05 November 2008

Equality For All? Not Today

This photo shows suporters of "Yes on 8" cheering and whooping upon learning that Proposition 8, a Constitutional Amendment in the state of California to ban equal rights in the form of marriage, was most-likely going to pass. The leader of the campaign was quoted as saying "Tonight, we won!"

November 4th started out as an amazing evening for me. It was 4am in the Student Union at LSE and I was surrounded by thousands of people from every country on earth, most of them hoping Obama would be victorious. All of a sudden CNN's fancy "Breaking News" graphic flashed across the screen and Obama was declared the President-Elect. The room went crazy! Jumping, screaming, crying! I was in shock and disbelief! Never in my adult life had I been a supporter of the President. How did this work? What did we do now that it was time to set the agenda and get the country back on track? What is it like to NOT be cynical? McCain spoke and was gracious. Obama spoke and was hopeful. It was amazing!

At 6am I walked down the Strand through Trafalgar Square absolutely beaming. I wanted to be there in the mix of it! It was time to take back America. This would be a new frontier and I wanted to be right in the middle of it. I got back to my room and went online to check results of other issues that mattered, only to learn that Yes on 8 was winning. A quick phone called to a friend in California was reassuring - "Don't worry yet, LA and San Fran have yet to report in." I went to bed optimistic.

Three hours later I woke up to my worst nightmare - Yes on 8 had won 52% to 48%. I was officially a second-tier citizen no longer afforded equal rights under the law. Depression began to sink in and for the first time in my adult life, I was made to feel genuinely "different" than the majority - less of a person. Here are a few excerpts of what the "Yes on 8" Discriminators had to say:

"Now, if they want to legalize gay marriage, what they should do is bring an initiative themselves and ask the people to approve it. But they don't. They go behind the people's back to the courts and try and force an agenda on the rest of society...And I think we made them realize that there are broader implications to society and particularly the children when you make that fundamental change that's at the core of how society is organized, which is marriage."

And what might that core of marriage be, exactly? That 50% of them end in divorce? And whose backs were we going behind when we used the 200+ year old legal system to preserve equal rights for all citizens? What might these broader implications be on the rest of society, and particularly children? Fewer loving homes to grow up in? A fundamental understanding of tolerance, acceptance and "liberty for all?"

At the core of there argument was this concept of morality, yet the way "Yes on 8" won was by spreading blatant lies. The first was that churches would lose their non-profit status if they refused to marry same-sex couples. The second was that teachers would be "forced" to tell children gay couples were normal. Also not true, but if it was, so what? Exit polling data showed that these were the top two reasons people voted Yes, and both of them were untrue. How dare they ramble on about "morality" and "character."

What's even more disturbing is that in the same election, 62% of Californians voted in favor of legislation that would require farmers to let caged animals run free for a certain amount of time every day (legislation I too supported). Mind you, these are animals that most of these people are going to eat eventually. In that same breath, 54% of them voted to eliminate equal rights for all human beings. That effectively means that people think farm animals that they are going to eat deserve the freedom to run around while their fellow human beings do not deserve equal rights. How, exactly, is that supposed to make gay Californians feel? It's clear where we stand, and it's apparently below prime rib.

I'm 24. I've worked hard my entire life in school, sports and work. I was a finalist for a Rhode's Scholarship and am currently serving as an US Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in the United Kingdom. I've dedicated my working life to helping young people reach their full potential, traveling to 46 US States and 44 countries around the World to spread that message. I've never done drugs and I've never cheated on a partner. I've always strived to be a categorically "good" person.

The gay community as a whole has done all it can to prove itself as well. We represent more economic spending per capita then any other group in the United States, which is crucial to the economic recovery happening right now. We donate to charity in greater numbers. We're just as committed in relationships as everyone else. We give homes to children who need them by adopting from across the US and around the World. We're educated, generous, caring and have backed every major minority group in history in their historic fights for equal rights and yet now we sit here, on the eve of the first African-American being elected President of the United States - seemingly a huge step forward - as the most recent minority population to be subjected to blatant discrimination by a more powerful (and more numerous) majority, not to mention 54% of African-American voters and nearly 60% of Hispanic voters who voted "Yes on 8." What more do we have to do?

