilliant scientists and entrepreneurs all the time. Sorry, Genentech. You're welcome, Genzyme.

Senators Boxer and Feinstein, the mayors of San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, the state's major editorial pages, Pacific Gas and Electric, tech titans Google and Apple -- all opposed Proposition 8. Their opposition was rooted in the American ideal of liberty and justice for all, but it made practical sense, too. Call it a slow brain drain (brain leak?), call it a competitive disadvantage in recruitment, call it what you want. At the end of the day, bigotry is not just morally repugnant -- it's also bad business.