The phrase "on the wrong side of history" has been so overused that it has become a cliché, but that is precisely where the political right finds itself these days, as it has over much of the past 200 years.
Think about it. Virtually every significant advancement in human rights throughout history has faced opposition from conservatives, from freeing the slaves to giving women the vote, to the minimum wage, child labor laws, Social Security, Medicare, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act. The list goes on.
Add to that inglorious accounting the right of gays and lesbians to marry, which now is guaranteed at least in California by the action of the state Supreme Court last week in refusing to hear arguments in a lawsuit trying to revive Proposition 8.
The anti-gay marriage measure was approved by voters in 2008 but was effectively struck down in June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the initiative sponsors, a coalition of conservative and religious groups, had no legal standing to argue the issue in court.
Andrew Pugno, the coalition's spokesperson and chief counsel, said the state court's decision, which we can only hope will finally bring closure to this issue, "leaves grave doubts about the future of the initiative process in the state."
He went on to accuse politicians of disregarding the law, basing that statement presumably on the fact that the state's elected officials refused to defend Proposition 8 in court, and then strangely complained about the refusal of the courts "to get involved."
On the contrary, I'd say that the decision by a federal district court three years ago striking down Proposition 8, as well as the decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and the state Supreme Court, represented pretty strong statements of involvement.
There is nothing sacrosanct about the initiative process, especially when it is used, as it was in the case of gay marriage, to deny basic human rights to an entire group of people.
In 1964, voters approved a discriminatory housing initiative, Proposition 14, that subsequently was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court after then-Gov. Pat Brown refused to defend it on the grounds that it violated the rights of minorities.
Since then, there have been dozens and dozens of initiatives passed and virtually all are still on the books. No doubt there will be dozens more in the future.
The initiative process itself was not threatened after 1964, and it's not threatened now, even though it has been so used and abused since its inception a century ago that it bears little resemblance to what was envisioned by its founding father, Hiram Johnson, and even though it desperately needs to be reformed.
It seems to me that the question those who oppose gay rights ought to be asking themselves is why two people who want to devote their lives to each other should be denied that opportunity. Who is hurt or threatened?
It's one thing to hold religious beliefs, picking and choosing from Scripture to justify prejudice and/or homophobia. It's quite another to legitimately name anyone who might directly or indirectly suffer injury by allowing gays to marry and live in monogamous relationships.
Since quoting the Bible is such a favorite tactic of those on the political and religious right, it is instructive to read a recent quote in The Bee from an Episcopal priest, the Very Rev. Brian Baker, dean of Trinity Cathedral.
"Why are we choosing one passage and ignoring the passage that says you can stone your child if he's rude to you?" asked Baker. "The Bible until recently was used to say that marriage between the races was wrong. This is a very similar argument, I think. Marriage has been a very evolving target, and this is one more evolution in the cycle."
If Pugno and his coalition have any plan to continue what should be to them an obviously futile effort, they might also consider the words of Gene Robinson, the recently retired bishop of New Hampshire and the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, who wrote recently in Time magazine that "if God is love, as Scripture attests, then surely God is gay love, too."
William Endicott is a former deputy managing editor for The Sacramento Bee.