Sunday, November 16, 2008

Juxtaposing Props 8 and 2

Yesterday I briefly spoke at the Ithaca version of one of numerous rallies nationwide to protest California's passage of Prop 8. I began my remarks by questioning the judgment of the rally organizers in inviting an egghead law professor, rather than a firebrand, to lead off the ceremonies, and then offered a bit of encouragement and a bit of strategic advice. On the encouragement side, I noted that less than 6 years ago, there were states in the U.S. where consenting adult same-sex couples could be sent to prison for having sex. The progress made since then is very real. Many mainstream conservatives now favor domestic partnerships that afford all the legal benefits of marriage.

With respect to strategy, I made some remarks that followed up on my recent post about how to think strategically about winning recognition for full equal rights to marry for same-sex couples. In a nutshell, I said that while backlash from proceeding "too quickly" is always possible--as illustrated by Prop 8 itself--these things are hard to predict, and that because the opponents of equality tend not to worry about backlash, perhaps the right approach is to fight fire with fire. I also urged a strategy in which litigation is only a piece, one tied to a movement to pressure politicians and to win over opponents of same-sex marriage.

Here I want to say a few words about the juxtaposition of California's passage of both Prop 8 and Prop 2. The latter will require (when it finally goes into effect in 2015) that farm animals be given enough room to stand up, turn around, and stretch their limbs. Some commentators have suggested that by passing both 8 and 2, Californians sent the message that they care more about farm animals than they care about their LGBT fellow citizens. Although I strongly disagree with Prop 8, this claim is unsupportable. Any person who detained another person (gay, straight or other) under the conditions that Prop 2 allows for the confinement non-human farm animals would be guilty of violating the 13th Amendment and, if following through in the way of said farm animals, murder. Prop 8 does relegate LGBT Californians to the status of second-class citizens, and that is shameful. But farm animals, even after Prop 2, have the legal status of mere things.

There is, it seems to me, a deeper parallel between Props 8 and 2. Both underscore the need for better efforts to change hearts and minds. As I noted in an earlier post, it is possible that same-sex marriage could be restored in California by the state Supreme Court on the ground that Prop 8 was an amendment when it should have been a "revision." Although I think this result not likely, even if it does occur, and even if, as a result, same-sex marriage remains legal in California, until the federal Defense of Marriage Act is repealed and the federal government along with all states recognize same-sex marriage, second-class citizenship will remain. To bring about the change we need on this front will require a strategy aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the sorts of voters who have opposed same-sex marriage.

Likewise with Prop 2. Were I a Californian, I would have voted yes on Prop 2, though with the greatest reluctance. The measure will not go into effect for years, it makes only the most modest changes in the most horrific farming practices, and it could actually be counter-productive, as it will provide false assurance to Californians who might otherwise reduce or cease their consumption of animal products that they are not complicit in cruelty. I nonetheless would have voted yes because defeat of Prop 2 would have been read as a complete rejection of the cause of taking seriously the interests of non-human animals.

That said, I think it was a misallocation of resources for organizations like Farm Sanctuary -- which in its own educational efforts correctly points out that even so-called humane farming practices inflict great suffering on non-human animals. In the view of FS,
California’s passage of Prop 2 has monumental implications for farm animals and is likely to ignite a spark around the country. It has also helped raise the consciousness of millions of people nationwide to the plight of farm animals and helped tear down the veil of deception that the factory farming industry has used for so long to shield consumers from the truth of their cruelties.
Well, I hope that's right, but I have my doubts. I would rather have seen the money that the Humane Society, FS, and other groups spent on Prop 2 devoted to making people aware of the possibility of eating healthy and delicious vegan food (as per this cookbook, say, or this restaurant), and making common cause with environmentalists who know that the production of animal protein for human consumption is a large contributor to global warming.

Finally, one last thought about Prop 8 and Prop 2. I haven't seen any comprehensive data on the subject, but my own experience as a vegan suggests that members of the LGBT community are over-represented in the animal rights movement. Although the demographics of Prop 8 supporters belie any easy assumption that oppressed groups inevitably feel solidarity for one another, to be an out lesbian, gay, bi, or transsexual American is to be willing to stand up to social pressure, and there are few social pressures greater than the ones that say that it is perfectly natural to exploit non-human animals, that eating and wearing animal products is not even a choice, much less a moral choice.

Posted by Mike Dorf