Some Prop H8te Afterthoughts

It’s been remarkable to see the outcry over the last several days about the passage in California of Proposition 8. For gays and lesbians (and those who love them), the elation that we ought to be feeling wholeheartedly along with our fellow Americans is tempered with the knowledge that the same election that ushered in a new era in politics and government also stripped us of rights that other citizens have.

For me, it’s like deja vu all over again. In 1992, I had just moved to Colorado about a month prior to the November election. The relief we felt knowing that Bill Clinton would soon be in the White House was overshadowed by the understanding that Amendment 2 had also passed in Colorado. Amendment 2 was put on the Colorado ballot and funded by the same hyper-religious zealots that got Prop 8 on the ballot in Colorado. (The California initiative has the dubious distinction of having buckets of money poured into it by the Mormons, who apparently left behind the concept of separation of church and state in Missouri somewhere. And based on election returns this year, we’d be hard pressed to find the concept alive in Missouri today.) Amendment 2 stated that non-discrimination laws that included sexual orientation previously passed by several Colorado municipalities would be deemed illegal.

In the wake of Amendment 2’s passage, the GLBT community in Colorado was stung, taken almost completely off guard by the amendment’s passage. There had previously been a belief, because gays and lesbians were largely able to create pleasant lives for themselves in Colorado, that the work of liberation was complete. It was a giant wake-up call to know that 54% of one’s fellow citizens thought it was alright to be fired or to lose one’s home simply because one was gay or lesbian.

The community took to the streets, held candlelight vigils, organized weekend workshops, bickered about whether a boycott would be helpful or harmful, and did everything in our power to undo the injustice that was done by the election.

Sound familiar?

The lesson to be learned, I think, is that the legal fight to overthrow Amendment 2 wound its way through various courts up to the United States Supreme Court and was finally overturned. But that was nearly four years after its original passage.

I completely support the Prop 8 protest marches and I’m grateful that such marches are popping up all over the country, particularly those aimed at the Mormons and the other churches who completely violated the separation of church and state, and who give new meaning to the term ‘bully pulpit.’ I’m glad people are coming up with creative ways to respond to the inherent injustice of Prop 8.

But I’m also realistic enough to believe that legal remedies are our best option. And while the pace may seem glacial, especially to the instant gratification set, we have to remind ourselves that the struggle for equality has gone on for decades already. The struggle will go on while Prop 8 is being fought, and it will go on long after Prop 8 ultimately goes down in flames.

So, what good has come of this? Well, I can name at least one thing.

In his Special Comment tonight, Keith Olbermann spoke out against the people responsible for the passage in California of Proposition 8. (The complete text of that comment can be found here.) The fact that a straight former sportscaster is going to bat in a big way on behalf of gays and lesbians is an indicator of remarkable progress.

About Prop 8, Marriage Rights, and Civil Rights

I realized I’ve been mostly silent on the issue of Prop 8 here in California. There’s no question that I support the defeat of the proposition.

But I guess I’m old school enough to still be focusing on gay rights more than marriage rights. Back in the dark ages, when the issue of gay marriage started to show up regularly as part of the national discourse, somewhere around 1991, I remember feeling uneasy. I feared that focusing the gay rights struggle on marriage would divert the national attention away from the core issue of equal rights. I also was afraid that gay marriage would be just the kind of flashpoint issue that the so-called religious right would latch onto.

Now, lo these many years later, all of that has come true. And, in spite of all that coming true, we’ve made significant headway on the marriage issue. But this progress has been made if not at the expense of gay rights in general, then at least it has marginalized the struggle.

By framing the issue as being about marriage, we’ve managed to tap into the law of unintended consequences and skirted the core issue of rights. So I’m posting a list of Federal rights, as enumerated by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), that are compromised or made unavailable to GLBT people as a result of the failure of the Federal Government to provide a way for us to marry: GAO Marriage Rights

Until the right to marry is provided at the Federal level to all Americans, we’re not going to have true equality. And, until then, we’ll have to revel in the victories on a state-by-state basis.


It only took sixteen years.The ‘Silence = Death’ message of the AIDS activist organization ACT UP was a little too unpalatable for its time. The slogan was formulated in response to the Reagan administration’s failure to acknowledge the disease or devote any resources to finding a cure. Back then, it was all but impossible to rustle up any interest in the subject of AIDS.

But flip the pages of the calendar forward a sixteen or so years, and we now see a slightly soft-pedaled variation of that same message – ‘Apathy is Lethal‘ – as a cornerstone of the United Nations Foundation’s campaign to stem this global epidemic. It seems the world view is now virtually identical to the view that the AIDS activist visionaries of the ’80s were professing. Tragically, the delay in adopting such awareness has cost many millions of lives.

I don’t care how sorry anyone now feels for the bumbling old coot. Can anyone still say with a straight face that Reagan wasn’t evil, down to his core? Wouldn’t it be safe to say, since his administration did absolutely nothing regarding AIDS, that ‘Reagan is Lethal’?