The commercial fades in on a swank kitchen with modern black appliances, ripe peppers and red onions on the counter, daylight streaming in through the window. A young, dark-haired mother is sorting mail when her daughter runs in the room exclaiming, "Mom guess what I learned in school today?"
"What sweetie?" her mother asks.
"I learned a prince can marry a prince. And can I marry a princess?" She excitedly hands her mother a storybook called King & King. The camera pans slowly away from the child's gleeful face to the mother's horrified expression. "Think it can't happen? It's already happened," says Richard Peterson, a Professor of Law at Pepperdine niversity, as he walks onto the screen. He continues, "When Massachusetts legalized gay marriage, schools started teaching second graders that boys can marry boys." A female voice concludes: "Teaching children about gay marriage will happen here unless we pass Proposition 8." Up pops the logo for the "Yes on 8" campaign--baby blue with yellow text, cartoon figurines of kids and parents holding hands--an insignia that looks more fit for a preschool than a powerful lobbying group that successfully stripped millions of their civil rights last November.
Leading up to the November 4 election, supporters of the gay marriage ban spent nearly $40 million on advertisements in California, ads that mostly played in conservative areas of the state. These ads utterly misrepresented the issue of gay marriage, arguing that it jeopardizes religious freedoms and our children. It was a vicious and well-fought campaign. In the end, a majority of California voters, or, rather, 52.3 percent of the 79.2 percent of registered voters who came to the polls that day, supported it, making it law. The California Supreme Court convened last week in San Francisco to pick between their decision from last May, which applied equal protection to gay couples, and this new amendment. As reported in The New York Times on March 5, the court seems likely to uphold Proposition 8, and 18,000 legal gay marriages will hang in the balance.
The logic used by those who wrote and successfully sold Proposition 8 to the voters of California is inherently flawed. So flawed, in fact, that it is frustrating, nauseating, almost silly, to try to argue with it. This is a nation founded upon secularism and equal rights. There is nothing about a gay couple marrying that interferes even remotely with the religious freedoms accorded to others--in fact, by denying some people equal protection, religious institutions are weakening the very principle upon which they enjoy the right to build whatever kind of church they want or pray to whatever God they choose. The idea that a committed homosexual couple marrying somehow weakens the already weak state of marriage in America is equally illogical.
In an October 29 speech, San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom drew a parallel between Prop. 8 and Loving v. Virginia: "Imagine if we submitted the rights of minority on the issue of marriage equality in 1967 to the majority; we would not have interracial marriage today." He further asked, "Do you think women would have the right to vote today if we let the people decide?" At first glance, these seem like apt historical comparisons: the many bully the few, the few fight back, and it will be up to the Federal Constitution to give rights where rights are due. But there is also something not-quite-right about comparing this moment to the eve of women's suffrage or the tumultuous '60s. This isn't a country that feels particularly aware, let alone upset, about the battle for civil rights being waged in California.
And that lack of registration means we're siding with those who are seeking to deprive homosexuals of their equal rights. During that same talk, Newsom reminded his audience of a truly frightening moment last fall during that weird saga when we flirted with electing that inarticulate moose huntress to national office. The evening of the vice presidential debates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin actually agreed on an issue: gays can have civil unions, not full-blown marriage. During those harrowing weeks marked by Boschian division, this was our point of unity? This is where we met eyes? A statement which so clearly spits in the face of Brown v. Board of Education?
Newsom, who will perhaps risk what would have been a very dignified national career as a Democratic politician because of some marriage licenses he signed back in 2004, asked his audience to think about this moment. And he quoted many, including members of his Irish Catholic family, who don't understand why it's not enough to give gays civil unions and call it a day: "Why are you so fixated on this marriage thing? Don't you have other things to focus on? I don't care about this issue, they say, just call it something else."
Of course, that moment during the VP debate was hardly the lead story the next day. And likewise, gay rights isn't really a lead story these days, at all, and understandably: we're very busy, we're broke, we're fighting several wars. That said, why does it feel uncomfortable to even call what's taking place in San Francisco a 'civil rights battle'? Is this really what it looks like when our nation fights a civil rights battle? There aren't riots, certainly, but where's the outrage?