For the first time in history, blatant discrimination has been enshrined in a Constitution - a body that was meant to guarantee basic rights, not strip them away. So then, what, exactly, was the Yes on 8 supporter referring to when he said, "we won?" The right to oppress a minority group? The right to legally discriminate? Please tell me.

So yes, lets celebrate the major step forward that we took as a people on Tuesday night by electing an African-American to our nation's highest office, but remember what Obama said: He can't bring change by himself. It's going to take each and every once of, chugging along little by little, to truly shift the direction of America. All I can hope is that the direction involves equal rights for every American. As he also said, "If there is anyone who still doubts America is a place where all things are possible...tonight is your answer."

Sadly, for me, Tuesday night was the first time in my life that I actually had doubts.


Kyle Taylor

Photo from the LA Times


Rachelle said...

Hi Kyle!

I want to comment on this, but I'm really not sure how to put into words what I want to say. I hope you will take this as an honest and humble response from a friend (even though we haven't spoke in a while).

It breaks my heart to read this and hear your thoughts about how you feel like you are less than a citizen, a neglected and downtrodden minority. This may be silly, but after having been raised as a ridiculously conservative Christian, it's taken a long time for me to understand or consider the feelings of "those evil and disgusting gay people." (That's what I was brought up to think, not what I believe now!).

Right now, one of my best friends is struggling with being gay. He has not come out to many people (I was the second one he told) and wow is it a different picture than I would have imagined. I love him so much and he is so unsure about so many things (talk about minority--he is a gay Chinese Christian). Figuring out how to best support him and be there for him is so difficult. I would give anything for him to be happy.

Even after being a die-hard Republican in the past (I've repented of that now! Haha), I wanted to tell you that I now support gay rights. To be honest, I wish for civil unions because I think marriage is a really religious-type commitment that doesn't really have anything to do with the government. But regardless, if we live in a country where everyone is equal and has the right to the "pursuit of happiness," then how can we say that married people have rights to do certain things, but not let certain people marry each other. It makes no sense logically, regardless of moral beliefs.

To all the conservative Christian people who think gay marriage is the end of the world (of whom I know quite a few), I just have to ask, was Jesus not all about the love? Did he not say that we should be sorry when others were sorry. Rejoicing and cheering about something like Prop 8 just seems so wrong to me. Even if you did support it, just quietly go on with your life. You don't have to act like you won some major victory and gloat about it. In fact, the lives of the people who voted yes on 8 are not even affected by the outcome. I voted against the similar amendment in Florida (which also unfortunately passed). I really wish Christians would stop trying to legislate morality. Do what you think is right in your own life, but don't expect the government to back you up on it. Go out and try to "convert" (such a terrible word) other people to your viewpoint if you want to and effect change that way. But don't rely on the government to make everyone behave a certain way that you think is "right."

I know my beliefs don't go as far as you would like, but it's been a long journey for me, and I hope that means something.

I pray you will not lose hope that things can change in the future. America is always a land of hope. And hope does not disappoint. I also pray that Christians will learn to treat everyone with love and respect. That is what I am trying to do, though I'm sure I fail daily.

Anonymous said...

Dearest Kyle,
You cannot doubt your value because narrowminded people vote one way or the other!
If the vote had been on whether to allow immigration rights to Argentines, I am sure the percentage voting NO would have been much higher than 52%!!
Nobody needs to prove to be better than others to have basic rights.
Please don't beat yourself, the problem is theirs! They lack compassion, understanding, respect, humanity, love in their hearts!
Even someone who is not educated, not a big spender, does not donate to charities, deserves to be happy!
So California voted that way, too bad! It is not like California is the only place on earth to get married. We will just need to work harder, explain better, whatever!
And I was also raised to be conservative Catholic, so you see, it just takes time to open people's minds and hearts!
I honestly think the problem is the name wedding/marriage that hard core conservatives have a problem with. After all, it is a civil contract between two people, and the only requirement should be age related. Anybody above whatever age can enter into this contract.
Never give up your dreams and your hope! Hugs, Elena