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.
Photo from the LA Times