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And now, Proposition 31, the book!

September 13, 2012|By Robert Greene
  • "Proposition 31" is a 1968 novel about a new form of marriage. And about a California ballot measure.
"Proposition 31" is a 1968 novel about a new form of marriage.… (Robert Greene )

"Proposition 31" is a riveting 1968 novel about a California ballot measure that would move the state from a one-year to a two-year budget cycle, permit cities and counties to substitute their own regulations for those handed down from Sacramento, and impose oversight duties on the Legislature and performance goals on state and local budgeters.

OK, no, it’s nothing of the kind. Proposition 31, on the Nov. 6 ballot, would purportedly do those things, but really -- good luck selling a novel about it.

On the other hand, "Proposition 31," the novel, is a 1968 book about two Los Angeles couples who share spouses with each other and then propose a ballot measure seeking official recognition of what the characters call "corporate marriage" -- polyamorous, multi-couple marriage -- in California.

The fictional measure, alas, includes nothing about two-year budget cycles. It's about marriage.

Think of it as a very distant and very much antagonistic cousin to 2008's Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage in California. The fictional Proposition 31 is exactly the kind of thing many supporters of the real-world Proposition 8 warned you about: Tinker with the traditional definition of marriage as one man and one woman and, next thing you know, there will be ballot measures promoting group marriage.

And yes, since you're wondering, someone really did write a novel about the California initiative process, or rather, about a social and political movement that was supposedly to be ratified by a California ballot measure. The late Robert H. Rimmer is probably better known as the author of “The Harrad Experiment,” a novel about a college where students learn about sexuality, each other and themselves by living and (I guess) doing other stuff together. It was made into a movie in 1973 featuring James Whitmore, Tippi Hedron and a lot of Don Johnson. The follow-up novel “Proposition 31” exists in the same world and purportedly contemplates students leaving the fictional Harrad College campus in the fusty Northeast and flocking to sunny and open-minded California to gather signatures, perhaps during spring break.

This is really cool, right? A novel about a California ballot measure! And some sex and marriage stuff too, I guess, but whatever. About a ballot measure! And we know it’s not just a statutory initiative but a constitutional amendment, because a whole page is taken up by petition language that includes a call  for signatures of “not less in number than eight percent of the entire vote cast for all candidates for governor in the last election.” See, 8%. If it were a mere statutory initiative it would be only 5%.

Is it a good read? Well.... Let’s put it this way. The conservative former state senator who crusades to restore California to moral sanity is named John Vestal. Get it? Vestal? He was the author of the failed Proposition 16 (another ballot measure!), which would have cracked down on pornography. And his religious colleague is the Rev. Harvey Strate. There are lots of citations to supposedly academic sources.

Much of the action takes place in various parts of San Pedro, from homes apparently on the Palos Verdes Peninsula to a yacht club at “Port-o-Call” to a boat harbored nearby. For the first sex party scene we need to go up Coldwater Canyon to a house at the top of the Hollywood Hills, which are referred to correctly, if you want to be technical about it, as the Santa Monica Mountains. The two couples, who become a foursome plus five kids, eventually move from San Pedro up or perhaps down the coast to the town of San Peur (again, get it? Sans peur. Without fear). But the real thinking and hard work gets done in New England. Figures.

It’s hardly a libertarian tract. The book doesn’t advocate for just letting everyone mind their own business without state intervention, the way some same-sex marriage advocates approach their issue. In other words, no one in “Proposition 31” argues to get the state out of the marriage business. On the contrary, the characters badly want state recognition to secure their vision of corporate marriage. Articles of incorporation are drafted to govern each family, but in the end they need Proposition 31 so the state can ratify the new arrangement. That makes it legal. And moral. Or so the characters argue.

And why, by the way, Proposition 31? The proponents say it’s because it would apply to people over 30 -- after they have spent 10 years or so in monogamous marriage. But everybody knows that initiative proponents don’t get to select their ballot numbers. That’s done by the secretary of state, who follows statutory requirements based on the order in which measures qualify for the ballot, plus, occasionally, other factors. Come on, people, let’s get our facts straight.

Now, back to the other Proposition 31:

The process established for program oversight under paragraph (1) shall also include a review of Community Strategic Action Plans adopted pursuant to Article XI A for the purpose of determining whether any state statutes or regulations....

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