Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 15, 2008 2:13AM

Why I'm Glad Prop 8 Passed

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The passage of proposition 8 in California may be the best thing that’s happened to the gay community in a long, long time. Since last week, I have seen friends and acquaintances transformed, outraged, angry, and determined to do something about the injustice we have suffered and to try to change the way things are. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen groups of white gay men organize around anything besides parties, sex, or fashion, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

When I came of age in the early 1990s, the gay and lesbian movement was just coming out of the ACT UP years, marching on Washington for the first time, and looking beyond the AIDS crisis for the first time, trying to figure out how best to fight discrimination and attain equality. Marriage was not a cause any of my friends or I embraced at the time, why would we squander our political power fighting for the right to participate in an oppressive heterosexual institution? We were a large and disparate community, made up of many races, many genders and mostly outside of the mainstream. But a funny thing happened as we achieved visibility and political success on a wide scale: we went mainstream. As more people came out all over the country they came of age in a period where there wasn’t as much to struggle against and it became widely seen as okay to be gay. Certainly I do not mean to suggest that it became easy, but I have met so many gay boys and girls who had the freedom to decide who they were at a very young age, and came out into a world where they could see themselves on TV, in magazines, and in a popular culture that validated their choices.

As time went on, the scrappy grassroots gay organizations that had formed in the early years turned into institutions, and shifted their focus from activism to fundraising, targeting and servicing the wealthiest of our community, who tended to be white men. Gay men in popular culture quickly assumed the fastest path to mainstream acceptance: becoming early adopters and hyper-consumers, using their innate “queer eye” to be the arbiters of taste for a society that was told the most patriotic act it could perform was to go shopping. Gay events became a parade of corporate sponsorship, with audiences dressed up in designer clothes to applaud the latest corporations to lend their logos and a few dollars to try to win loyalty from gay consumers. Gay media sprung up, magazines, blogs, festivals and television networks, and struggled to find their voice and relevance.

The gay and lesbian community became complacent. When a landmark non-discrimination bill came up in Congress last year, the community divided on the inclusion of transgender protection in the bill, even though neither version (with or without trans-inclusion) was ever going to become law. The uneasy coalition began to fracture – activism was messy and impolite and the privileged white gay men I knew didn’t want to tie their fortunes to people they didn’t think they had anything in common with. We lost our way in politics; we stood alone and insisted that it was our way or the highway. A prominent gay media figure publicly proclaimed that he “tore up his check” to Obama when the candidate refused to back gay marriage. This typifies the gay community’s lack of understanding of politics. We can’t go this alone, and if we don’t reach out and build these bridges, nobody is going to build them for us.

We were rudely awakened by a brilliant campaign against us. Being right, just, and moral does not win elections. Money, hard work, organization, and coalition-building win elections. The “No on Prop 8” group ran a poor campaign, with bad messaging, bad advertising, ineffective organization and a baffling focus on our own community. The “Yes on 8” campaign ran a brilliant campaign with simple, poll-tested messaging, an energized base, powerful fundraising and brilliantly effective outreach and organizing to communities all around the state. They almost deserved to win.

This is a very important lesson in politics and democracy for the gay community. Our anger is a gift, use it the right way and we will get what we work for. Use it the wrong way and we will make long-term enemies and prolong our own struggle. We are not victims! Our anger must not become hatred for other minority groups that have been divided from us in our common struggle. We must not attack the Mormon Church but understand that religion is playing too large a role in our civic life and work for the repeal of tax-exempt status for churches that engage in political campaigns. We must not get angry at black churches and assume that CHANGE means the same thing to them that it does to us. We must understand that we are divided by forces which profit from our division. We must understand the common struggles that we share with everyone who faces challenges and discrimination from the state. We must look past ourselves and frame the debate in a way that includes other people. We must stop whining for our rights and organize to secure them. We must not be afraid of our enemies but we must win the argument with them. We must find our common purpose and change this country together. Civil and human rights and liberties have never been automatic in the United States, nor have they ever been under such attack. Our constitution guarantees us the chance to fight for them, it is not a blanket guarantee that they will never be trampled.

