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Emily Cotler Headshot

California's Shame

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Equality for all. What could be more basic and simple than that? And yet, California's Proposition 8 passed. If you don't know what Prop 8 entails, it's essentially this: its supporters believe that there are rights that should be granted to some, but not others, or essentially: equality only for those who already have it. The people who put Prop 8 on the ballot believe that only white people should be able to marry. Oh, wait, that was only straight people should be able to marry. But it's the same thing. It really is. Ironic when you consider that the African-American vote largely helped pass Prop 8.

Analogies: Ninety years ago proponents of Prop 8 were the living-in their-own-past people who opposed women's suffrage. Fifty years ago these were the people who believed that a black kid had no business being in a white kid's school. Twenty-five years ago these were the narrow-minded individuals who believed that a woman shouldn't be paid the same as a man. And last month these were the people who said in front of my college roommate, now living outside Raleigh-Durham, "I don't mean to sound racist, but I just don't want a black man as president."

Apparently, a man's vote means less if measured in the same tallies as his wife's. A white kid's education is inherently compromised by the side-by-side attendance of a black kid. A woman being paid what a man gets paid for the same work threatens the man's livelihood. And the Oval Office is just for whites.

Bollocks.

Allowing two consenting adults the right to marry does not threaten anyone else's marriage. Or threaten anything else, for that matter. Why am I allowed to marry my partner, but the lesbian couple three doors down cannot? They have lived together far longer than I have lived with my partner. They own and renovated their house -- we only rent, making them more stable in this community than we are. And to address the narrow argument that marriage is between two people who can have children together: does that mean that my straight friends who have no children, whether by choice or fertility lottery, have no right to be married? And the lesbian couple I know with two beautiful daughters, one born to each by the same donor - isn't this a real family?

If Ellen DeGeneres marrying her wife truly threatens any man-woman marriage, then there are other destabilizing things going on in that "traditional" marriage.

And I cannot to give weight to the religious argument - not in the United States. Whatever any church or individual wants to do with it in terms of religion is separate from law. People who marry in a church must first get a license from the state; the religious wedding is voluntary. Marriage is a legal contract, one that affords the legal benefits that Equality For All supporters have been lobbying for. But it's the separation of church and state -- that length of timeless sinew that theoretically keeps this nation from going down narrow, fundamentalist faith-driven avenues that start wars and divide communities... Our separation of church and state holds the legality of marriage apart from any argument relating to anyone's Bible or interpretation thereof.

Therefore, with these baseless arguments removed, there is no argument in favor of Prop 8 except that it is different from what is known... not unlike emancipation, women's suffrage, and school integration. Prejudice always eventually pushes a pressure point, and it's always the bigots who are the fighters for the status quo.

It's fear. Fear of change. Fear that this person who is different from me might be awarded the same opportunities and rights that I currently enjoy and the fear that somehow that means that I will have less. I remember a time many, many years ago when seeing a lesbian couple walk hand-in-hand down the street made me double-take. In my youthful unsophistication, I found it a gawk-worthy curiosity. That was then. Now I just see people -- they are simply people...

Prop 8 was enormously funded by groups from outside California. Places where, likely, gay couples walking hand-in-hand are a rarity. Places where, evidently, the politics of fear thrive. These Prop 8 proponents mirror those who continued to oppose desegregation after Elizabeth Eckford and eight other black students entered Little Rock Central High in 1957. Eventually they will lose. Not this election, sadly, but eventually. History eventually gets these things right, vindicating the Elizabeth Eckfords and condemning the Hazel Bryans. Jackie Robinson, Harvey Milk, and Cesar Chavez all eventually became heroic icons. Prop 8 is a big push in support of a dying prejudice. It's a won battle in a lost war.