"We've finally arrived at a moment when America feels like it's supposed to." - Bob Cesca of the Huffpo (Wenesday, November 5, 2008)
This past Election Tuesday, Californians turned out in droves to recognize the rights of caged-chickens while denying the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. Passing Prop 2 and Prop 8, Californians secured a chicken's right to "extend its wings, lie down, stand up, and turn around" in confinement, while revoking basic democratic rights from gays; rights like equal protection under the law, the ability to pursue happiness, and the freedom to worship religion without state interference (that's right, there are Judeo-Christian confessions that view same-sex marriage as sacred). In short, Californians sympathize with chickens but not with gays. We Americans can all be proud of the prodigious progress being made. Americans, exceptionally capable of progressive change, have once again galloped forward. Who can doubt that this moment marks an ideological shift leftward? Indeed.
Sorry to be the buzz-kill at the liberal victory-party, but this election has been a historic nightmare for millions of gay Americans. In Florida, Arizona, and California propositions have been passed to amend state constitutions, permanently enshrining second-class citizenship into law. America has taken a tremendous step backward -- actively revoking rights granted to citizens by state constitutions -- though you'd never know it from most of the punditry and pontificating.
Drunk on Obama victory, commentators are busy idealizing the American electorate, waxing rhapsodic about the inherent goodness of the American spirit, the progress it has made, and its tolerant essence. Skim the titles down yesterday's Huffpost for gems like: "How to come down from Euphoria," "The Other Side of Paradise," "Exhale," "Real Shock and Awe," "Why All Americans have a Reason to Celebrate," and "Hitting the Reset Button on the 21st Century." Apparently nobody in the MSM has the stomach to parse words like "bittersweet," "hypocrisy," and "pyrrhic victory." It just does not jibe well with the supposed revival of the American dream that began this past Tuesday. I get it: anger and suffering isn't cool. It makes Americans uncomfortable. The victors do not want to hear about it; certainly not while they congratulate themselves for being so enlightened.
To be sure, this is not the media's fault. But its reticence on the uneven nature of American progress is strikingly naive and delusional, especially given the overwhelming--though not singularly determinative--role that African-Americans played in supporting Prop 8 and denying other Americans their civil rights. While seventy percent of self-identified gays and lesbians supported the first African-American presidential candidate (according to the exit poll reported by CNN), seventy percent of African American voters approved Prop 8, compared to 53% of Latino voters, 49% of white voters, and 49% of Asian voters.
The Obama victory was undoubtedly historic and groundbreaking, but it has come at a price: the aggrandizement and intensification of hostility between Blacks and gays. The irony is as ugly as it is heartbreaking. The betrayal gays feel can be summed up pithily: how is the outlawing of same sex marriage any different from the anti-miscegenation laws of segregation? Some may point to religious values as the discriminating factor, but "Christian values" were used to justify anti-miscegenation just as they are now used to justify the revoking of same-sex marriage. Hiding behind the Church, then and now, does not absolve anyone of their complicity in discrimination.
But the failure to defeat Prop 8 does not lie with the Black community or any other minority. It is the gay community who has failed to build coalitions with other groups. Wake-up call to gay leadership: We must form institutional alliances with other minority communities and start supporting each others interests. We are not going to see these groups support our right to marry if we do not make an active effort to support them as well.
Some gays -- mostly from the Boomer generation -- point out (correctly) that I am impatient. Progress, they say, is inevitable. Consider the historicity of a president-elect who freely and comfortably refers to gays within the first breath of his victory. We are a long way, they remind us, from the days when a president couldn't even utter the word "AIDS" publicly. Andrew Sullivan, who has been a fierce advocate of gay rights for decades, reminds us that "twenty years ago, equality of gay couples was a mere idea. Forty years ago, it was a pipe-dream." Try to see the forest for the trees. In the long term, history is on our side.
Well, as the cliché goes, in the long term we are dead.