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Proposition 8 and the future of same sex marriage

While I am disappointed that my fellow Californians decided to restrict marriage in the state constitution to heterosexual couples, I am not surprised. I told people I knew before the election that I expected it to pass. I based it on the history of the issue. While heterosexuals are becoming more accepting of gay and lesbian people, marriage remains the last barrier to complete equality. In 1989, the San Francisco Examiner conducted an extensive poll in connection with the twentieth anniversary of Stonewall. The poll found more tolerant views of homosexuality and homosexual rights, including employment nondiscrimination and service in the military. However, those polled overwhelmingly rejected the concept of same sex marriage. That opposition was reaffirmed when Californians passed Proposition 22 in 2000.

Proposition 22 was approved 61.4% to 38.6%. In contrast, the vote on Proposition 8 was 52.3% to 47.7%. To me, the fact that it was close at all was a victory. Slowly, this last barrier is coming down, and I predict it will come down. Most likely, relief will come through the courts, the activist judges that Republicans complain about, though the majority of the state’s Supreme Court judges that ruled in favor of same sex marriage were appointed by Republican governors. Eventually, this will be a non-issue. It is already to young people who grew up in the post-Harvey Milk era. These young people will eventually be in the majority.

In 1964, voters repealed the Rumford Fair Housing Act, making it legal to discriminate against minorities in housing. Property owners argued that they had the right to sell or rent to anyone they pleased and did not need a reason to refuse a qualified buyer or renter. Fortunately, the Supreme Court disagreed and based its decision on the fourteenth amendment. In the same election, voters approved a ban on pay TV. The court overturned that on first amendment grounds. Today, neither initiative would even get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but these were hot issues in the mid-sixties. We, the people, do evolve.

I am not advocating passivity on this issue. I marched in San Francisco last week to affirm my belief that the vote was wrong. We need to act, but we need to act positively. First, let us stop blaming black voters. While homophobia does exist in the black community, there is an increasing awareness that this is a civil rights issue. More black people are coming out and being more visible to their families as gay people. As more of them demand the right to marry, this barrier will fall. Our gay and lesbian black brothers and sisters could use our support.

Don’t blame the initiative process. Initiative, referendum, and recall are a part of the legacy of the progressive movement at the turn of the Twentieth Century. They have been used to hold politicians accountable and to act when elected representatives refused to act. The process has been abused as with the examples above. More often, progress has been made through initiatives, such as Proposition 20 in 1972 that established the Coastal Commission, a major achievement in environmental protection. I have worked on a number of initiatives and have found the process to be a great organizing tool for grassroots democracy.

Stop blaming Southern California. The traditional North/South split that has pitted the so-called liberal North against conservative South has eroded over the years. What has emerged is more like an East/West split. The West Coast counties, which are more urbanized, are more liberal than the agricultural inland counties. If you look at the map on the Secretary of State’s web site (http://vote.sos.ca.gov/Returns/props/map190000000008.htm), just about all of the counties that voted against Proposition 8 are along the central and northern California coast. The two exceptions are Alpine and Mono counties that sit against the Nevada border. Now look at the map for the presidential contest. (http://vote.sos.ca.gov/Returns/pres/map010000000000.htm) Obama’s counties are solid along the coast, except for Orange and Del Norte, and he has a fairly large share of southern and central parts of the state. Proposition 8 barely carried Los Angeles County, which usually votes liberal. LA would be a good place to turn things around on marriage.

Forget boycotts. There have been calls to boycott California, Utah, the Mormon Church, the Catholic Church, and businesses owned by Mormons and Catholics. Within these states, religions, and businesses are people who had nothing to do with Proposition 8 or are actually on our side. Why hurt them? Besides, boycotts are used by the anti-gay movement against businesses that promote equality. I prefer the positive approach by rewarding those that opposed Proposition 8. Apple gave $100,000 to No on 8 and reported it at the top of its web site. I sent an e-mail of support to Apple. I am sure they would be grateful to receive more such letters. If you are thinking of vacationing in California, consider the counties that voted against 8 as good places to spend your money.

I know that much of the letdown was fueled by early polls that indicated strong opposition to Proposition 8. That was before the proponents weighed in with their ads and captured many undecided. The first caught Gavin Newsom on camera proclaiming same sex marriage is here to stay, “whether you like it or not.” Ironically, he is right. Newsom sees the change of attitudes that is being ushered in by his and younger generations. Unfortunately, the shot makes Newsom look arrogant and threatening, especially threatening to the older voters who may not know openly gay or lesbian people.

Then, there were the ads that warned gay marriage would be taught to school children. It didn’t help that a class of San Francisco school children decided to attend the wedding of their lesbian teacher. It echoed of the failed Briggs Initiative in 1978 that would have fired gay and lesbian school teachers. Briggs would have us believe children learn how to be gay in school. I never learned anything about homosexuality in school, so I should be straight, right? Instead, I learned that there must be something wrong with me after getting continually beaten up by other boys in gym class. Again, our younger generation knows better. Sexual orientation is biologically determined. Tolerance needs to be taught.

While the passage of the amendment is a setback, the size of the opposition is a good sign. The road to equality is always bumpy. Forty years ago, politicians ran on platforms opposing integrated schools and housing.  Today, an African American has been elected President. Can we change popular opinion on same sex marriage? Yes we can.

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November 11, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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