November 15, 2008

Ground Zero in California's Cultural War

Today the news from California is all about The Fires! The Fires!, but there's something much larger, akin to a major earthquake, a massive fire, and a giant gathering snowball all put together, taking place here. Many Californians are taking to the streets and organizing boycotts to protest the recent passage of Proposition (Prop) 8, a statewide ballot initiative which changed California's Constitution by taking away the right of same-sex couples to marry. The scope of the fight over Prop 8 could well approach that of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, and could dwarf anything most bloggers have seen in their lifetimes.

I want to focus on what I consider Ground Zero in the Prop 8 war, a historic restaurant in Los Angeles called the El Coyote Mexican Cafe. One of the El Coyote's managers and part owners, Marjorie Christoffersen, is a Mormon. Her Mormon Church was massively involved in the campaign to pass Prop 8, providing millions of dollars to the Yes on Prop 8 folks and asking the members of its congregation to do the same. So Marjorie answered her church's call and donated $100 to the anti-gay marriage cause.

When word got out about Marjorie's contribution, all hell broke loose. Protesters have been picketing and boycotting El Coyote. They even went to the Yelp restaurant review site and have been giving El Coyote the lowest rating of one star. Local blogs are on fire. It got so bad that Marjorie had to host an open breakfast with the community, where she tearfully, yet unsuccessfully, tried to explain herself. Then Marjorie caved and made an offsetting contribution to the anti-Prop 8 effort. Apparently, Marjorie has left town and is having a breakdown somewhere. But it may be too late for the El Coyote. Unless people flock to the El Coyote in support of Marjorie or Prop 8, the El Coyote could suffer permanent damage to its business.

My thoughts about California's Prop 8 cultural war are the following:

1. As a history major, I learned that "revolutions of rising expectations," which occur when the government takes away a right that people already have, can be much more powerful than when the fight is over whether to grant a new right in the first place. That's part of what is fueling the battle over Prop 8 in California.

2. How pathetic is it that churchgoers like Marjorie lose their minds when their church asks or tells them to do something? How awful is it that churches are pressuring their congregations to give money for political causes, especially when some members are then caught between their conscience and their church? For that matter, why are churches involving themselves so heavily in political matters? What happened to America's separation of church and state? Hasn't the Mormon Church just disqualified itself for tax-exempt status?

3. While protests and boycotts can be very effective tools, and while I'd be plenty upset if I found out that the money I spent at a business establishment was used in a campaign to take away my rights, it's important to pick one's battles and choose one's targets wisely. I don't get the protesters' obsession with El Coyote, given Marjorie's modest $100 contribution involved there. Other individuals and businesses donated hundreds and thousands of times this amount to Yes on Prop 8.

4. Would state-sanctioned civil unions for same-sex couples, with the same rights as a marriage (inherit money, jointly own property, hospital visitation, insurance benefits, etc.), but without the label "marriage," be a compromise that everyone could live with? I suppose that, if I wanted to marry someone and was told that I could not do so for whatever reason, I'd be incensed, and might find the offer of civil unions to be half a loaf. I might just fight for it all.

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At 8:52 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

I hope it doesn't take half a century for this battle to be won. Freedom of marriage should be right up there with freedom of speech. Let Mormons and gays and lesbians marry whomever they wish.

I'm sorry for Marjorie too, but things done in the name of religion are often a little frightening.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

I'm only half sorry for Marjorie. If she loves the gay so much, as she kept saying at the breakfast, why did she stab them in the back by making the donation? Because her church told her to? Weren't we taught as kids to think for ourselves, and whenever we tried to say we did something because someone else told us to, wasn't the response always, "if they told you to jump off the bridge, would you have done that too?" Isn't the Nuremburg defense, "I was just following orders," totally discredited? Don't we have troops stationed around the world supposedly "fighting for our freedom"? Ok, I'll stop now, you get the idea.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

What is it with churches telling people what to do? I just read an article in the paper today about some fundamentalist church where the minister told the parents of a 16-year-old to throw their son out of the house or be excommunicated. AND THEY DID! This guy (the pastor) sounds like a real sicko to me.

At 12:06 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

I should also mention that, as reported today by CNN, rallies against Prop 8 and for marriage rights for gays took place in some 300 U.S. cities this past weekend. Almost none of those cities or their states even had this issue on the ballot on Election Day. I think that's astounding.


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