You'd think there were enough equal rights to go around!
Today could have been a truly great day of celebration for me. Like so many people in America, my heart too could be bursting with the joy and pride of seeing my country finally rise to its own great occasion: that moment in history that fear mongers have tried to keep us from knowing for so long. We are all different, yes, but more than that, we are all the same. And by accepting each other, we are both inspirational and unbeatable.
I am not African-American, but I have written hit songs for many black recording stars (Cheryl Lynn, Pebbles, The Fifth Dimension, Lenny Williams-Tower of Power, Robin S., etc.). I'm not African-American but I co-created and edited the first national black teen magazine, "Right On!," which is still in existence today. I am not African-American, but I marched and protested my way through the 60s to help make an angry divided America see the insanity of forcing human beings with a different skin color to live lives that were less equal than their own.
So why don't I feel triumphant today?
I am a gay woman who married her partner of 20 years in California last August 24th. According to the count on Proposition 8 (changing the constitution in California so that marriage can only be between a man and a woman), the Yes's have won (52% to 47%). My marriage is no longer legal. The happiness I shared on my wedding day with the woman I've loved for so long and the family and friends who we love and love us, is potentially, "officially" wiped out. And even if ensuing court struggles result in my marriage remaining legal, what about all the other gay couples who want to get married? Some of us can be married and the rest of us can't? That's going to go well, don't you think?
What's worse is why Proposition 8 and other gay initiatives have gone sour in various states during Tuesday's election. It's been (correctly) noted that the tremendous African-American voter turnout for Barack Obama was a death rattle for any of the equal-rights gay Americans had at stake. How on earth could this be true?
You would think that African-Americans would understand this to the core. Even though I do not personally believe that Barack Obama's stance against gay marriage is unmovable (in fact, a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece said he was actually against Prop 8), I do stand amazed and defeated in front of my television as I watch black church-goer after church-goer break from his or her high-energy celebration to explain how marriage is for a man and a woman--not for two men or two women. Some even mention those other things gays can have instead (domestic partnerships).
Why doesn't it occur to them that this is like separate drinking fountains? It reminds me of Colin Powell standing with other military men, advising then President Clinton against Gays in the Military because of how uncomfortable all the other non-gay soldiers would be. (The showers! The showers!)
Now we all know how really smart Colin Powell is and how oppressed he was under President Bush. So how could he have had amnesia about the horrible struggle blacks went through--fighting in separate army units from their "white brothers"--to get integrated into the military? Why then could he go on and do the same thing to good, strong, gay brothers and sisters who only wanted to serve their country?
So dismayed was I in the lack of support from the very people I had devoted my support to, I actually took this issue head on back in 1991 in an interview I did with Jesse Jackson when I was the editor of Genre magazine. (Yes, a girl was the editor of Genre.) I admit Jesse (who was so incredibly moving last night during President elect Obama's speech), has, hopefully, come a long way on gay equal-rights issues since our 17-year-old interview. But at that time he told me "Don't compare your struggle to ours... you can hide." He was referring to skin color being something that left blacks vulnerable to prejudice at all times. Well, yes, I ventured, "but there's a lot of damage that comes from hiding." That got him. He could see a downside to hiding too. But his discomfort at gays taking a page from the civil rights movement--even if he was talking to someone who had invested her own blood, sweat, and tears in that same movement--was palatable.
And now Jesse Jackson and I have a new President. And if the votes had been just a little bit different on California's Proposition 8 to eliminate gay marriage, I could have been as happy as Jesse. But I'm still unequal in this country. And it looks like my situation isn't going to change unless I can change the minds of people like Jesse who voted for Barack Obama and are now dancing and crying and blessing America.
So it looks like I still have a lot of work left to do, a lot of marching and protesting--even though I did that already for others who are not doing the same for me. I guess it's one prejudice at a time. But I don't get it. I expect more from human beings. Why does each lesson have to be learned as if it was brand new? Shouldn't history resonate? Telling someone, "I can get married, but you can not!" should sound familiar--especially to people who have heard such things themselves and not that long ago. Mixed marriages were illegal until the courts said otherwise. So the irony of electing this marvelous president, who is himself the child of just such a marriage, while making illegal another kind of marriage in the same election--is unfathomable.
But, ok, once my own sadness and disappointment settles in, I will let go and celebrate the true wonder of President Barack Obama! After all, I spent years helping to clear the way for this hard-won triumph of the Age of Aquarius.