The California Supreme Court has sustained the violation of freedom of conscience by upholding Proposition 8. Not terribly surprising, really. It seemed to me that the grounds on which Prop 8 was being challenged (that the proposition had not been properly pursued) was a dubious one; I wonder if the more promising route would be to challenge it as a violation of Constitutionally protected freedom of religion. Then again, I’m no lawyer, nor can I claim to know the minutia of the case.
A number of my conservative associates have proclaimed this a triumph of traditional values over “social engineering.” The term “social engineering” has long been a boogieman in the lexicon of conservatives. Ironically, while social engineering is indeed at the root of Proposition 8 and other marriage-restriction laws, these conservatives are holding the wrong end of the stick this time.
Any use of government incentive or favor to influence social norms and behavior qualifies as social engineering (any law could technically be considered an attempt to influence social behavior, but I think all sides would agree that laws specifically designed to protect property rights or to restrict violence do not qualify as social engineering). Conservatives are absolutely right that legislation to encourage liberal social change, such as legislation to promote racial integration or provide more opportunities for racial and gender equality, are examples of social engineering. What they pointedly ignore is that legislation to encourage and strengthen traditional social patterns are no less examples of social engineering. Thus homosexual marriage bans—laws designed to use government incentive and controls to restrain a change in social norms which is occurring in some segments of society—are also social engineering. Likewise, government policies implemented to use government incentives to restrain the rising tide of divorce are also social engineering.
In other words, conservatives who endorse homosexual marriage bans do not in truth oppose social engineering, but rather only liberal ends to which social engineering might be employed. They are perfectly willing to pursue social engineering when it suits their ends. If they don’t approve of social engineering on principle, they should stop trying to engineer homosexuals and freedom of conscience out of existence.