California's Proposition 8 - in case you've been living under a rock these past few months - would eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. It's a ballot initiative coming up in this November's election for California voters, and it would reverse a fairly recent ruling by the California Supreme Court holding that the state's constitution protects the rights of same-sex couples to marry. It's been generating passionate debate both pro and con, and money has apparently been pouring in for months to support the ban and turn back the clock.
What does that have to do with animal law, you ask?
Well, I was watching the Ellen DeGeneres interview on Jay Leno last night... when at one point the interview took a momentarily thoughtful turn. DeGeneres quipped that she couldn't understand how her and Portia (de Rossi, actress and DeGeneres' longtime domestic partner-recently-turned-spouse) sitting on the couch watching "Dancing with the Stars" could really be a threat to anyone. She suggested - paraphrasing here - that instead of sending in money to support hate, anyone with funds to contribute to a cause should consider sending financial aid to support the recent Hurricane victims. (Which I thought was a good point, in and of itself.)
But DeGeneres made me think about something else too.
It's just as important for animal advocates to take a position on Prop 8 as it is on the also-pending welfare measure, Prop 2 (which I will get to in a moment). Animal advocates historically have been a fairly liberal group of folks so I am probably preaching to the choir here. But in case you are inclined to vote against protecting gay marriage in California (or even simply support that position but live elsewhere in the U.S. or the world), please take a moment to consider this: social movements do not exist in a vacuum.
There is strength in numbers. To put it plainly - because I have a meeting in about an hour and don't have time to think of a more politically correct way to say this - if animal advocates show empathy and interest in gay issues now then hopefully, once gay rights are better protected, that segment of society can feel a little more settled and turn its resources to helping the remaining less-protected segments of society.
Consider as well that no matter how much you may personally feel that the sheer volume of animal suffering really ought to be a number 1 priority for the planet (and yes, I agree with you personally), the reality is that most people - straight, gay or otherwise... - don't share that view of the universe. Most people are people-centric. And it is simply unlikely that this planet will truly see a change in how animals are treated until it irons out all of its "people mistreatment" problems.
If you vote in California, please vote NO on Prop 8.
Now let's talk about California's Proposition 2. Prop 2 is another ballot initiative scheduled for the November 4, 2008 elections in that state. If passed, it would ban three types of confinement farming: veal crates for baby calves, battery cages for hens and gestation crates for pregnant pigs. Again, in case you've been living under a rock, the concern is that current farming standards allow animals to be confined so tightly that their cages do not even permit them to freely turn around, lie down, stand up or even fully stretch their limbs. As with Prop 8, Prop 2 is generating a lot of fierce debate. Those in favor argue, briefly, that reducing at least some suffering now is better than waiting to eliminate all suffering at a future point. Those opposed argue that it will be costly to implement, raise costs for consumers and could result in greater reliance on imported foods that might pose a greater health risk.
Oddly though, some of the strongest opposition to Prop 2 comes from within the animal rights community. The hard-core perspective fears that palliative measures will only placate people into feeling better about animal suffering and thus dampen and delay any impetus to really address the problem. This viewpoint was thoughtfully (as always) articulated by well-known animal rights professor Gary Francione last spring. In one of his blog posts he relates a story about going to a local market where a meat vendor sells organically-raised, locally-slaughtered animals. One shopper remarked she felt better about buying meat there and the vendor apparently described the animals as "dear friends". Francione expresses the oft-repeated concern that Prop 2 and other so-called "happy meat" efforts are leading the country backward in the effort to address animal suffering.
While anecdotally I can certainly see how those sorts of random comments might lead to those fears, I don't believe that reality bears those fears out. The fact is, this country has been improving - albeitly slowly - its animal welfare laws since Henry Bergh started championing the cause during the 1800's. The U.S. has also become increasingly more receptive to discussing the idea of granting at least some basic rights to animals in just the past few decades alone. (In fact, other countries are even farther along that path than the U.S., although that topic could fill multiple other blog posts alone.) If the hard-core view were accurate, there would have been no progress beyond the first, early animal welfare laws. And that's just not how history unfolded.
I, for one, do believe that it is better to reduce at least some suffering now. I don't believe it will delay further reductions; in fact, I tend to think it heightens awareness and actually leads to further progress. (Although admittedly, I don't have statistics handy to back up that belief either.)
So if you vote in California, please vote NO on Prop 8 and YES on Prop 2.
If you've made it this far down in the post, thanks for reading my rant all the way through. And I really do have to get back to work now.