Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proposition 8

Today is, for me, profoundly bittersweet: we have a new President whose victory I've wanted for some time, and tens of thousands of Californians have found out that their marriages might be invalidated. California's Proposition 8, which sought to overturn the California Supreme Court's recent ruling giving gay people the same marriage rights as straight people, passed by a relatively narrow margin. The passage of Proposition 8 marks the first time that voters have actually stripped gay people of marriage rights, as opposed to barring them from marrying in the first place -- which the good people of Arizona and Florida did yesterday.

I know several people whose marriages may ultimately be rendered null and void, and my heart goes out to them. It's depressing and frightening to be reminded that so many of your fellow citizens see you as unworthy of the everyday rights and responsibilities that they unthinkingly enjoy.

At the same time, I know that the world won't come to an end. My friends will all remain married in the most meaningful sense of the term; one of them told me this summer that he and his partner saw their wedding ceremony as merely formalizing the commitments they had actually made to each other thirteen years ago. Tens of thousands of other people will go on loving each other, raising their children, and generally living their lives even if their marriage licenses become mere pieces of paper. They'll also keep educating their friends and neighbors about the impact of Proposition 8 on their lives and families (thus generating all kinds of materials -- and prompting creation of all kinds of materials opposing same-sex marriage -- that likely warrant long-term preservation).

If you have to feel deeply sorry for anyone, think about the Arkansas children who may be denied the chance to live in loving homes because the voters just passed a measure barring unmarried couples from becoming foster or adoptive parents; proponents of this measure freely admitted that they were motivated chiefly by anti-gay sentiment.

Disheartening as these losses are, I have to believe that history is on our side. CNN's exit polls (hat tip to Box Turtle Bulletin by way of Andrew Sullivan) indicate that 61 percent of voters aged 18-29 opposed Proposition 8, which is consistent with other polls concerning attitudes toward same-sex marriage, and public policy generally trails public opinion. However, it's not just a matter of demographics. Freedom and equality will ultimately win out. It won't happen without sacrifice or struggle -- as countless abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights activists, feminists, and others would testify -- but it will happen. Within my parents' lifetimes, millions of African-Americans were deliberately and systematically denied the franchise. Last night, an African-American man became President Elect of this nation. The guy has his own has his own issues with same-sex marriage, but he casually and comfortably acknowledges our existence in a way that neither his opponent nor the current President ever has.

Just remember: as Andrew Sullivan points out (how on earth did I miss it?), an initiative that might have jeopardized marriage equality was on the ballot in Connecticut, which will allow same-sex marriage as of November 12. The voters deep-sixed it.

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