ALISON STEWART, Host:
And one more email before we wrap up the Michelle Obama discussion. We want to tip a hat, we should say to a stay-at-home dad named Dave in Winston, Salem. He's home with two daughters. He wrote to us. Michelle Obama especially has my utmost respect and really awe. She is so smart, so humble, so funny and I am defying(ph) here. But I am so proud to point out to her and to suggest to my daughters that they live in a historic time, that nothing is beyond their achievement. I try not to share your quote, the hard truth, of growing up female in a male-dominated society and my wife and I hope we instill respect for all races in our household but simply be able to say, Michelle Obama, there she is. Dave, thank you so much for writing in to us.
Now, weeks after the election and one of the most passionate issues is still gathering heat. That would be Proposition 8, a California state ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage. The proposition passed and is heading to the California Supreme Court for review. Los Angeles Times' columnist Tim Rutten has been following the reaction on both sides of the issue. He wrote a column this past weekend titled, "Both Sides In The Same-Sex Marriage Controversy Need To Cool Down." Tim Rutten joins us now from the Marketplace studio in L.A. Welcome, Tim.
TIM RUTTEN: Glad to be here, Alison.
STEWART: So, Tim, what brought you to write this column?
RUTTEN: Aside from my deadline, it's a fact. No, it's an issue that I followed with some interest as somebody who writes about Los Angeles and California politics, and it was certainly the most hotly contested of all the social issues this time around, and clearly, it's still a matter of great contention. It's a matter in which Californians like Americans as a whole - are very closely divided these days.
STEWART: So why don't you think the vote was the end of it, the end of the discussion?
RUTTEN: Well, because neither side can stand down from this without ceasing to be, in some fundamental way, themselves. And those are the kinds of issues in our pluralistic democracy that never go away. Abortion is an issue like that for many people. And in this case, the people who were most passionately for the proposition - remember the proposition was itself intended to overturn an earlier ruling by the California Supreme Court that gays and lesbians enjoyed the same rights under the equal protection clause of our state Constitution to marry as heterosexual couples. This proposition wrote into the state constitution a provision that marriage could only occur between heterosexual couples.
So a yes vote meant you were against gay marriage, essentially. And the primary backers of the measure were religious groups. The Catholic Church, principally through the Knights of Columbus, the Mormon Church and a series of evangelical mega-churches mainly centered in Southern California. On the other side of the issue, you had, you know large numbers obviously of gay and lesbian people, but also a lot of younger voters who see this as a civil rights issue.
STEWART: Now, you obviously thought there was a need to tell people to cool down. What kind of behavior have been going on and what kind of activities have been going on, that people need to cool down?
RUTTEN: Well, the two things cited in the column were threats - this was remember, the column was written before the California Supreme Court had even agreed to hear challenges to the measure. On the one side, you had people who supported the proposition already setting themselves up, you know, in opposition to the courts even entertaining the issue and threatening the justices saying that if they voted to overturn the measure - and lots of state propositions here. This is the proposition capital of the known world, and lots of state propositions here are ultimately overturned by the courts. In this case, the pro-Prop 8 people were already saying if the court overturns this, we'll recall the justices.
And in California, that's not an idle threat because justices would come up every - in staggered batches. Justices of the Supreme Court come up for a reconfirmation by the voters as per a yes/no vote during every interval or so. And on the other side of the issue, you had a large number of mainly younger gay activists, who, following on the heels of the outing movement within the gay community, had decided that the way to proceed from here was to comb through the computerized databases of everyone, every individual who had contributed to the Yes on 8 campaign and to take - make economic reprisals against them.
So there were a couple cases already where people had lost their jobs because their employers didn't want to accept the heat from understandably angry gay people, but that's perilously close to a blacklist in my estimation. And so the column said that intimidating the court and trying to intimidate justices in advance is a bad idea and that going after individuals as opposed to organizations who may have supported this proposition is an equally bad idea.
STEWART: Before we go much further, I do want to make a pitch-out for callers - people who are listening in. We want to hear, especially from Californians, how are you seeing this issue play out? Do you agree there needs to be some cooling down or maybe not? Maybe you think this is the right way for activists to go. Our number here in Washington is 1-800-989-8255. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can join the conversation at the website. Go to npr.org and click on Talk of the Nation. And Tim, what are some examples of people who have lost their jobs or have had a difficulty financially as a result of activists targeting them for their vote on Prop. 8?
RUTTEN: Well, I cited in the column and two have been widely reported on here. In one instance, the director of a very popular musical theater company in Sacramento, California, was forced to resign because he had contributed, I think, a thousand dollars to the "Yes on 8" campaign. And here in Los Angeles, the manager of a popular Mexican restaurant in the Mid-Wilshire district which happens to have apparently a fairly substantial gay clientele was forced to apologize and actually has been absent from work since because she contributed a hundred dollars to the campaign. In both instances, these individuals also appear to have been or are, in fact, practicing Mormons, and of course, the Mormon Church had urged its members to become involved in the "Yes on 8" campaign.
STEWART: And now I understand that some businesses actually owned by Mormons have been targeted as part of a boycott by these activists.
RUTTEN: Yes. There's apparently one fellow who owns a number of franchise restaurants, and his franchise restaurants have been targeted. I think that there's an important distinction that probably ought to be made here.
