Friday, November 7, 2008

The Newest Challenge to Civil Rights

While the glow from Barack Obama's victory continues to wash over the nation, and pundits begin rhapsodic waxing about its significance, or deliver postmortem reflections on why the McCain-Palin ticket lost, the day brought to a head another issue that has been flying under the political radar this election cycle: gay marriage.

It was not a significant issue during the Presidential race and other than a few notices in the news about Proposition 8 in California, there was little play. Even some of the most prominent homosexual people in California did not seem to start taking it seriously until the very end, as the date of the referendum drew nearer. The hew and cry that one would have expected turned out to be a petulant whisper. In the end, 52% of Californians who voted decided that it was best to amend the state's Constitution to keep same-sex couples from having a basic and primary right that all people should be able to share.

This has led the other 48% who voted against the measure, and a good portion of the rest of the nation, scratching their heads. How could this happen? In California of all places? And with a black man set to become President?

It came about because as causes go, this one has not been high on anyone's list. There is a lackadaisical feeling in California -- perhaps it's due to the sunny weather, the presence of Hollywood, the liberal tinge to the air, or just because it's California. Whatever the reason, that feeling tends to make it hard to drive them to the necessary level of histrionics required to get people to pay attention, and makes it a breeding ground for groups who can succeed in showing the necessary fire to get their message across.

And so, the fundamentalists of California worked harder, for longer, and with bigger war chests, and convinced a majority of the population that this was a good idea. And 52% bought it. And so, 18,000 couples, so happy just a few short months ago at being able to consummate their love with holy matrimony, now sit nervously and wonder what this all means for them.

Let me start by saying it was execrable amendment. Though couched in gentle terms, the effect was quite clear: to keep homosexuals from "sullying" the institution of marriage. How can a man and a man or a woman and a woman actually love each other? Don't they understand how unnatural that is? Don't they see that God hates them, and they should not be allowed to make an abomination by being joined in marriage?

Such thought is, without a doubt, putrid and malfeasant. It is the same level of rationality that allowed the Salem Witch Trials to be held, and innocent women and men convicted of witchcraft by the most nonexistent evidence imaginable. It is the same thread that allowed white men to enslave black men and women. It is in the same vein as the ideas of euthanasia and racial purity. It is the foulest breath of bigotry, for it exists as nothing tangible except naked fear of the unknown. And while slaves have been freed and women emancipated, the homosexual person has always been alone, "in the closet." Feared. Loathed. Misunderstood. Homosexuality is still treated as some ephemeral disease that a cough or a touch may transfer.

And it is in that scope that the forces in favor of Proposition 8 worked, making sure that people knew that if homosexuals were allowed to marry, it would be the social equivalent of the "Coming of Days." Unreasonableness and fear were allowed to run loose, unchecked and unchallenged, until it was too late.

Now there is much hand-wringing and recrimination. How could this happen? Why didn't more get done? Where were people who cared about this?

First, it is time to put this shameful event in the past. It is done, and no amount of wishing can undo the voting. Second, it is time to analyze the failure. The simple fact is: the fundamentalists wanted it more. They worked harder. They worked everywhere. They raised more funds and spoke louder and longer to people. The did everything that the Obama-Biden campaign did, but to more sinister ends. Third, it is time to look ahead. So, it has become a law. But laws can be made, and they can be unmade. An amendment to a Constitution can be repealed. Laws can be challenged on merit and on civil grounds. Forces can be aligned to repair the damage. What bigotry and idolatry can do, reason and righteousness can undo.

So now it is time to organize. It is time for the forces that should have been aligned against Proposition 8 before now to come together, to work together, and to build the machinery necessary to challenge this unconscionable violation of the civil rights of homosexuals. This must be elevated in people's eyes, so that they see exactly what is being condemned: couples, human beings, who love and are devoted to each other, who want to foster that love and to provide love to others. People, being denied a basic right, because it offends the sensibilities of zealots. Let this fight begin anew. Let the words rise up from the valleys and soar over the peaks. Let this be the last time any group in this country faces such blatant hostility and discrimination. Let the 21st Century in America be known as the Century of Enlightenment and Decency, rather than as a decent into madness.

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