ACLU/SC Urges Los Angeles County to Join Effort To Overturn Prop. 8

November 12, 2008 12:00 am

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Catherine Lhamon, the Racial Justice Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, today urged the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to file suit or join an existing lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8. Here is her statement:

Good morning. I am Catherine Lhamon, Racial Justice Director of the ACLU of Southern California. I urge this board to file suit or join an existing suit to challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 8.

The very title of Proposition 8 states its constitutional defect. Its title is, “Eliminates the Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry.” Proposition 8 takes away what our constitution guarantees as a fundamental right. It works a breathtaking diminution of the value of our constitution itself: by allowing voters to completely revise core constitutional principles, Proposition 8 sets a dangerous precedent that all our constitutional protections – the right to free speech, the right to equal protection of the law, and others – exist only for so long as majorities vote yes on them. If it stands, it will suggest that any fundamental rights can be revoked on a bare majority vote, regardless of what our constitution otherwise guarantees.

Our system of checks and balances does not give the voting majority the right to write out of the constitution those core principles enshrined in it. Our system of checks and balances is based on the principle that the constitution sets the baseline for all our most fundamental rights, and a simple majority of voters cannot take those away. Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and will be overturned in court; this county should be on the right side of history, saying that we will not be part of official discrimination.

As much as I am professionally interested, as Racial Justice Director of the ACLU of Southern California, in ensuring equal opportunity for all people, this issue is also deeply personal for me. My parents married in Washington, D.C., rather than in Virginia, where my mother was raised, because in 1966 Virginia still outlawed interracial marriage. My mother, who is black, could not at that time marry my father, who is white, in her home state. The United States Supreme Court outlawed race-based marriage restrictions the following year in Loving v. Virginia. I was raised in the shadow of Supreme Court decisions like Loving, and like Brown, that held that equal protection applies to all persons, and that promised a new day of meaningful opportunity for people like me. If an electorate can, through the tyranny of the majority vote, wipe away such fundamental constitutional protections as the right to equal protection for all persons, then we as a state are returning to the bad old days of institutionalized discrimination that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I urge this board to do what is right and to work, through a lawsuit, to protect all Californians.

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