It is time to turn anger into action, to build bridges and to go work for the changes we want. Welcome back to the struggle.

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Damn that made me horny.
BTW, Jon, I had to come back to say to you honestly: your blog post has a cadence that moved along with an insistent tempo. It was passionate and alive. Your's is the kind of style I most enjoy, its the prose of a poet when he's letting it happen.

I was sadly disappointed to see so many black religious people not realize that their Bible is more to the point about its support for slavery than its presumed condemnation of homosexuality, a term that didn't even exist in the first century and wouldn't have been challenged with much vigor anyway outside the context of idolatry. At least Paul didn't give it much energy. But then Billy Idol knew that power in the pump, didn't he? Even if he played the idol for season.

I found the black religious vote all too sadly ironic. But one thing I've learned about the mindset of the authoritarian follower is that "convention" is whatever their little Napoleon false gods on a pulpit say it is.

Huh, here I was all set to be righteously pissed off, and you go and make a great argument about the round-about good prop 8 might yet do. Now what am I going to do with this head of steam I've got built up?!

Rated and appreciated.
Quite right! Movements grow when there is something solid to push against. Now they are out in the open.

The gay lifestyle isn't for me but neither is being catholic or mormon and yet I'm not about to donate money to stomp on their rights to be so collectively stupid with their 'religious' delusions...

Everyone deserves the opportunity to be loved for who they are and should have the legal trappings that the heterosexual world has if they wish to make their relationship legal. To have a self-righteous group of people decide that because it's to be called 'marriage', it's wrong is just stupid. Marriage is just a word. Marriage isn't intrinsically religious either. It's a legal binding contract between two people that recognizes the shared domain of their lives. Calling it something else than 'marriage' demeans the very thing that they mean to save. Is 'religious' marriage something so sacred that the name itself is a high holy word? Well if the act of marriage was taken from the churches and ministers were no longer trusted by the state to perform the legal angle (which is a laugh because of the serial monogamy practiced by so many 'religious people) then would the 'religious nuts be happy?

Marriage and the ability to marry people SHOULD rest with the 'state' and the 'state' alone. 'Religion' has been too intertwined with the legal joining of two people's lives for far to long... Would making the 'act of marriage' a solely state function take some of the wind from their sails?

'Marriage' carries way to many legal benefits to couples that chose to legally join their lives. In the end, if churches are taken out of the process completely then perhaps the government could finally end this pointless bullshit jihad over a simple word.

I say let people marry. Let any couple that wants to join their lives and share their lives legally be able to do it.

Remember that churches wouldn't marry mixed race couples. It's just a legal document people, not an assault on your rights... This mingling of the religious and legal is ridiculous...
I think a lot of people who used to see this as a gay issue will now see that it is a civil rights issue. So I'm pretty sure you will win in the end.

But it's sad that progress is so slow.
Well, gang, do you also realize that B.O., President Elect, is also against gay marriage? A fact that I find hard to square with the fact that he is the most left-leaning President we have elected in what, 70 years? Hmm. Are his principles and platform sort of like jello?
Obama's opposition to gay marriage is a frustrating, but necessary, reminder that civil rights are the most vulnerable issues to abuse by political leaders. That's why almost every major civil rights protection is enshrined through the courts. Sadly, sometimes, it doesn't work automatically through there either. But because, regardless of the current prejudices of the times, the rule of law and the principle of equality are written into our constitution and eventually judges have to READ the document to make their decisions. There is no legal argument on behalf of bigotry, regardless of public opinion or initiative voting.

This is an outstandingly written commentary. Thank you.
candace o: Trolling again? You should really try to be less transparent if you're going to keep doing this.

