Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
As racial barriers fall, homophobia persists as same-sex marriage ban passes.
California gays, lesbians and their heterosexual allies had little time to cheer Obama’s victory on Election Day before distressing results of the vote on Proposition 8, the passing of which would ban same-sex marriage, presented an obstacle in the fight for equality. Following a $35 million campaign undertaken by opponents of gay and lesbian rights, same-sex marriage, which had just shortly before been made legal in CA, was now to be banned—but not without a fight.
“It was extremely disheartening and disappointing. It really abridges the fundamental freedom of every American to choose their life partner and have that recognized by the state,” says Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director of Philadelphia-based Equality Forum, a national and international Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) civil rights organization with an educational focus.
“It makes gays and lesbians the only class of citizens which are denied having their permanent relationship honored by the state and denies us the 1,138 federal marital protection and benefits,” Lazin explains.
Supporters of same-sex marriage throughout the country were dismayed by the vote, which many argue was the result of unfair propaganda which demonized the gay and lesbian community, says Wendy Rae Hill, BSW, Director of Government Relations and Political Affairs for the California Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
“Those who wanted people to vote ‘yes’ on Prop 8 used children as weapons, saying that homosexuals corrupt children, and that the only true way children can thrive is within a heterosexual marriage,” Hill says. Extensive studies have shown that children raised by same-sex couples thrive as well as children from heterosexual marriages.
Other misperceptions, Hill argues, include the fallacy that churches that refuse to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies would get sued, and that they could lose their tax-exempt status.
That accusation, Hill contends, is “just as realistic as saying Jews will sue if they can’t marry in a Catholic church. Gays don’t go where they are not wanted.”
“There are in fact religious faiths and denominations that will marry gays,” Lazin notes. “It is only a segment that is really Taliban-like that is fighting same-sex marriage. No one is trying to force Mormons to marry same-sex partners, but Mormons are trying to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying under civil law.”
The Mormon Church donated $20 million of the $35 million that the “Yes on Prop 8” campaign spent to fight same-sex marriage rights. “Opponents of Prop 8 weren’t even able to get the money from inside CA,” Hill explains. “They got it from Utah.”
Despite all the church talk, Hill explains that most religious congregations were very supportive of gay rights activists during the campaign fervor, frequently providing and preparing food for volunteers. “We had thousands of religious congregations on our side,” she says.
While reports implied that the voting demographics responsible for banning same-sex rights were blacks and Hispanics, Hill cautions against stereotyping. “Those reports stemmed from the more conservative churches and religion-based groups who use religion to fight against equality,” she explains. “Every fair-minded group supported our efforts. That includes black, Hispanic, and Asian American civil rights groups. They volunteered; many participated in phone banking and made donations.”
Organizations such as the League of Women Voters, several California chapters of the ACLU, the Japanese American Citizens League, the California NAACP, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), and the Orange County Chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, among others, all officially oppose Prop 8. Notably, the list of religious congregations against Prop 8 is extensive and diverse.
The election of Senator Barack Obama gives many activists hope. “I think it is a very powerful message of diversity, for the country as a whole, and celebrates the strength of the country for diversity,” Lazin tells demo dirt. “Senator Obama is very supportive of providing same-sex couples with equal benefits.”
While Obama’s stance on same-sex marriage is “not ideal,” Hill says, she praises the President-Elect. “He believes that we all should have equality, he did oppose Prop 8 and he opposed Bush’s proposed constitutional amendment,” she maintains. “He is extraordinarily inclusive; he indicated in his first words in his acceptance speech, when he mentioned gay and straight Americans. He acknowledges that we deserve equality. Obama gets that, he understands that, and he values the LGBT community.”
Nations including Canada and several European countries allow same-sex marriage, Lazin adds, and their societies have not suffered for it. In those countries, he asks, “has traditional marriage been adversely affected? If there has been no adverse impact on traditional marriage, then why would you deny it for your fellow citizens?”
In fact, Lazin maintains, allowing same-sex rights in this country would be beneficial for all citizens, not only the gay and lesbian community.
“Anytime that we affirm the principles of democracy it really benefits the entire country because what make us unique, at least in terms of our founding, was that we set out as our goal certain inalienable rights, including the pursuit for every citizen of happiness,” Lazin says. “To deny one group the right of marriage is really an anathema to the underlying concept of democratic values.”
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