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You Can See the Future From Here

Aug
12
2004

Greetings from the Wedge Issue Center of the County.
Yup, here in California, we’ve managed to play a key role all three of this election cycle’s hot issues: gay marriage, stem cell research, and outsourcing. They’re related in subtle ways, colored by how Silicon Valley, with its faith in science, and San Francisco, with its tolerence for the foilbles of human nature, see the world. So let’s start with today’s headlines.
Gay Marriage: In a ruling that pretty much everyone expected, the state Supreme Court said Thursday that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom over stepped his authority when he allowed the city to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


The case now floats upward through the courts. Next stop, if I have this correctly, will be Federal Appeals Court here in San Francisco. The 9th Circuit is the wackiest in the country so anything can happen but regardless, this case is headed to the Supreme Court, probably with other cases from Massachusetts.
UPDATE:Let it never be said that I always know what I’m talking about. A clever, better informed, reader points out that “Sometimes the end really is the end, and there is no next step . . . real next step is to wait and what happens with the cases that actually challenge the [state] constitutionality of the gay marriage statute. Those are in state superior court.” And, as The Chron points out, it’s going to take a year for them to get to state Supreme Court.
But the politics on this aren’t going away. The corollary argument — that California’s constitution has been improperly amended by a ballot initiative defining marriage between two partners of different sexes — could easily go to a state-wide ballot again. I fully expect to stumble over a petition-bearing young person very soon.
Support for gay marriages isn’t as strong throughout the state as it is here in San Francisco (a little blue island in a sea of red). But if we’re headed to a Spring election on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reform package (as he threatens here – the gay marriage issue might be just the thing to bring folks out. Bad news in the short run for gay couples. In the long run, just more posturing by the right, which is good for Mayor Newsom’s now-national (and staying there) political profile. And, possibly, very good for Schwarzenegger’s government reform package.
Stem cells: There’s a subtle link here between gay marriage and cell manipulation. As columnist James Pinkerton points out, once in-vitro fertilization was possible, sex and reproduction were – finally and scientifically – separated. Gay couples are having children through surrogacy, adoption, or some combination of all of the above. And as even a glance at all the same-sex parents who lined up in San Francisco City Hall to get married (just like their parents did) speaks directly to this issue.
Without the gay marriage complication, stem cell research has floated up and down the political foodchain, from the $3 billion ballot initiative here in California to First Lady Laura Bush’s speech on how proponents of such research are over-stating the science. In between Democratic nominee John Kerry and, today, Sen. Barbara Boxer have aligned themselves against the White House. Not a huge surprise, eh? But the fall-out, as Kevin Drum points out in talking about this Slate column, is interesting. Science as politics. Politics as science. We’re going to see a lot more of this, particularly here in NoCal. This is fertile ground for those who make their livings believing in the future. The science isn’t, of course, the issue here. As much as anything else, this is a jobs and industry support measure which is why Gov. Terminator is treading carefully and why San Francisco just gave bio-tech firms a tax break. Schwarzenegger’s measured tread, by the way, is something you don’t see very often – not in public, anyway. Which brings us to wedge issue number three.
Outsourcing: One consequence of the reduction in funding for U.S.-based stem cell research is pretty straightforward. Other counties will take up the slack.
This has important economic consequences that are easy to see when you realize that x-rays are read in India where biotech is also a fast-growing industry. Some of this is being stimulated by the need for HIV and other drugs in India and Africa but some of it’s due to slacking off. Government, the traditional supporter of this kind of research (think space program, DARPA, Internet) has stepped away.
That’s one reason why patents for science and medical innovations are falling behind Asia. If you believe the economic future of this country is going to be based on high-level research done by well-educated and well-paid engineers and physicist – the folks who brought you the Internet – or by their equivalents in biology, chemistry, and philology – the folks who brought you antibiotics, microsurgery, and in-vitro fertilization (first done, by the way, in the U.K), well then, it’s easy to see why Prop. 71, the ballot initiative to fund stem cell research in California is a much an national economic issue as a social one.

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