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For better or worse, a bad ruling

Beware the consequences of the Calif. Supreme Court's gay marriage decision.

David Benkof

is a columnist for several gay newspapers and blogs at

Champagne corks are popping wherever gays and lesbians gather throughout the Golden State after the California Supreme Court's ruling last week that opened the way for same-sex couples to legally wed beginning next month.

But the gay community shouldn't be celebrating.

This decision does next to nothing for California gays and lesbians, and causes real harm to people who believe in the "old" definition of marriage.

It's nothing to be proud of.

I call upon my fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/transsexual people to vote in favor of this November's California Marriage Protection Act, which is the only way to reverse the unfortunate decision.

The June weddings that can now be expected for same-sex couples all over California will actually provide little tangible advantage to anyone.

California already has a domestic-partnership law providing all the state benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents all the federal benefits.

Sure, gays and lesbians may get a lift in self-esteem from having their relationships declared "equal" by four jurists, but does an ego boost really outweigh the real harms caused by last week's decision?

Because there certainly are harms - to religious liberty and to children, for example. For the last two weeks, I have been contacting "marriage equality" leaders from San Diego to Sacramento to ask about the impact of redefining marriage on religious freedom.

All have repeatedly refused to disclose their opinions, including prominent lesbian and gay legislators, other elected leaders, and one of the plaintiffs in the celebrated Supreme Court case, Robin Tyler.

Although California marriage-equality leaders won't say what impact they expect the new decision to have on religious freedom, activists in other states haven't been so shy.

A representative of the largest Michigan gay-rights group, known as the Triangle Foundation, and openly gay Washington State Sen. Ed Murray both told me that any person who continues to conduct himself as if what he thinks is God's definition of marriage is correct, instead of the gay community's definition, should be fined, fired and even jailed until he relents.

"If you are a public accommodation and you are open to anyone on Main Street that means you must be open to everyone on Main Street. If they don't do it, that's contempt and they will go to jail," says the Triangle Foundation's Sean Kososky.

Sharon Malheiro, a lawyer and LGBT activist from Des Moines affiliated with the state's gay-marriage lobby, ONE-IOWA, told me that if a teacher in a marriage-equality state taught that marriage is between a man and a woman, "then it becomes a job performance issue" and the school district should take appropriate action.

Michael Taylor-Judd, the president of the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington state, said if a newspaper writes that a given same-sex marriage wasn't really a marriage, "it is certainly in the realm of possibility for someone to bring a [libel] suit, and quite possibly to be successful."

The Triangle Foundation's Kososky agreed: "I would be sympathetic to some damages."

Now, no lesbian in history has lost her assets, her job, or her freedom for writing, teaching, and running her business guided by her belief that marriage is a union of any two individuals who love each other.

So why do gay activists outside California support limitations on the freedom of speech, the press, and religious expression for anyone who disagrees with them? And why won't California marriage-equality activists go on the record with their opinions on this vital issue?

This new ruling doesn't only harm traditionally religious people. It poses a serious danger to the well-being of children.

After four Massachusetts judges imposed this change on their state, Boston's Catholic Charities was given the choice of treating couples without both a mother and a father the same as more traditional couples, or getting out of the adoption business altogether.

The well-regarded agency felt it had no choice but to shut down - which means there are children in the Bay State who do not have the mother and father they could have had if gay activists hadn't been so strident.

As an LGBT person, I'm embarrassed that my fellow community members prioritized their own pride over the welfare of disadvantaged orphans.

There are real and injurious issues the gay community could be focusing on, such as the distressing rates of HIV/AIDS among African-American men who have sex with men, the FDA's unnecessary ban on gay blood, and Florida's heartless prohibition of gay and lesbian adoptive parents.

No lesbian ever died a painful death because the government called her relationship a domestic partnership instead of a marriage.

Gays and lesbians should put away the champagne, work to overturn this ruling, and start focusing on LGBT issues that actually matter.