Last night’s election of Barack Obama to the presidency is historic proof that this nation has made tremendous steps toward a more egalitarian society. Last night’s defeat of Proposition 8, which modifies the California State constitution to explicitly eliminate a right granted by its non-discrimination clause, is proof we have many miles left to go.
It’s ironic these two events should happen the same night. For so long, human rights and equality have been focused almost solely on race and gender. Sexual orientation has always taken a major backseat when it comes to civil rights. Many still think of it as a choice, laughable that they should get any special rights at all. But no one is asking for special rights – they’re asking for equal rights, especially the right to live their lives in peace and prosperity and not be denied the simple pleasures most of us take for granted.
It’s true I’m in favor of gay marriage – I believe that whenever any two, non-related consenting adults come before their community and, if appropriate, their God to swear their lifetime of commitment to one another, we should celebrate it as an incremental strengthening of the ancient tradition of marriage. But, to be perfectly honest, I don’t care whether gay people marry or not – I simply do not like the government telling me whom I can and cannot marry. Not too long ago, a man and woman of different races could not legally marry throughout much of this nation. Many interracial married couples living today can remember a time when their union was considered illegal and, in some circles, it’s still widely frowned upon. I’m certain that many of the same people who voted to legally discriminate against gay marriage would consider a ban on interracial marriage to be absolutely appalling.
And, yet, they gladly marked a ballot that clearly explains that they are eliminating a right from a group of their fellow citizens. The pro prop 8 people led a rather misleading and despicable campaign that clearly outlines the rampant homophobia and blatant discriminatory spirit that still drives this state, a state considered by many to be both among the most liberal as well as a bellwether for the rest of the country. It must be reiterated that the court that determined gay marriage to be constitutionally legal did not create any new law or make any changes to the constitution – they simply properly interpreted a clause in the document that says this state will not discriminate, effectively calling illegal all previous attempts to ban gay marriage through legislative action. Californians today said, in essence, “The State of California shall not discriminate… unless you’re gay.” What a tremendously shameful step backward. That my neighbors – there have been “Yes on 8″ signs posted all around my neighborhood – and no doubt some people I call friends voted to make this happen sickens and shames me.
I spent much of my evening watching the election coverage on MSNBC. The issue of Barack Obama’s race and the historical significance of his election has, in recent months, hovered in the background of his candidacy, but never really defined it. He never brought it to the fore and waved it as a rallying flag, choosing instead to focus on the issues Americans currently face. As soon as McCain conceded, it seems that all of the news channels suddenly celebrated the great civil rights achievement made tonight. In other words, it suddenly became all about race, but in a somewhat positive way. And, while those who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and suffered through decades of segregation and Jim Crow laws are rightly celebrating the fruits of their efforts, I find their silence on the issue of this new civil rights movement eerie and appalling.