Yesterday a small majority of voters in California elected to approve a constitutional amendment that starts with the words "Eliminates Right."
At the same time, an enormous national majority voted the first African-American president into office.
I am thrilled at Barack Obama's victory for all sorts of reasons--he opposes the war, he understands the perspective of working families, his speeches made me feel hopeful in a way that the last eight years nearly erased. He was the right candidate and finally the right candidate won; the country has shown that it finally believes intent and capability are more important than skin color. But for all that, I am not able to celebrate.
It is a weird feeling. On the one hand, this is a huge victory for the civil rights movement started half a century ago. On the other hand, huge civil rights are being taken away from an entire segment of the population. I am holding onto hope that Obama, who said he opposed Prop 8 but also said that he opposed gay marriage, only said the latter so that he could get into office and is now going to make some changes that actually enable equal rights for everyone.
So a small majority (last time I checked, a 4% spread) can actually amend our constitution and eliminate a right. What does this mean for the protection of our civil rights in a very general sense? Could we further amend the constitution to take away other rights? Are we that vulnerable to the transparent bigotry of one evangelical vehicle that campaigned with television spots blatantly designed to engender fear of gay people? Is it possible that with enough funding and heavy-handed, proselytizing commercials, we could get a majority to vote to amend nearly every clause of the constitution that protects our rights?
I would like to think it won't happen, because our rights are important and protected. But today California (and Arizona and Florida, and in a more specious and less direct way, Arkansas) said that our rights are important and protected--unless you're gay. In which case you should be happy with a lesser set of rights. Equal rights for everyone except some folks IS NOT EQUAL RIGHTS, and is in absolute opposition to the ideals that this country is supposed to represent.
And--do people who voted for Prop 8 actually know any gay people? How can people today vote to make anyone's marriage less valid? How does that happen? How can you see two people in love and transformed by the joy of making their love official in front of their community and then vote that joy away from them?
I am trying to keep in mind that this is one step in a long, difficult battle that started a long time ago and will probably continue beyond my lifetime. I am seeing that complacency no longer has a place in our country's politics, that I can't throw my hands up and start planning move to Canada anymore. After the last presidential election, I really felt ready to leave; this time--maybe because of the hope I feel from the right candidate winning--I feel that it is my job to stay here and stay in the fight to make this country a place in which I am proud to live.
One important message of the Proposition 8 vote, I believe, is that we need to be vigilant, more than ever, in protecting our civil rights. I was born here and have been guilty of being a complacent citizen who takes her rights for granted, but today I see that we are still very much in an era where people let fear of the unknown translate into legislating inequality. We are not yet far enough removed from Roe vs. Wade, from Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, from Stonewall to turn our backs to the battle.