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Executive Summary #2328 on Family and Marriage

October 22, 2009

Executive Summary: The Price of Prop 8

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Support for Proposition 8, the democratically established marriage amendment in California, has come with a heavy price for many individuals and institutions that think that marriage should remain the union of husband and wife. Publicly available sources, including evidence submitted in a federal lawsuit in California, show that expressions of sup­port for Prop 8 have generated a range of hostilities and harms that include harassment, intimidation, vandalism, racial scapegoating, blacklisting, loss of employment, economic hardships, angry protests, violence, at least one death threat, and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry. Because the issue of marriage is still very much alive in Califor­nia and throughout the nation, the naked animus manifested against people and groups that sup­ported Prop 8 raises serious questions that should concern anyone interested in promoting civil society, democratic processes, and reasoned dis­course on important matters of public policy, such as marriage.

Although many same-sex marriage activists have condemned certain types of hostilities described in this paper and certain hostile acts have been com­mitted at random or were illegal, the fact remains that many Prop 8 supporters have paid a consider­able price for defending marriage as the union of husband and wife. Indeed, no matter who is to blame for the hostility surrounding Prop 8, one les­son of Prop 8 cannot be denied: Individuals and institutions that publicly defend marriage as the union of husband and wife risk intimidation, harassment, and reprisal--at least some of it tar­geted and coordinated.

Furthermore, although some same-sex marriage activists have expressed disagreement with certain types of conduct described in this paper, few activ­ists would disavow the ideology underlying much of the outrage surrounding Prop 8 and other efforts to defend marriage. Arguments for same-sex mar­riage, although often couched in terms of tolerance and inclusion, are based fundamentally on the idea that limiting marriage to the union of husband and wife is a form of bigotry, irrational prejudice, and even hatred against homosexual persons who want the state to license their relationships. As this ideol­ogy seeps into the culture, belief in marriage as the union of husband and wife will likely come to be viewed as an unacceptable form of discrimination that should be purged from society through legal, cultural, and economic pressure.

When people stand firmly by their beliefs about marriage as the union of husband and wife despite facing social stigmatization, economic hardship, and other reprisals, they provide an important example of civic courage and inspire particular vir­tues that are essential to the proper functioning of any free and open society. The freedom of parties on both sides of the marriage debate to voice their views and to promote them in public policy should be respected.

Thomas M. Messner is a Visiting Fellow in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.

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