Love, California Style

Marriage returned to the two-parent union of a 1950s sitcom on Tuesday as the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the legal challenge to Proposition 8, the California-voter-approved measure that banned same-sex marriage in 2008. Urging the court to overturn Prop. 8, attorney Ted Olson argued that the law stigmatized same-sex couples by consigning them to a status that labels “their most cherished relationships as second-rate, different, unequal and not OK.”

It’s a complete turnaround for California, the state that pioneered dismissing marriage as a meaningless legality. In 1976, the California Supreme Court recognized the notion of “palimony” contracts between unmarried adults in its Marvin vs. Marvin decision. Actress Susan Sarandon summed up Hollywood’s attitude about marriage in the ’70s when she told Cosmopolitan, “I believe in love and trust and commitment, but not in marriage. Marriage may do something for lawyers and mothers, but not for husbands and wives.”

Hollywood once strewed rose petals before famous unmarried couples — from Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. After eight years of cohabitation and six kids, Jolie and Pitt are about to — or just did — tie the knot. (Rumors abound.) Marriage is making a comeback in the Golden State.

Back to the ’50s: U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli told the court that it should overturn Prop. 8 because same-sex couples are raising 37,000 kids in California. “Their parents cannot marry, and that has effects on (those children) now. When they go to school, they have to, you know — they don’t have parents like everyone else’s parents.” On CNN, California Attorney General Kamala Harris made a similar point (with higher numbers) when she said, “We have 50,000 children in California asking, ‘Why can’t our parents be married, too?’.”

I wish Harris and other California politicians felt free to ask that rhetorical question on behalf of the 34 percent of California children who, according to Kids Count, live in single-parent households.

I don’t say that to denigrate single mothers who shoulder the parenting load alone. I say it to challenge the notion that having children outside of marriage is just another lifestyle choice. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently launched an ad campaign to discourage teen pregnancy. For his troubles, Planned Parenthood of New York City Vice President Haydee Morales charged that that the campaign “creates stigma, hostility and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy and parenthood.”

It’s an interesting juxtaposition: Some on the left are clobbering Bloomberg for making the same argument about teen heterosexuals that attorneys are using to bolster a state law against same-sex marriage.

“I’ve been trying to tell cultural conservatives, gay marriage is a socially conservative movement,” Jonathan Rauch, a gay man who is a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, told me. “These are hundreds of thousands of Americans embracing family values.”

The gay community, Rauch continued, has “given up the liberationist values to make up the rules and have tons of sex.” After the AIDS crisis, “we came out of the ’80s and early ’90s realizing that family is not something that you do to tie yourself down and not have fun. Family is what you need.”

Email Debra J. Saunders at: [email protected].

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