Oh, No, You Don't

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Camarriage1justinsullivangetty

Heart-breaking news this morning: a terribly close vote has stripped gay couples in California of their right to marry. The geographic balance shows that the inland parts of California voted for the Proposition and the coast and urban areas voted against it.

Yes, it is heart-breaking: it is always hard to be in a tiny minority whose rights and dignity are removed by a majority. It's a brutal rebuke to the state supreme court, and enshrinement in California's constitution that gay couples are now second-class citizens and second class human beings. Massively funded by the Mormon church, a religious majority finally managed to put gay people in the back of the bus in the biggest state of the union. The refusal of Schwarzenegger to really oppose the measure and Obama's luke-warm opposition didn't help. And cruelly, a very hefty black turnout, as feared, was one of the factors that defeated us, according to the exit poll. Today this is one of the solaces to a hard right and a Republican party that sees gay people as the least real of Americans.

But I realize I am not shattered. My own marriage exists and is real without the approval of others. One day soon, it will be accepted by a majority. And this initiative in California can and will be reversed, as California's initiatives are much more fluid than those in other states; and the younger generation is overwhelmingly - 2 to 1 - in our favor. The tide of history is behind us; but we will have to work harder to educate people about our lives and loves and humanity.

It cannot be denied that this feels like a punch in the gut. It is. I'm not going to pretend that the wound isn't deep and personal, like an attack on my own family. It was meant to be. Many Obama supporters voted against our rights, and Obama himself opposes our full civil equality. The religious folk who believe that Jesus stood for the marginalization of minorities, and who believe that my equality somehow threatens their children, will, I pray, see how misguided they have become. And make no mistake: they won this by playing on very deep fears of gay people around kids. They knew the levers to pull.

But some perspective from someone who has fought this fight as long and as personally as anyone in this country. Twenty years ago, equality of gay couples was a mere idea. Forty years ago, it was a pipe-dream.

In the long arc of inclusion, we will miss our goals along the way from time to time. Today, we have full marriage rights in two states, we have many civil marriages in California that will remain in place as examples of who gay people really are, we have civil unions in many more places, and marriage rights in other parts of the world, as beacons to America. And this is a civil rights movement. It goes forward and it is forced back. The battle to end miscegenation took centuries. These are the rhythms of progress. Sometimes losing, and being shown to lose, shifts something in the minds of those watching as a small group is punished for daring to dream of full civil equality. In this battle we have already had far more defeats than victories. But each time, we have come closer to our goal. And in the hearts and minds and souls of so many, we have changed consciousness for ever.

California has full civil equality in law for gay couples. In time, full civil marriage equality - the only real measure of equality - will follow. And it will spread, state by state, more slowly now, and perhaps more organically from legislatures, rather than courts, which would not be the worst idea. And observing this backlash against us will reveal to many the cruelty of allowing majorities to take the rights of tiny minorities away.

If we had won this, this civil rights battle would be all but over. Now, it isn't. So we get back to work, arguing, talking. speaking, debating, writing, blogging, and struggling to change more minds. The hope for equality can never be extinguished, however hard our opponents try. And in the unlikely history of America, there has never been anything false about hope.

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty.)

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