Saturday, November 08, 2008

Some thoughts on Proposition 8: I'm not mourning

My attitude towards the successful passage of Proposition 8 in California has been surprisingly optimistic, given the emotions of sorrow and hurt expressed by others concerning its passing. Sure, I don't have the personal connection to things that happen in the USA, or to the gay couples in California who were hoping to get married, that those who do feel hurt by its passage have.

But consider:
In 2000, the Vermont state court legalised civil unions. Such unions were a scary and radical notion at the time, and their initial existence only just survived an attempt at a constitutional amendment outlawing them. Gay couples, in the form of "civil unions", remain legally recognised there to this day.

In 2003, the Massachusetts state court legalised gay marriage. Gay couples, in the form of marriage and not just "civil unions", remain legally recognised there to this day.

In other states of course, constitutional amendments restricting marriage to the union of a man and a woman were passed even in advance of any state court ruling suggesting that it should be otherwise. These amendments often passed by very large margins.

And yet, in 2008, in California, their version of civil unions – domestic partnership legislation – is and remains uncontroversially on the books. Far from radical and threatening, they are viewed as the safe compromise. As for the passing of Proposition 8....

Support for the Proposition received an enormous amount of financial support, such that gay rights groups were constantly struggling to match it. Much of the work to garner support for the Proposition came from the considerable financial and political muscle of the Church of Latter Day Saints, who came awfully close to crossing the line separating church from state, if not passing over it entirely, in their zeal to see it passed. And a great deal of the attempt to garner support for Proposion 8's passage was done through propagating distortions and fabrications, as documented by the LA Times here

With all of these tremendous advantages, the total amount of support that this huge assault of money and lies managed to muster for Proposition 8 was....52%. A paltry 2% over the majority mark.

I am sorry for those who have suffered because the advances made in the last 8 years were not as far-reaching as they were thought to be. But they are far-reaching. The anti-gay forces may have won this time, but they were barely able to hold their own, even with their full amassed might brought to bear. And even then it's still unclear whether they got everything they wanted; word from the California Attorney-General's office is that Proposition 8 will not be applied retroactively: already-married same-sex couples will remain legally married.

All that's happened here is a temporary setback. In fact, from where we were a year ago, we've actually gained a tiny bit of ground. We now have actual married gay couples to point to in California, which makes it that little bit easier to talk about the issue in real human terms rather than in terms of airy abstract ideals. I think we're continuing to inch ahead.

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