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Prop 8 Makes Wrong Kind of History

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True or False:

1) We should eliminate civil rights through popular vote, as long as a very narrow majority of voters agree.
2) Special interests and citizens from other states should be allowed to fund political campaigns that affect your rights in your state.

If you answered "true" to either question you may be a supporter of California Proposition 8--the ballot measure that was titled "Eliminates rights of same-sex couples to marry." If so, on this test and in last Tuesday's election--even with the right answer staring you in the face--you failed.

California made history last week, to be sure, but not the kind of history we like and can be proud of and certainly not the kind of history we're known for. In 1948, California led the nation by becoming the first state to strike down bans on interracial marriage. In the Perez v Sharp decision that found marriage to be a fundamental right, the state Supreme court stated "the right to marry is the right to join in marriage with the person of one's choice" (emphasis added). Nearly 20 years later, the United States Supreme Court agreed that marriage was a "basic civil right" when it struck down anti-miscegenation laws all across the country.

Last Tuesday a very narrow majority of voters decided to make history again: California is now the first state in the nation to take away a currently existing civil right from a group of citizens. This national embarrassment by way of constitutional amendment is made all the more painful and unjust by the manner in which it was passed: the subjection of individual rights to a popular vote. Really? In America? In California!?

People are entitled to their religious and moral convictions but I strongly suspect many who were on the fence but eventually voted in favor of prop 8 did so as a result of a long, expensive, campaign of misinformation, fear-mongering and outright lies. The Yes on 8 campaign repeated claims long ago disproved, fueled by big money from out-of-state citizens and special interests and a mentally unstable billionaire with Tourette's syndrome who once declared his goal to be "the total integration of biblical law into our lives." I don't think that is the brand of history many Yes on 8 voters bargained for.

Meanwhile, the proposition hardly accomplishes what it's most ardent supporters set out to do: end gay marriage. Over 18,000 same-sex couples wed leading up to the election. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown predicted those marriages will not be nullified, leaving a class of gay citizens who can have same-sex marriages and another class that cannot. Moreover, the grandest irony is that the amendment does not preclude gay marriage--a gay man can still legally marry a lesbian or heterosexual woman for example--it only prevent gays and lesbians from marrying the person they actually love. This paradox hardly protects the institution of marriage, it makes an absolute mockery of it.

The response to the vote has been swift. In less than one week, I've peacefully marched many miles (albeit on crutches after a recent knee surgery) with outraged and unified gays, lesbians and their straight allies in four rallies. There were separate marches with nearly 2,000 participants in West Hollwood, 3,000-5,000 in Westwood, and approximately 13,000 in Silverlake. And what I observed amazed me.

I saw straights, gays, men, woman, blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians who were outraged but inspired. They weren't alone. Among the countless supportive voices I heard were that of an elderly woman in a wheelchair cheering us on from her front lawn. I saw whole families waving in support from high-rise apartment complexes and workers applauding from office buildings. There were people just getting out of class or ending their work day to join the marches as motorists stuck in blocked rush-hour traffic blared their horns in support. At one point I witnessed classrooms full of children cheering through their windows and giving a "thumbs up" to the peaceful marchers outside.

I've walked alongside children as young as eight chanting loudly "gay, straight, black, white, marriage is a civil right" and I've seen groups of teenage girls proudly displaying their "No on H8" signs made from the backs of cereal boxes. There have been marching bands, drums, sirens and megaphones. At one point I stopped to rest at an overpass and looked back to see throngs of people fill the street as far back as my eyes could see. And this is just in Los Angeles.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in San Diego, Huntington Beach, Palm Springs, Fresno, Oakland, Long Beach, Lake Forest and San Francisco--all peaceful with just a handful of arrests. Outside California, 3,000 protested in downtown Salt Lake City and a major protest is scheduled Wednesday in New York. And now, over 80 cities in every state across the nation will protest Prop 8 on Saturday.

Why such a strong nationwide reaction from gays and straights alike to one proposition in one state that seemingly effects only one group of people? Well, because this issue affects every American. There will always be disagreement about controversial and provocative issues, but a bedrock American principle is to draw the line at the elimination by popular vote of a person's basic civil rights once those rights have been afforded to him/her.

Americans are traditionally touchy about their rights. We value them, are protective of them, and don't appreciate them being threatened. But this is exactly what Prop 8 does. It begs the question of which group or what right is next. It's scary. And it should be.

So I'd like to offer a sincere, unequivocal and warm-hearted thank you to the organizations who funded the misleading campaign behind this measure. Thank you for awaking a sleeping giant and kicking a lion. Thank you for galvanizing an otherwise complacent and heretofore dormant grassroots movement that will inevitably become a national cause.

Thank you also for choosing this fight in a state where you were barely able to eke out a slim majority. Thank you especially for throwing down the gauntlet in an age when we have not just public television, as in the 1960s and '70s, regulated and censored by federal agencies, but cable, YouTube, the internet, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and the iPhone. Thank you for doing this at a time where the injustice of your actions and the depth of your lies can be instantly communicated to the entire world in a matter of nanoseconds.

Incidentally, it should come as no surprise voters aged 18-29 voted nearly two to one against Prop 8. Where they will stand on this issue when it again comes to a vote is crystal clear. How will the youth below them weigh in when they come to voting age and this is again on the ballot? Here's a hint: first-time voters voted 62% to 38% against Prop 8. History, time, momentum, and America's youth are on the side of equality and fairness for same-sex couples.

If the Yes on 8 campaign hadn't fought so hard and spent so much money to eliminate minority rights with such an underwhelming majority of voters, then California would have remained just one of three states recognizing the value of all families and the equality of all citizens. There would be no national discussion about Prop 8. In several Yes on 8 campaign ads, much was made about whether or not children would have to learn about gay marriage. They're most certainly going to now.

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