Well, it's hardly in the papers. Sure, the Times spits out an obligatory story about the 'topic' every time a little something happens all the way over in California. But they do so in a way that treats both sides of the issue with incredible fairness. In their March 5 story, for example, the writer twice quoted Don J. Grundmann, a member of the American Warrior Ministry in San Leandro, CA, who was speaking out in favor of Prop. 8 because he "believed that homosexuality was a [sic.] 'emotional pathology' that he feared would be taught to children." 'That's the real objective,' Mr. Grundmann said." How, in 2009, is it not only acceptable, but not downright offensive, to quote an individual such as this, to give voice to the concept that homosexuality is an emotional pathology--in a national paper? The media has an obligation to objectivity, yes, but there is a point at which a stand must be taken, when tolerance becomes a mask for bigotry. If this were an article about racial equality it would be entirely unacceptable to quote his views of the white supremacist protesting outside.
The only people who seem to be vocal, to be outraged at all, are the champions of bigotry. They went out of their way, after all, to draft Prop. 8. And now, they're even calling themselves the victims in the situation. Over and over in ads supporting the measure, reference is made to the increasingly negative social stigma that supporters of the measure have received. One advertisement even laments the defacement of "Yes on 8" posters and the "abuse" incurred therein. This is a group of individuals who drafted legislation to strip some fellow countrymen of a right, a right rooted in love and commitment to another person, because of hatred, and nothing more. And it is our collective failure not to call bigotry by its name that has allowed the bigots to convince themselves of their tolerance whilst espousing opinions as ludicrously offensive as these.
The 296-word "Why Vote Yes" section of protectmarriage.com gives one main reason for supporting Prop. 8: "it protects our children from being taught in public schools that 'same-sex marriage' is the same as traditional marriage, and prevents other consequences to Californians who will be forced to not just be tolerant of gay lifestyles, but face mandatory compliance regardless of their personal beliefs." What's interesting about this argument isn't how hateful it is, but how well it hides that hate. These aren't fighting words, this isn't the outright hatred of the KKK. No, in this era of Political Correctness, bigots proclaim they're fine with 'tolerance,' while campaigning to strip those they tolerate of their rights. This language recalls another era in American history, not one of outright civil unrest, but one in which we strayed far from the reason of our guiding documents, biting our nails and rooting 'Commies' out of every house and classroom.
We are a nation that pats itself on the back for its tolerance, and having done so, saves itself from the act of recognizing its bigotry. Why didn't we call Biden out the morning after that debate? Why haven't the major papers engaged at all with the flimsy logic of those who passed Prop. 8? I mean, if they teach homosexuality in schools, so what? Gay kids won't hate themselves? Straight kids won't learn to hate? If a Catholic adoption organization that discriminates against gay couples in Massachusetts goes out of business, so what? Gay Catholics won't have to hate themselves? Straight Catholics won't learn to hate? Businesses in America won't be able to discriminate?
Every few years some artist finally breaks a story through that reminds us of our bigotry and we dab the corners of our eyes. The Laramie Project, Brokeback Mountain, Milk--the stories change but the message remains the same: many gay people in this country are second-class citizens, who, if they don't assimilate, are stripped of rights and risk violence. In his stunning Oscar acceptance speech, Milk writer Dustin Lance Black said, "to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less-than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families: you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value. And that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you, and very soon I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours." The more indifferent this debate becomes and the longer it lingers, the longer, in pockets all across this nation, not just the streets of the Castro, homosexual individuals will be painted into corners with brushes of hate.
A little girl comes home from school and hands her mother a story book about two men who love one another getting married. As her mother recoils in horror, history looms in that staged kitchen, gawking at our cruelty, and recognizing, perhaps, the plight of the child, who, given the opportunity to understand her own sexuality and love herself, is met with true American bigotry.
SANDRA ALLEN B'09 is a commie, homo-lovin' son of a gun.