I felt it the following morning. Not the elation of the previous night, when I watched thousands of people in Times Square, eyes wide, soaking in President-elect Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, overcome with the possibilities for our country’s future now that an inspiring leader is at the helm. Instead, the next morning I felt my heart break, as Proposition 8, the ballot measure banning same-sex marriage, passed in California.
And on the day America finally seemed to put race behind us by recognizing the virtues of a man irrespective of the color of his skin, I was unable to simply rejoice in this glorious achievement. Rather, I was struck by the long journey we have ahead before difference is eliminated as a reason for discrimination.
The religious right, whose organizations are primarily responsible for supporting and funding the “Yes on 8” campaign (the Mormon church alone raised more than $22 million of the $40 million raised by proponents of the proposition), argues that same-sex couples will destroy the sanctity of marriage. And yet, while condoning heterosexual divorce, they prefer to deny marriage to thousands of people who are enthusiastic and willing to raise beautiful and loving families while bound to each other in every legal and spiritual way.
Other proponents of the bill argued it simply wasn’t the California State Supreme Court’s right to decide this issue for the people of California, as they did in May. Proposition 8, then, would ensure that the decision was democratically decided. This opinion, of course, ignores the historical danger in allowing the majority to vote on a minority-rights decision. It is amazing how easily segregation and discrimination fade from our minds. A lot of individuals who may be liberal advocates with regards to same-sex relationships, and homosexuals in general, find fault with LGBTQ activists’ promotion of gay marriage because they believe civil unions and marriage are the same things. As a clarification, a civil union does not provide the same legal protections nor burdens as a marriage license. These unions and their respective rights differ from state to state and afford couples at least a thousand fewer legal protections and obligations than marriage. As Yoshi Shapiro ’11 , told me angrily and eloquently, “We’ve been over this before, America. Separate and equal is not equal.”
I’m angry and hurt today, since for the first time I feel I’m somehow different and unequal from heterosexuals because of my queer identity. My sadness is not so much a result of homophobic individuals I expected to vote for discriminatory measures. Instead, I’m discouraged — and even at times enraged — by all the liberal individuals who mobilized for Obama and “change” and yet didn’t turn to check on their fellow brothers and sisters, some of the biggest fund-raisers, campaign organizers and supporters of Obama, from being left behind.
Today I joined a conference call run by the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association. During the call, one of the attorneys underlined the connection between eight years of conservative Bush ideology and the passage of four discriminatory measures against same-sex couples. For example, the “Yes on Prop 8” ads were constructed deceitfully, blatantly misreporting facts, as they claimed that Obama was for the passage of Proposition 8 and that this measure would force elementary school teachers to discuss homosexuality with their students. But, as another friend of mine in the community, Spud Weintraub ’11 , reminded me, the legalization of same-sex marriage and the election of a black president are both forthright rejections of the fear tactics of the Bush administration. And while electing Obama doesn’t solve nearly all our problems, he is a symbol of the progress our country can make. As Obama stated so eloquently in his acceptance speech, “Change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.”
It is time, Yale. For all my sympathetic listeners who believe people should not be discriminated against based on their sexuality or gender identity, please stand up and speak out with me.
And please, let us remember this is not just about gay marriage, it’s about opposing discriminatory military policies, the nonexistent media coverage of transgender murder victims, the general homophobic comments which proliferate in our society and so many other discriminatory practices that are symbolized by the passage of Proposition 8. The LGBTQ community should not have to fight alone. Together we can make history.
Rachel Schiff is a junior in Silliman College.