San Francisco Judge Richard Kramer is our kind of Catholic conservative (and we have a number of those over here at the Scene, believe it or not).
Kramer ruled this week that withholding marriage licenses from gays and lesbians constitutes a clear constitutional violationthe kind of cerebral and clear-headed reasoning, free of irrelevant religious judgments, that's difficult to find from any political appointees, especially Republican ones.
As we channel noted conservative writer Andrew Sullivan in this space, we figure this would be a good time to make a crucial distinction between social conservatives, who are a dime a dozen, and real conservatives, who are, unfortunately, a much rarer breed. Much like cattle, social conservatives tend to travel in herds and lack appreciation for true intellectual honesty. But real conservatives hold the constitution and personal liberties sacred, and are able to separate their personal beliefs from their judicial obligations. Kramer, appointed by former California Gov. Pete Wilson in 1996, is one of those.
"The state's protracted denial of equal protection cannot be justified simply because such constitutional violation has become traditional," Kramer wrote in his 27-page opinion, which probably shocked gay activists and the pro-marriage movement alike. "Simply put, same-sex marriage cannot be prohibited solely because California has always done so before."
Considered among the best judges in San Francisco, the 57-year-old Kramer doesn't seem to have an agenda or a liberal bone in his body, which gives his opinion that much more credibility. He's ruling, in other words, based on a sober reading of the law, not based on some emotional stake in the outcome.
Anti-gay-marriage groups in California claimed the state had a legitimate interest in encouraging procreation and, toward that end, outlawing gay marriage. But Kramer concluded such a position was simply contrived bunk. "One does not have to be married in order to procreate, nor does one have to procreate in order to be married. Thus no legitimate state interest to justify the preclusion of same-sex marriage can be found," he wrote.
Kramer's decision will, of course, be appealed, but his ruling is a victory not only for homosexuals but also for the principles of fairness and freedom. No doubt, gays and lesbians across California are toasting the man with champagne right now.
For the first time perhaps ever, a news release sent from the state legislature this week was worth reading. A subcommittee, it turns out, has unanimously recommended that the state increase its cigarette tax by 40 cents a pack, which, at a total of 60 cents, would still be 24 cents below the national average.
Senate sponsor Rosalind Kurita characterizes cigarette smoking as "a public health issue," adding that such legislation would raise some $210 million a year in revenue that the state desperately needs. Were such a user tax unprecedented or unfairly discriminatory against consumers of this perfectly legal product, we'd have to roll our eyes at this legislature as usual. But we gotta say, this makes sense.
The legislation will go on to the Senate Finance Committee, where we predict it will go up in smoke.
At this writing, Scene food critic Kay West was trying to decide whether to wear a Halloween costume or her Harper Valley PTA outfit to the next Metro Council meeting. There, her nomination to the Farmers Market Board may be scattered and smothered by the petty objections of council member Lynn Williams and her wagon-circling cohortsall because Williams didn't like hearing from West six years ago about controversial Halloween legislation.
We're hoping this vote actually goes the other way, but if not, all is not lost: Nashville will be just fine without West on the board, even though she has a lot to contribute, and the whole exercise has given us a window into the way this dysfunctional Metro Council operatessomething scarier than any Halloween tale we could make up.
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