If I were writing this blog post 10 or 15 years ago it would have sounded much different - less personal, more theoretical. Back then, I hardly knew anyone who was openly gay. But times have changed. Like just about every other straight person I know, there's someone openly gay or lesbian in our lives - as a friend or acquaintance or neighbor or coworker or family member.
So even though I'm not in California and I don't know anyone who would be affected by Proposition 8, the debate is more personal now than it would have been at an earlier point in my life. When we talk about the rights of same-sex couples to marry, we're talking about my friends, people I work with, people I love and respect and admire. On their behalf, I urge you to vote "no" and protect the civil rights of every California citizen. While I've never lived in California, I've visited a couple of times and one of the things I love about the state is the incredible diversity, both in terms of its geography and its people. I've always believed that the things which unite us as Americans are so much more important than the things which we believe divide us.
As wonderful as my friends are, I'm not asking you to do this because they're nice people. I just believe that it's the right of every American to receive equal treatment under the law, to live life openly and without fear or discrimination, regardless of race, sex, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. While I don't think religion should enter into the debate, to me it's as simple as the Golden Rule.
Proposition 8 would overturn a recent state Supreme Court decision paving the way for same-sex marriage. I understand that supporters of the ballot measure say they don't have anything against gay people personally, they're just against "redefining" marriage to include gay and lesbian couples. They predict all sorts of dire consequences if the measure is defeated.
I would argue that if you look at the history of the United States, it's all about "redefinition." We've spent the last hundred years extending equal protection to people who have been historically disenfranchised, who were once thought undeserving of full citizenship solely because of the circumstances of their birth. It is time to finally extend those protections to include gay and lesbian citizens.
Two centuries ago in this country, women couldn't vote and most black people were slaves who could be bought and sold as easily as a piece of furniture. In some communities up until the middle of the 20th century, restrictive covenants kept blacks, Jews, Latinos and Asian-Americans from moving into certain neighborhoods. All of those things have changed. And, I would argue, we're a better country for it.
I live near Massachusetts and from what I can see, life there goes on as normal since same-sex marriage became legal. The only difference is, gay and lesbian citizens are more secure and better protected. And that only strengthens our society, just as the ending of legal discrimination against African-Americans did nearly 50 years ago.
If you question whether the gay-rights movement should be linked to the civil-rights movement for African-Americans, well the late Coretta Scott King spoke to that topic. Here's just one example:
“I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people.... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”
As Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said, "In five years now ... the sky has not fallen, the earth has not opened to swallow us all up, and more to the point, thousands and thousands of good people — contributing members of our society — are able to make free decisions about their personal future, and we ought to seek to affirm that every chance we can."
Finally, there was an interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times a couple days ago by Jonathan Rauch on what's been missing from the public discussion over Proposition 8 - gay people. He points to a recent tv ad produced by opponents of the ballot measure that barely mentions marriage and never uses the word "gay."
Rauch says that when asked about the absence of gay couples, a senior "No on 8" official told KPIX-TV in San Francisco that "from all the knowledge that we have and research that we have, [those] are not the best images to move people." Rauch disagrees, arguing that the absence of gay people "leaves voters of good conscience to conjure in their own minds the ads that are not being aired: Ads that show how gay marriage directly affects the couples and communities that need it most."
Well, we don't hear nearly enough about ordinary, everyday Americans who happen to be gay or lesbian. Their lives and their struggles also embody family values and the American Dream. They can make the case for themselves far more eloquently than I ever could. So I want to leave you with some of their stories, in their own words:
"Taking advantage of California's recent same-sex marriage ruling we "tied the knot" in San Francisco on August 25th. A simple ceremony which took maybe 10 minutes. We told everyone and, on the 17th of October, went to stay for a couple of days with his brother and wife. They very kindly put on a small "do" in honor of our wedding and, as we were leaving on Tuesday the 21st of October 2008 I heard these words for the first time in my life: "Welcome to the family".
"California's constitutionally legalizing same-sex marriage is so exciting and important; and as we all know, so threatened by Proposition 8, which would remove that right by adding an amendment to discriminate against lesbians and gays who want to marry. Yesterday, we were able to affirm that what we want in the right to marry is all about LOVE and EQUALITY, not about re-establishing two classes of citizens."
"Two months ago, I married the man I love to the great acclaim of our families. Paul and have been married in all but name for six years. We are contributing, tax-paying and law-abiding members of our community. We live active, positive lives. We are well thought of and live in peace with our neighbors. Despite this, some people think the fact that we are both men is the only thing of importance. It invalidates our love, our commitment and especially our claim to equality before the law. Some will go so far as to call us a threat to family, children and faith. We’re not a threat to anyone or anything. Nor is our marriage. We’re just Ben and Paul. And we want to stay married."