RUTTEN: And that is that I think that it's one thing if an organization or a business as a business were to make a contribution to the Yes on 8 campaign, well, it seems to me it's made itself a legitimate target at least for protest. If, on the other hand, activists target individuals, the businesses that employ the individuals who happen to have given, then you're basically saying to that business, you know you have to fire this person to have my trade. And that's a very different sort of business and that's a very - something frankly perilously close to the way the Hollywood blacklists operated.
Something we have a very sad experience with in this community, and I think that it raises very disturbing questions about whether or not people ought to be held accountable for their exercise of free speech in the realm of politics in every other phase of their lives. Now, I understand completely the argument that this is on the part of people who support marriage equality in California, and I happen to be one of them by the way that this is a fundamental human right and that these sort of fine distinctions don't avail. I'm dubious about that.
STEWART: Let me get on the other side of this. I'm going to play devil's advocate a little bit.
STEWART: You know I was online earlier today, and it didn't take much Googling or putting into a search engine to find a list of donors, and it was on a website specifically to target people who donated to Yes on Prop 8 telling me I should not patronize this one storage company in San Diego because this man gave $693,000 to the cause. I had home addresses, emails, websites. Are activists just using the tools that they have available to them in 2008 in just an effective way?
RUTTEN: Well, it depends on what you think the limits of civility are. I'm not entirely sure what are guarantees of free speech and equal participation in the political process. And in our system, money and speech(ph) politically are interchangeable. It's not clear to me what those guarantees are worth if, in fact, people are then going to be targeted in their homes or at their place of employment for having expressed themselves. Now, this is a two-edged sword. And do we really want to get into a situation where the Yes on 8 people target everyone who gave to the opposition campaign? I mean that's a - I think it's a sobering prospect, and it further lowers not just the level of civility in our system, but it's, in some ways, a threat to the process itself.
STEWART: We're asking for you to call in to us. If you're especially from California, how have you seen the issue of the response to Prop 8 play out? Do you agree there needs to be some cooling down or not? Our number here in Washington is 1-800-989-8255. We're going to go to Joe in California. Hi, Joe.
STEWART: Hi, Joe. So what are your thoughts on this issue?
JOE: Well, I voted for Proposition 8. However, I do feel that the people who were against it are well within their rights to demonstrate even in front of churches or whatever they want to do. However, I do, like your guest, as I feel that there's a danger if we get into the area of taking out personal vendettas against people who voted against the way you want to vote, and I think that is crossing the line and there does need to be a cooling down.
STEWART: Joe from Chico, California. Thank you so much for calling. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. We're speaking with Tim Rutten, an LA Times columnist who wrote a column this past weekend, "Both Sides In The Same Sex Marriage Controversy Need To Cool Down." So Tim, I have to imagine you've had some reactions to your column.
RUTTEN: Oh, you might say. I think that by Saturday, I had somewhere north of 300 emails which is you know - that's a fairly substantial immediate response. Most of the emails, by the way, disagreed with the column from one pole or the other. And by the way, like your caller just a minute ago, the gentleman in Chico, the column did make the point that the argument against protests - and including in front of Mormon temples and Catholic cathedrals which have occurred and that's certainly well within the realm of things people are entitled to do and perhaps should do. But it did make the argument that - and I never used the phrase cool down. I don't think that people - that's the headline writer, and I don't write the headlines but the...
STEWART: Well, if that's somebody...
RUTTEN: I never used that phrase because I don't think if I were a gay or lesbian person in California today, I wouldn't cool down, I'd be angry.
STEWART: Tom in Colorado agrees with you. Hi, Tom.
TOM: Hey. This is Tom. I'm in Colorado. Thanks for taking my call.
TOM: I 100 percent agree. I would not cool down. I would continue the pressure. As far as the lady who runs the store who lost her job, good. She's taken our money for years. These people have come into our homes and attacked us, and I wouldn't cool down for a second.
STEWART: All right. Tom in Boulder, Colorado. Thank you so much. We have an email here from Sherry(ph) from California who writes, I'm a married lesbian in Northern California. I agree that the No on 8 movement needs a more positive strategy. I suggest we all go to the next Knights of Columbus pancake breakfast and get to know each other. In other words, let's build bridges instead of burning them. Have you seen people like Sherry? Have people like Sherry written in to you, Tim?
RUTTEN: A very small number. A very small number. Many of them obviously members of the gay and lesbian communities. But yes, there are people who say that and principally because the argument resonates with them that it's exactly protected speech and protected political expression that have made possible some of the very necessary strides in equal rights and equal protection for gay and lesbian people that we've seen over these last few years. It's been one of the great and welcomed developments in American society, and as I say, I think, into my mind, something that's absolutely necessary. But I think people ought not to deceive themselves that this was achieved except under these very protections.
STEWART: Tim Rutten is a columnist for the LA Times. He joined us from the Marketplace Studios in Los Angeles. Tim, thanks a lot.
RUTTEN: Glad to be with you.
STEWART: We do have a quick programming note. We need your help with our Thanksgiving Day show. If you remember the WPA State Guides of the '30s, they were legendary. The mantra - to describe America to Americans. Across the country, writers describe their states, the beauty of them, the words of it all. Now we want you to contribute to that tradition. Send us your description of your home state. Email us a short essay, about a hundred words. Tell us what makes your state special. It's humor or accents, peculiarities - if I could say that - maybe just that corner bar where everyone remembers your name. Email your essay to email@example.com and put state in the subject line. We might get a chance to read it on the air on Thanksgiving Day. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News.