Obama does not support gay marriage, which is a result of his religious beliefs. Three howevers:

1. He does support gay rights, including civil unions--not enough, IMHO, but when have we ever had a President who was even that supportive? Remember, the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask/Don't Tell were Clinton legacies. I loved Clinton, but he really fell short in that department.

2. He was against Prop 8, because it took away civil rights that had been granted by the court.

3. He has acknowledged that his beliefs about gay marriage arise from his faith, and that he may be mistaken about his beliefs. In other words, he accepts that his interpretation of faith to mean that gay marriage is wrong, may be faulty.

I think he's the best Presidential hope we've had yet for progress for gay civil rights.
Time will tell how 'left-leaning' Obama is... He's not Bush or McCain.
Thanks, this is a great post. I was so disappointed in the way our side ran the No on 8 campaign, but the Yes side has been flushed out into the open and has nowhere to hide. I have always felt that the LGBT(etc...) community is way too complacent. As someone was quoted as saying in a recent article in the LA Times (I paraphrase), "too many of us are used to spending four nights a week at The Abbey (a local club) drinking Appletinis," and that the loss has had the effect of waking us up. I have been especially uplifted by the sight of so many gay and lesbian youth participating in organizing. It's about time.
We need to use the POWER we DO control - our wallets.

Stop GOVERNMENTAL PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE on the Q Community and their children! This is child abuse.

PROOF - http://www.apa.org/releases/glbt-stress-1108.html

The National Equality Tax Protest will be on Wednesday, April 15th, 2009.

Many more individuals are FINALLY gathering to TAKE A STAND against persecution from the Catholics, Mormons & the Christian "Right". No vote will be needed on this one, folks.

EQUALITY is SIMPLE when you simply include EVERYONE.
I love what you wrote and the eloquent comments posted on top of that in response to it. You've all said everything I'm thinking and feeling and so I have nothing left to ad but good job!
This post makes the obvious point that if it doesn't kill you, it helps you to grow. I've been a gay activist since 1974 and remember the early days when the movement was entirely grassroots because almost no one with money would donate to our groups. It was all people power and while not easy, much more satisfying to participate. The funded groups today push out grassroots efforts and are hard to overcome.

By the way, the FIRST march on Washington for LGBT rights was NOT in the 1990s. The first was in 1979. I remember going and breaking into tears at how many LGBT people assembled from around the country. There was a massive one in 1987, partly in response to the AIDS crisis and the awful Reagan years. Then the 1993 march tried to hold the new Clinton administration to its promises (unsuccessfully, it turned out). And in 2000, HRC was the main force behind a march that was all corporatized and that I made the decision to skip.

I would be curious to hear from this poster HOW he himself is participating in new organizing efforts and how they are working.

It's not as if the loss in California broke the national movement's momentum. The election of Obama is starting to change things federally. Then there's Iowa, Vermont, DC, and even Columbia, Missouri. Nevada moved some LGBT rights bills this week. Sweden just went from civil unions to marriages. None of this is inevitable. But it is a worldwide movement that will be hard to put back in the bottle.
Please note: I also posted this on the piece "What if Same-Sex Marriage Were Legal in the US?

As the straight product of a psychotic father and a totally uncaring mother, I argue against the "one man, one woman only" marriage. Remember the FLDS picture of Warren Jeffs tongue kissing HIS 12 year old girly bride? It churns my gut to even think about it.

