Schiff: There’s more to fight for

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.


  • Terrie

    Thank you, Rachel. One additional historical reminder for your readers: Before Hitler mandated that Jews wear yellow armbands, he conducted a little "test" of Germany's taste for discrimination, by having homosexual citizens wear pink armbands. Once it was determined that society would tolerate this form of discrimination without objection, it was only a small step to mandate the yellow armbands for Jews, and we all know where that led.

  • Chicagoan

    Point of clarification-
    Did Schiff mean Grant Park? There weren't "thousands of people in Times Square" on election night…

  • Goldie '08

    #2 - there were more than two-thousand people in times square tuesday night. Hence, thousands. In Grant park there were two hundred thousand, or "hundreds of thousands"

    Regarding the prop 8 vote, the Obama vote may have hurt the cause, as it is confirmed that Black people, more so than any other ethnic group, oppose gay marriage. So the conclusion out here in CA is that Obama's get out the vote programs ended up hurting the anti prop 8 movement as they brought increased numbers of gay marriage opponents to the voting booths.

    It's a shame and as a California resident, I really didn't see prop 8 passing at all. It really is plain and simple bigotry - the "seperate but equal" commenter from the article was right on.

  • Anonymous

    George Patsourakos
    Comparing Sen. Barack Obama's victory to be the next President of the United States to states passing laws that approve gay marriages is like comparing apples and oranges. Sen. Obama is one individual whose ideas are more liberal than those of President Bush or Sen. McCain; however, this does not mean that just because most voters voted for Sen. Obama that they also had to vote for the approval of gay marriages. The fact is that most Americans believe that marriage is defined as a sacred union of one man and one woman. Further, they believe that having two men or two women united in a religious ceremony makes the institution of marriage a mockery. The bottom line: Americans want progressive changes implemented in our country -- at least for the next four years -- but gay marriage is not one of them, because most Americans feel that gay marriage violates their religious beliefs!

  • Danny

    I thought about letting your comment go; one can only make the same points so many times before getting tired of it all…but here we go, one more time. Briefly:

    1. Since when do we believe that the beliefs of "most Americans" (which, as far as I can tell, you've more or less conjured up) should trump constitutional protections? Why is it that conservatives throw the "intent of the founding fathers" and the Constitution's sanctity out the window the moment it suits their needs, but only then? America is not about robbing a minority of their rights in order to satisfy the bigotry of the majority, whether that minority be set apart by race, religion, sexual preference, or other like criteria. The country has been over this before…

    2. Sacred isn't part of the picture. We're not talking about the church, and we're not talking about marriage as a religious institution. This is a civil issue--it's a question of whether we really believe that all citizens are deserving of equal protection under the law, or if we can choose to negate another's rights the moment they threaten our sensitive belief systems. Religious ceremony is your hangup, not that of the law.

    Rachel is right on with this piece; this is one change that shouldn't have to wait any longer.

  • Matt

    In other news, 57% of Arkansas voters think that children would be better off in foster care than adopted by gay parents (Initiative 1). Indeed, there's a much more to fight for. Equality will probably come eventually, but I'd bring a book.

  • Bible Man

    I think that the Bible is a lot more clear on its prohibition of divorce than it is on it prohibition of gay marriage - and divorce is logically a much greater threat to the "sanctity" of marriage too. Where are the calls to amend the constitution to define marriage as an unbreakable bond. Oh yeah, because you'd have to excommunicate half the country. They're all just homophobes, thinly disguised.

  • Schiff

    Thank you Danny, Matt and "Bible Man" - you've responded more eloquently than I could have.