California’s recently passed Proposition Eight — defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman — has been a highly controversial topic, challenged on the basis of discrimination among other things. Yet little has been said about Prop 8’s disregard for biology.
What is a “man” and what is a “woman” is not always clear. There are numerous examples of such blurring the lines – many will recall the protagonist of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Middlesex whose body “switched” genders at puberty due to an enzyme deficiency preventing the conversion of testosterone. There are many other instances in which individuals with a clear physiological gender nonetheless psychologically feel that their gender identity does not match the body in which they were born.
And so we have a problem: Proposition 8 states that marriage is a “union between a man and a woman” but we have no adequate definition of “man” and “woman.” Will courts make a decision on a case-by-case basis? Will there have to be a panel of scientists to render an opinion? Or should we let each individual choose his or her own gender?
All of these are options, but it would be useful if an independent panel—or perhaps the authors of Prop 8 themselves—had addressed these issues before the measure was brought before the voters.
The California proposition system is a wonderful exercise in democracy. But we need to have some sort of oversight in place to prevent an emotional and vigorous fight over a pronouncement that is not true-to-life in the first place.