When I saw a photo of Proposition 8 supporters celebrating their victory over marriage equality in California, I was enraged. I wanted to run howling into the street. I felt the urge to break, smash, and destroy with all my might.
Those happy people with their fists pumped in the air were partying because the right to marry had been taken from same-sex couples in California. Those pro-Proposition 8 folks were celebrating because the children of same-sex couples were now less secure. Those people were ecstatic because the next day children of same-sex couples throughout America would awake to learn, once again, that their families were reviled.
Victory parties celebrating the destruction of the rights of GLBT Americans didn’t just happen in California. Anti-equality forces in Florida wrote a ban against same-sex marriage into that state’s constitution. Arizona voters also added a marriage ban to their constitution only two years after defeating a similar proposal.
In Arkansas, voters passed a provision prohibiting lesbians, gays, and single heterosexuals from fostering or adopting children. This law means that Arkansas children in need will be denied homes. This also means that children raised by same-sex couples risk being orphaned if the non-custodial parent dies. If a child’s biological mother is killed in an accident, for example, the surviving mother would be barred from adopting her own child.
These electoral defeats will create crushing hardships in the lives of many Americans. To deny our fury and pain is to ignore the reality of what voters did to us. These are raw wounds, and we need to acknowledge that fact and give ourselves time to heal.
But the future of GLBT America will depend on what we do afterwards. If we give in to despair or allow our actions to be governed by rage, then our opponents will have won more than a series of votes.
Despairing would cut the heart out of the GLBT movement. Volunteers would stay home, and donors wouldn’t provide the financial contributions that make political work possible.
Allowing ourselves to be ruled by rage would be equally disastrous. The outlines of this were quickly visible as the GLBT blogosphere lit up on Nov. 4 and 5 with a search for whom to blame.
Frantic bloggers threw around numerous charges. Was it the African Americans who came to the polls in unprecedented numbers to vote for Barack Obama and then voted against GLBT rights? Was it the Mormon Church that pumped millions into the antigay propositions? Was it Obama himself who didn’t cut a commercial for us? Was it the governors who didn’t campaign hard enough for us, or the rich and famous lesbians and gays who didn’t donate enough? Was it our own leaders who didn’t run effective campaigns or come up with compelling messages?
Searching for scapegoats is soul-destroying, which is bad enough, but from a political perspective, it is self-defeating because it obscures reality.
Mistakes were made in the pro-equality campaigns, as they are in every campaign. The GLBT movement does need to review what happened, particularly in California, and to recalibrate. However, it doesn’t need to call its leaders villains or to engage in a nasty internal fight that will make it weaker.
Seventy percent of African Americans in California did vote for Proposition 8, but they make up such a minority of voters that they alone did not swing the outcome. More importantly, the GLBT movement’s weakness in the African-American community is a sign that it needs to build bridges, not a sign that it needs to attack.
The Mormon Church did fund much of the anti-equality battle in California, Arizona, and Florida, but many individual Mormons also stood with us. Attacking all Mormons would paint us as bigots and turn away voters who could help us in the future.
The search for scapegoats also obscures our triumphs. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund reports that 70 percent of its 111 openly GLBT candidates won.
These include Jared Polis of Colorado who became the first openly gay man elected to Congress as a non-incumbent, and Kate Brown who was elected Secretary of State in Oregon. Brown becomes the second-highest ranking elected official in her state and the first openly GLBT Secretary of State in the nation. Brown’s victory is particularly important because the office of Secretary of State can act as a launching pad for a run for governor or Congress.
Civil rights are never won easily. The quest for equality can often seem like a clumsy dance, where every step forward is countered by a stumble or two backward. But this country is changing.
Connecticut begins marrying same-sex couples this month. In a nation where slavery was once written into the Constitution, an African American was just elected president. Even the battle over Proposition 8 isn’t done. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal Defense, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights have already filed suit to block the proposal from taking effect.
Nov. 4 didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but the moment will come when GLBT Americans are the ones punching our fists into the air in victory. Have hope.
Diane Silver is a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor, whose freelance writing has appeared in Ms. magazine, Salon.com, and other national publications. She can be reached care of this publication or at PoliticalIQ@qsyndicate.com.