I would have killed for parents who cared about me. Many gay couples have children and others raise adopted kids with love and dignity. While there are dysfunctional gay couples too, gender has nothing to do with love, family and marriage. I raise a glass to gay marriage and hope the next time the proposition comes around in my state (California) we get our act together and vote FOR gay marriage.
Your perception here is both refreshing and realistic.
Bringing about the change we need around this proposition and it will happen, will be the right thing to do and will be a positive boost to the economy. How can it not? More importantly, it makes good sense, promotes marriage and stability, human rights and harms no one. It is the good fight. Rated for excellent writing and perspective.
Also note that the anti-gay-marriage vote was 9% less than the 2000 vote. Polling suggests that the 52% support has since fallen to 48%, which means that the next time to the ballot will be successful.
The approach I like is simply changing the word "marriage" in all California law to "domestic parternship" and let the partners decide what to call it. Then, nobody or everybody could be "really married".
I appreciate enthusiastically everything you said in your post.
Unfortunately not so good for the people of California, since it was a constitutional amendment that can only be overturned with a 2/3 vote. California may be one of the last states to legalize gay marriage, which means we're liable to experience brain drain to Iowa.
Your anger is a gift.

Thanks to all of the commenters here, it’s very gratifying to have feedback. And thank you to longtime activist Andy Humm for correcting my assumption that the first marches on Washington began with my awareness of them. I walk in your footsteps with gratitude.

Mr. Humm thinks the point of my post is obvious, and asks how I have been participating in new organizing efforts since I wrote this post nearly five months ago. This was a response to the overwhelming reaction that people in my peer group, mostly privileged white men in West Hollywood, CA, were having to the passage of Prop 8. For many of them, it seemed like it was the first time in their lives that they had ever encountered blatant discrimination, and they acted as though it was the single worst thing to happen to the world in their lifetimes. I begged to differ, and I think the loss in California actually fueled the national movement’s momentum so much more than a win would have. Mine was a fairly unpopular viewpoint with the major donors to the No On 8 campaign, a couple of whom took me to task in public for writing it. But since November, at least four brand new activist groups have sprung up in my social circles, and I along with dozens of friends and acquaintances, am participating in outreach, education and political action, and movement building. Organizations like WhiteKnot.org, F.A.I.R., All Or Not At All, and Equal Roots have formed to engage so many to do much good, and are fighting for marriage equality along multiple fronts. And progressive organizations like The Courage Campaign have seen their ranks swell with new foot soldiers and donors as they have moved the fight for marriage equality to front and center. I cannot yet answer the question of how well any of this is working, but I believe that marriage equality will come eventually to all 50 states, and it will not happen on its own, nor will it be due to any one single person, group, or action.
Actually, that was my first thought when I found Prop 8 had passed. "Now, maybe they'll get off their lazy asses and get this thing done!" I'm glad to see you aren't taking it laying down, as it were...
Religion is the single greatest impediment to the recognition of the inherent citizenship of America's gay and lesbian citizens.

The argument of dueling bible verses between our supporters and detractors should be between them alone. Both sides need to get out of our lives and let the civil legislative and judicial process take its own course as it has done in Iowa and Vermont.

The travesty of the recent California election with the passage of Prop-Hate should never happen again anywhere else.
What nobody mentions is the cost to the society of gay marriage. Normal couples man&wife enjoy certain tax privileges due to the children they beget; gay couples will not normally have children. But Social Security pensions will be paid to gay couples, and medicare benefits will acrue, especially to survivors. What cost? Nobody has calculated that.
I just wanted to pop in to say that I think this was a very well-written post. You could have been writing about any number of things and your style would have left one feeling informed and motivated. I know that some day, people will look back on this particular struggle for equality and wonder what was the big deal. I wish it wasn't taking so long.

And Marc, do you really think that an elderly gay couple collecting SS & Medicare are any more of a drain on our resources than poverty-stricken young people popping out babies right and left? Or what about elderly rich people who don't need it but collect it anyway? You're barking off-key up the wrong species of tree.
To Marc Jeric: Why not ask about the cost of heterosexual couples who don't have children and then collect Social Security and Medicare as well? By your same logic, fertility and willingness to breed should be prerequisites for marriage- which is ridiculous.
This should never have been be put up to a popular vote in California.
As in Brown vs. Board of Education. The people would never have wanted a Black girl in the classroom.
The folks in black robes, not white robes with hats, made the choice.
And it was correct. One step forward. Now we try again. In Iowa. In Vermont.