As you can imagine, Tuesday's election was bittersweet for me: I experienced the adrenaline-rush of Obama's win, and then the colossally disappointing low that came a day or so later with the official passage of Proposition 8 here in California. I'm still not sure I can write about this without sputtering inarticulately because it's such an emotionally charged issue for me. To be told I am a second-class citizen, unworthy of equal rights, and that my relationship isn't "good enough" to be worthy of legal marriage is simply painful. Knock-the-breath-out-of-me hurtful. I am incredulous that bigotry, in California of all places, is alive and well.
Then again, should I be all that surprised? The Yes on 8 folks waged a heinous, deceitful, and downright shameful campaign cloaked in the guise of what's Christian, and moral, and good for our children. But the distortions and outright lies that campaign put out are mind-boggling. One ad suggested there's a cause-effect relationship between allowing gay marriage and then toppling moral decline. As proof, the ad offered as an example the Netherlands, which "legalized same-sex marriage in 2001. And to date, incest & polygamy are all legal." Um, yeah, but incest (between adults) has been legal in the Netherlands for the past 200 years. Same-sex marriage didn't cause that. Why not, instead, bring up a country like Canada, where gay marriage is legal? No moral decline there. And what's really ironic is that polygamy was, until fairly recently historically speaking, standard practice in the Mormon Church. Who threw tens of millions of dollars into our state in support of Prop. 8? Sadly, the Mormon Church.
Then again, I always get nervous when people start waving their Bibles at me and cherry-picking verses or stories to justify oppressing certain groups of people. Let's not forget the Bible was once used to justify black slavery in this country.
The Yes on 8 people also claimed that domestic partnerships are the same as marriage in terms of rights, so by passing Prop 8, gay people don't lose any rights. Where else have we heard that "separate but equal" argument? Oh yes, thank God the Supreme Court didn't buy that nonsense either, and desegregated our schools in Brown vs. Board of Education. Fact: domestic partnerships are not the same. One example is health care benefits. Right now, I'm on my spouse's policy as a domestic partner, and by law I have to count the cost of that insurance as income and pay tax on it. Married people don't have to do that. Separate isn't equal. Equal is equal.
The Yes on 8 people also did the following: (1) send threatening letters to donors to the No on 8 campaign, stating they'd "expose" them as gay marriage supporters if they also didn't donate to the Yes on 8 campaign; (2) coordinate a cyber attack on the No on 8 website, essentially shutting down the site days before the election so that donors were unable to give money; and (3) perhaps most disgustingly, robocall registered African American voters in California with a fake "voice" of Barack Obama speaking out (and out of context) against gay marriage. The truth, of course, is that Obama--and even Arnold Schwartzenegger--were against the removal of fundamental rights already granted by the state constitution.
Removal of those rights is a terrible precedent to set. So what also gets my goat are the people who say, "The people of California have voted! This is a democracy! The majority rules, so live with it!" Well, I want to ask them, what America are you living in? Did you never take a government class when you were in high school? Remember America's system of checks and balances? Remember the courts are also supposed to protect minority groups from the tyranny of the majority? If it weren't for the courts overriding the will of the majority when interpreting the Constitution, interracial marriage might still be illegal, and, as suggested earlier, segregation might still be the norm ... and the list goes on. The majority isn't always right.
On the issue of Prop 8, the majority got it wrong. The struggle for civil rights will go on.
Here's an editorial that ran in the New York Times on Wednesday, and I do take heart from the sentiments expressed:
Equality’s Winding Path
Amid the soaring oratory about the presidential election, it was Barack Obama who put it best late Tuesday night. “That’s the genius of America, that America can change,” he said. “Our union can be perfected.”
But as Mr. Obama’s victory showed, the path to change is arduous. Even as the nation shattered one barrier of intolerance, we were disappointed that voters in four states chose to reinforce another. Ballot measures were approved in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida and California that discriminate against couples of the same sex.
We do not view these results as reason for despair. Struggles over civil rights never follow a straight trajectory, and the ugly outcome of these ballot fights should not obscure the building momentum for full equality for gay people, including acceptance of marriage between gay men and women. But the votes remind us of how much remains to be done before this bigotry is finally erased.
In Arkansas, voters approved a backward measure destined to hurt children by barring unmarried couples from becoming adoptive or foster parents. In Arizona, voters approved a state constitutional amendment to forbid same-sex couples from marrying. Florida voters approved a more sweeping amendment intended to bar marriage, civil unions and other family protections.
The most notable defeat for fairness was in California, where right-wing forces led by the Mormon Church poured tens of millions of dollars into the campaign for Proposition 8 — a measure to enshrine bigotry in the state’s Constitution by preventing people of the same sex from marrying. The measure was designed to overturn May’s State Supreme Court decision, which made California the second state to end that exclusion of same-sex couples. Massachusetts did so in 2004.
The firmly grounded ruling said that everyone has a basic right “to establish a legally recognized family with the person of one’s choice,” and found California’s strong domestic partnership statute to be inadequate.
We wish that Tuesday’s vote of 52 percent to 48 percent had gone the other way. But when those numbers are compared with the 61 percent to 39 percent result in 2000, when Californians approved the law that was overturned by their Supreme Court, it is evident that voters have grown more comfortable with marriage equality.
Progress is evident, too, in the fact that since 2000, the California Legislature has twice passed a measure to let gay couples marry — only to be vetoed by the Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. To his credit, he opposed Proposition 8. We suspect that if California holds another referendum on the issue down the road, it will yield a different result.
Not all the results for same-sex marriage were negative. In Connecticut, voters rejected a proposed constitutional convention through which opponents of same-sex marriage wanted to overturn a recent decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court, on sound equal protection grounds, allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Far from showing that California’s Supreme Court was wrong to extend the right of marriage to gay people, the passage of Proposition 8 is a reminder of the crucial role that the courts play in protecting vulnerable groups from unfair treatment.
Apart from creating legal uncertainty about the thousands of same-sex marriages that have been performed in California and giving rise to lawsuits challenging whether the rules governing ballot measures were properly followed, the immediate impact of Tuesday’s rights-shredding exercise is to underscore the danger of allowing the ballot box to be used to take away people’s fundamental rights.